We'll say one thing for PopCap — it sure knows how to transform simple tasks into madly addictive experiences. And from Peggle and Bookworm to Plants vs. Zombies, Nintendo fans have been able to enjoy excellent ports of some of its most popular games. Zuma's Revenge is the most recent PopCap title to make the jump to DSiWare, and it's safe to say that the service is richer for it.
The gameplay will be instantly familiar to anyone who's played one of WiiWare's earliest titles, Magnetica Twist (known as Actionloop Twist for those of a European persuasion). That's because that game was inspired heavily by PopCap's earlier release Zuma. In both games, you fire coloured marbles at a string of other marbles that advance along their lines. Matching colours clears the marbles and sets off chains, but if the marbles advance too far the game ends. It's a simple concept, and it's made even simpler by DSi's touch screen, which allows you to be extremely accurate with your shots by simply tapping where you want them to go.
Zuma's Revenge attempts to frame levels as a brave frog's attempt to escape from a treacherous island, but the storyline is decidedly nonsensical and unnecessary. Fortunately, though, it never gets in the way of the action, and it leads to some genuinely funny dialogue and sight gags along the way.
As always, PopCap has put a great deal of effort into the presentation, making this a port of extremely high quality. The graphics are brilliant and crisp, and the music is appropriately atmospheric. The touch screen controls work excellently with one minor criticism: tapping the frog to change the colour of the marble he's about to shoot is a fickle action, and can sometimes lead to him firing instead of cycling to the next marble. Potentially this could lead to failing a level, but more likely it'll just interrupt a chain. Still irritating, but not a big problem.
Your goal in each of the 60 main levels is to clear all the marbles from the board. Power ups come and go, allowing you to zap marbles with lasers, clear them with a triple shot, increase your speed and accuracy, and so on. After each set of ten levels is complete a boss appears, and you'll have to find creative ways of knocking him out with your marbles. These battles offer unique spins on the main action of the game, and they're a welcome break from the similarity of the main stages.
As PopCap fans know, its games excel in quality and addictiveness...but not necessarily variety. Sure enough, the levels in Zuma's Revenge are all pretty similar to one another. While a few levels offer multiple bases from which your frog can fire marbles, or allow him to slide along the bottom of the screen Space Invaders-style, the experience of one level is never too different from the last. The boss fights do offer a reprieve, but it's clear that Zuma's Revenge was designed for short bursts rather than long hauls, and playing for too long at once will reveal a tedium that shorter, more frantic play sessions mask quite well.
With 60 levels and additional boss fights, there's certainly a good deal of content. The replay value is where Zuma's Revenge really shines, though: there are achievements to unlock as you play, and also daily challenges that generate randomly. Each day you play you will be assigned two new challenges (with an unlockable third once the game is complete). Overcome those challenges — and their optional sub-challenges — and you can earn puzzle pieces. Complete all the assigned challenges for five days straight and you'll complete the puzzle and...well, you'll have to play for yourself and see.
The challenges are, true to their name, often quite difficult, but the ever-changing selection adds a very welcome reason to return regularly. Zuma's Revenge is ideal for commuters who find themselves killing time on a bus or train every day, and the fact that it's so charming and fun will keep people coming back even if they can't spare the time for a daily challenge.
Unfortunately there is one major drawback: the price. While Zuma's Revenge is a worthy addition to your download collection, it's quite expensive for a game that consists almost entirely of firing marbles at other marbles. We don't have a bad word to say about the experience on offer, but considering how limited the gameplay is, this is definitely a case where Nintendo's pricing gets in the way of a more enthusiastic recommendation.
If you love puzzlers and price is not an issue, Zuma's Revenge is among the best on offer. But for those with tighter budgets, it's a much more difficult recommendation to make.
With a downright addictive gameplay formula, a sprinkling of creative boss fights and a mountain of replay value, it's difficult to find much negative to say about Zuma's Revenge. That is, of course, apart from its questionably high price. Those who do shell out for this one find a fantastic game that's every bit as satisfying as PopCap's other offerings, and they're likely to return to it many times before they see everything it has to offer, so for a few hundred points less we'd recommend it universally. As it stands, though...well, it's your money.