Zuma Tips: Because Yes, This Game is Hard

So this Thanksgiving weekend, we have been giving away free downloads of one of my favorite games of all time, Zuma! And as a great fan of the mighty frog, I’ve been imagining ever since that a great many new players are, by now, tearing their hair out and gnashing their teeth, because yes, this game is hard.

It’s deceptive, to be sure. He’s a cute little stone froggy with wide eyes, and the balls are so colorful, and hey, it’s a casual game. It can’t be that hard. But I confess that to me, this game was so very hard at first that I almost gave up trying until I got some tips. Since I was fortunate enough to get those tips from the very creator of Zuma himself, it is both my duty and my honor to pass them along to you.

I remember sitting down with Brian Rothstein for a meal and telling him I couldn’t play Zuma; it was just too hard for me. I felt like the game wanted me to fail; there was no way to keep up with it. He casually said, “Are you shooting the coins?  You gotta shoot the coins.” That was the first little bit of crucial advice I got, and the reason I knew it was important was that I asked, “What coins?”

Oh yeah...those coins.

I had been letting the speed of the balls overwhelm me and make me feel stressed, and as a result, I wasn’t even seeing the rest of the game! Just fighting to keep up with a rushing line of balls before I lost, I was missing all the other cues and the ways to improve on my gameplay. So, first tip:“You gotta shoot the coins.”  When one of those appears, look for any match you can make that will open up a space through which you can shoot the coin. Trust me, it’s worth a few extra moves to set it up, and it’s even worth waiting a second or two for the right set of balls to pass directly in front of it. The benefits of shooting that coin far outweigh those little sacrifices. (In Zuma’s Revenge & Zuma Blitz there’s fruit instead of coins.)

Another thing about Zuma is that the power-ups and bonuses are huge and many!

Gap shots: Set yourself up with a gap in the first line of balls, then make a match in the now-exposed line behind it — big points! Just like shooting the coins, you can plan shots to make this happen. See a sweet match coming up that will take out a huge section of balls at once? As you shoot to make that match, look right at the line behind it and start planning your next shot. Any matches you can make in the moments before the gap closes again are bonus points!

The elusive gap shot, screen-captured in its native form.

Chain bonuses: Make more than one match in a row without wasting a shot on any non-match. This is mostly a matter of staying calm and scanning for any two or more of the same color in a row before you make each shot. At first, it may feel like it takes too long to get a good sense of the board in motion, so you just want to keep firing as fast as possible and hope for the best. Don’t give in to that sense of urgency.

The simple yet elegant chain. It dresses up any outfit.

Cascades: Match a color between three or more of another color so that your match triggers another on impact. You can either take advantage of a naturally occurring situation on the board, or you can set these up for yourself with a few well-placed shots. See a pair of greens between two reds on one side and one red on another? Try seeding a two-and-one of a third color on the outside of the reds, then shoot the greens at the center. The greens hit, then the reds, then the third color you set up, and boom! Cascade bonus to the power of three!

And don’t forget all the power-up balls you can take advantage of, like bombs, slow-down, or accuracy (which is great for gap shots!).

Cascades happen so fast, the points pile up like beautiful little snowflakes.

One of the best pieces of advice I got is, “Never waste a ball by putting it next to any other color than its own.” Granted, that’s not always entirely possible, but it is always a worthy goal! Even if you can’t make a match with every shot, you can always be setting up a future match. So if there aren’t two or more consecutive balls of a color in your frog’s mouth, look for just one more ball of that color, and then the next time it comes up, there will be two or more consecutive balls, because you will have made it happen!

Also, be adaptable: Don’t get hung up on a plan you hatched a few moves back — always make the best move in the moment. It’s like chess, in a way, you need to react to the board as it changes. You may be all in love with your original strategy, and you were so looking forward to seeing it play out… but if there’s a new move you could make that would be better, just do it. Also, holding tight to a plan will get you off-track if you aren’t able to carry it out quickly enough. You’ll watch those cascades you were setting up slide out of reach, and you’ll be kicking yourself over the other matches you could have made in the meantime.

If you’re coming to the end of the level, and you’ve made ZUMA so no new balls are rolling in, but the balls you still have to get rid of are coming perilously near the skull mouth, don’t panic! You can still snatch victory from the literal jaws of defeat. Just remember that you have control over the way those balls continue to advance. A very important factor is what’s known as “suck back,” in other words the way two like balls are always drawn together, and you can use that to make them move backward as well as forward! If you’ve got any space in your line, try to put a ball at the beginning of the second section of the line that matches the one at the end of the first section. They don’t need to be 3 or more to help you in this case — one blue at the far end of the gap will act like a magnet on the blue at the closer end of the gap, and your gap will close backwards, moving the whole line of balls away from the skull!

Finally, give Gauntlet mode a shot!  It’s a great way to practice individual levels without the pressure to advance your level in Adventure mode.

Zuma is one of my personal all-time favorite games, I think partly because it was so hard for me at first that getting good at it was a real accomplishment.  Now, I play it to relax!

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