Every once in a while a title comes along that rips the heart out of the games-playing world. A game nothing like what we've seen before: totally original, an enigma, born when the planets were perfectly aligned. This Holy Grail of video games is ever-waiting out there, teasing us into finding it.
Zuma is almost such a game. It does borrow many elements from other puzzle games – but it's original in how it employs them. And it's addictive. Addictive in the way a gherkin dipped in chocolate is to a pregnant woman, or a hamburger is to an American.
The idea is simple enough: stop coloured balls from reaching the end of a channel by firing other balls towards them, making chains of three or more of the same colour so that they vanish into thin air. Your character fires balls from his mouth and reloads them from, well, the other end. Use your imagination. By keeping an eye on the colour of the next ball as well as planning where to fire it, you're able to clear the colours one by one, and when there aren't any left you can move onto the next stage. Levels get faster and trickier as you progress, with multiple groups of balls to concentrate on.
The beauty of Zuma is its simplicity. Presenting only a limited number of colours, the game unfolds by making you recognise every possible combination of the moves available. The ever-present time limit will soon catch up with you, though, and it's only by being decisive and observant that you'll progress. The control of the character is very straightforward, rotating and firing with the help of a small aiming arrow. In a matter of seconds after starting the game, you are immersed into the heart of it and your brain has taken over. No big special effects or impressive licenses here, just a sweet old-fashioned puzzler.
That said, the presentation is very good. With the big, bright graphics essential to this style of game and solid animation to liven up the experience, Zuma is a long way from resembling the back end of a Peruvian tour bus.
But it's the gameplay that earns Zuma a place among the ranks of great mobile games. It features everything you need to lose track of time, get frustrated, cheer out loud, pull your hair out, gasp with excitement, and lose control of your bodily functions.
If you're a parent who wants to shut their kids up, or a kid who wants to distract the parents, keep an eye out for Zuma – a game that draws its inspiration from others but is also wonderfully unique.