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September 04, 2007

Zuma: a teeth-clenching, adrenaline-pumping ball breaker

Zuma involves shooting epigraphy coated colored balls from the mouth of a swiveling frog that you control in a harried attempt to explode three or more balls of the same color moving along a track before the whole pack reaches the skeleton's mouth, and he swallows them all, and you are defeated in humiliation. It's a simple game in concept, but the play gets more intense as you progress through thirteen stages of seven levels each. Sometimes there are two skulls waiting to consume the balls. Each stage represents conquering a different temple in your ultimate quest to vanquish Zuma.

Unlike the download Website that claims that the setting employs ancient South American jungle civilizations, it is in actuality set in Mesoamerica principally in the Aztec culture. Clearly, the name Zuma is a take off on Moctezuma, the last Aztec emperor. The Nahuatl temple names employ many gods in the Aztec pantheon such as Centeotl the corn god, Tlaloc the god of fertility, Quetzalcoatl the Toltec plumed serpent god, and Ehecatl the wind god. Some of the names are whimsical such as Zukulkan, which doesn't exist but probably is derived from the Mayan god Kulkulkan. One refers to a Mixtec Codex to muddy the waters, but there's no South American content whatsoever. Thank you, Astraware for fixing this problem.

So, you can safely imagine yourself to be a Cortez in 1521, whose mission it is to conquer the mighty Aztecs of Tenochtitlan as you progress from temple to temple until at last you reach the innermost sanctum of Mocte(ZUMA) himself on the final leg of your quest.

I was first introduced to this addictive, fast-paced, intriguing game on my desktop computer. Now it is available for handhelds, and it amazes me that the game could be reduced to the small screen format and still be playable. It is indeed playable. Instead of actually shooting balls from the frog's mouth like poison darts, you tap the screen where you want the ball to land. Shoot the gold coins that pop up occasionally for extra points. In fact, as I reflect on it, I seem to score better on the handheld version than on the desktop. I think my shooting is more accurate and faster using the stylus instead of the mouse.

A skilled player will develop strategies for building longer chains of balls before exploding them. There are also techniques for reversing the ball flow and slowing it down. It can all get to be quite a tooth-grinder as you struggle to blast away all the balls in their inexorable journey to the skull's mouth.

I was able to install the game without incident on both WM5 and WM6 devices. While I am certainly a Zuma fan, I must say that the graphics and particularly the text are a little fuzzy and somewhat disappointing on an iPaq 6925 compared to the magnificent display on the desktop version. The game board doesn't even begin to fill up the full screen, and it didn't look much better on my WM6 i-mate Jaq4. In consultation with the developer, I learned that Zuma has not yet been optimized for 240 x 240 square screen devices. I also learned that it should work fine with most WM6 devices.

I should mention that the sound track is mesmerizing with pan flutes, marimbas, drums, and chanting always in the background but reaching crescendos as the tension increases, and the balls explode and march toward the skull.

You can get a copy of this captivating game and experience it yourself if you are up for some tense times and a little ball busting at www.astraware.com. Try it free, but once you do, you will almost certainly want to buy it for $19.95.

Posted by conradb212 at September 4, 2007 07:35 PM