Although many Mac users who play games may be more familiar with
or Big Fish Games’ Atlantis, the progenitor of many of these marble-matching games is Zuma, developed by
PopCap Games. PopCap has created a version to run on the iPod, and it’s okay, though some of the limitations of the iPod start to show through.
Zuma uses a faintly Mesoamerican theme—like some ancient artifacts you’d find in a ruined Mayan or Aztec temple. You control a stone frog idol that has a colored marble in its mouth. Surrounding the frog is a winding, grooved stone track. On that track progresses a chain of colored marbles, starting from offscreen and progressing to a golden skull. Your goal is to make that marble chain disappear before it reaches the golden skull by shooting the marble from the stone frog’s mouth into the chain, matching three or more marbles of the same color.
To do that, the golden frog can rotate 360 degrees—you simply pivot the frog using the click wheel. You shoot by pressing the click wheel’s Select key. You can also swap the color of the marble by pressing the fast forward or rewind keys. Although three marbles of the same color are all you need to make a match, you’ll get bigger bonuses if the chains are longer—like-colored balls can create chain reactions when they touch as well, so if you destroy a series of red balls in between two blocks of yellow, blam, they’ll vanish as well. A progress bar at the top of the screen shows you how far to go in that level.
Two or more explosions caused by firing a single ball nets you points in Zuma, which also lets you collect power-ups like a Backwards ball.
You’ll get points for combos—two or more explosions caused by firing a single ball—and you can collect power-ups by detonating special balls that appear in the chain, such as “Accuracy,” which gives you a special aiming beam in and increased firing speed, “Backwards,” which rolls the chain back up the track a bit, “Bomb,” which blasts everything in its path, and “Slowdown,” which makes the chain slow down. You can shoot golden coins for extra points.
Zuma has the range of options I’ve seen in the
I’ve reviewed, including the ability to save a game in progress (handy if you’re just noodling with your iPod during the morning commute or in between meetings), saving high scores and so on. It also has the ability to play your iPod’s music rather than playing the in-game music—all you need to do is start an album or playlist before you start playing, and Zuma will defer to your selection. You can also adjust brightness and sound effects level. Adjusting brightness, in particular, can have a profound effect on the iPod’s battery life, it seems.
Zuma requires a fair degree of precision in order to aim the stone frog at the chain of colored balls. Accustomed to the game and other similar titles from the Mac, I got quite frustrated with misaligned shots that didn’t head the way that I expected, partly because of the imprecision of aiming with my thumb and partly because of the size of the iPod’s screen.
It’s possible to compensate for that a bit by using the tip of your finger rather than your thumb to rotate the frog using the click wheel, but it’s also a less natural motion to do that and hit the select button—Zuma’s really optimized for the quick motion of a mouse and click of a mouse button instead. To this end, I just don’t think that Zuma makes a great conversion for the iPod, unless your thumbs are a lot more dexterous than mine.
Zuma’s another bona fide classic that’s found its way to the iPod, but imprecise aiming and the iPod’s tiny screen mar the game play to the point of frustration.
Senior News Editor Peter Cohen reviews games for