Xbox 360 Impressions: Zuma's Revenge from PopCap, makers of Plants vs. Zombies

PopCap Games may be best known for their sublime Plants vs. Zombies (on sale for $2.99 this week!), but they actually produce a number of stellar franchises like Peggle and Zuma. We interviewed PopCap about those two series coming to Windows Phone last year, and we’ll continue to ask about them whenever we can. PopCap seems to work on one game for one platform at a time, and they’ve just completed a new Xbox Live Arcade release: Zuma’s Revenge. It just came out yesterday, but I’ve been playing the game for a week now in order to bring you this review.

The original Zuma Deluxe was an XBLA launch title way back in 2006. Basically an enhanced clone of classic arcade game Puzz Loop (aka Magnetica), the Zuma games put players in control of a stationary frog who can rotate in any direction and shoot colored balls from his mouth. In each level, more balls roll on-screen along one or more paths. The frog’s job is to stop them from reaching the goal at the path’s end by quickly making as many colored matches as possible. It’s sort of like Bubble Town 2 but much, much better and more varied.

Head past the break for our full impressions and more screenshots.

Island adventure

Zuma’s Revenge enhances the formula with two new types of levels: lily pad and rail levels. Lily pads allow the frog to jump between two different spots at will. This gives players more freedom, but also adds to the challenge since you’ll need to manage both spots effectively. Rail levels let the frog slide up/down or left/right along a rail, firing only at a right angle rather than the usual 360 degrees. The frog slides a bit too fast for my tastes, but I still enjoyed the diversion.

Adventure Mode starts out with an amusing 360-exclusive intro depicting the heroic, unnamed frog’s journey 2 a mysterious island. He’ll need to explore all six regions of the island, each consisting of 10 levels and a boss battle. These bosses have their own unique abilities, such as shields that can only be penetrated with Bomb power-ups or guardian idols who must be knocked out before you can get a hit in. They also crack a few jokes before and after battle, bolstering the lighthearted atmosphere.

The original XBLA Zuma was a fun but overly challenging game with several nigh impossible Achievements (I only got 70 GamerScore from it). Thankfully Zuma’s Revenge is far more approachable and fair to players. First off, you only need to beat one Adventure Mode level at a time instead of five in a row. Individual stages can be replayed at any time for higher scores and better completion times, unlocking special Spirit Badges. As if that didn’t boost replay value enough, the game displays a level’s online leaderboard whenever you select or complete it, greatly enticing me to go after higher scores (seriously, look for EastX).

Party animals

The aforementioned Spirit Badges tie into another of Revenge’s XBLA-exclusive improvements: Spirit Animals! See, one reason the first Zuma was so tough is that when the porting team brought the game from PC to XBLA, they didn’t rebalance the difficulty to accommodate for controllers being less accurate than mice. The higher levels basically expected faster and more precise reactions than most gamers could consistently make.

This time however, you’ll unlock four companion creatures as you play through Adventure Mode. They provide useful score and gameplay modifiers like increasing firing speed or power-up spawn rate. Give the animals Badges and their powers increase; you can even remove the badges from one animal to pump up another or just increase the challenge.

Zuma’s Revenge offers three additional modes on top of its lengthy Adventure. Weekly Challenges ask players to post their best scores on a specific level, whereas Boss Rush is a marathon  of seven boss battles (and its own leaderboard). Iron Frog Mode recalls the steep challenge of the original Zuma, for better or worse. Its 10 levels must be completed in a row without dying. Starting with the sixth level it gets pretty frustrating, even for an experienced Zuma player like yours truly. Still, the associated Achievement will certainly look impressive on a select few gamers’ profiles. Check out my Achievement Guide for more details.

Overall Impressions

PopCap Games shows an amazing ability to produce games that are simple enough for casual audiences and yet vast enough to attract the hardcore crowd. Zuma’s Revenge is no different: the welcoming graphics, absolutely perfect sound effects, and quickly-learnable puzzle mechanics will endear the game to your significant other. Meanwhile, you’ll be busy replaying dozens of stages and multiple modes as you hunt for more Badges and better scores. Simply put, Zuma’s Revenge is one of the best puzzle games I’ve played on any console. Let’s hope PopCap brings us the Windows Phone version we deserve – until then, I’ll be happily blasting balls on the 360.

Zuma’s Revenge costs 800 Microsoft Points ($10). Get it here from the Xbox 360 Marketplace.

Paul Acevedo

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!