When I previously posted some of my gameplay tips for the original Zuma, a good friend thanked me and said it was helpful, because he spends about an hour a day playing Iron Frog mode.
“Oh, you mean Zuma’s Revenge,” I said, and I realized there was a perfectly fine excuse to write another column about my obsession. And to show off my Peacock’s Provocation (not yet fully Aced but all conquered with honors!).
So as the name implies, Iron Frog is a very difficult game mode. For one thing, you only get one life to complete all ten levels, and you can’t save your game and come back to it later! You know, like the olden days when you plunked in a quarter and never got past level 1 but kept playing over and over. It’s old-school unforgiving arcade-style goodness, and I love it.
It took me a while to get all the way through this mode, and even though I know now I can beat it, I still feel challenged every time (and I still often burn out on Level 6… it’s a tough one!). So I’ve put some thought into the tips I would offer a dedicated player who is stuck on any particular level in Iron Frog.
Level 1: Ok, I really don’t have much for you. This one’s pretty straightforward. A slog, to be sure, but just do your Zuma thing and save your energy to worry about what’s to come!
Level 2: This may be my personal favorite place for the Lightning power-up, because that curve is long, and it’s just so satisfying to see a huge number of balls clear from all over it all at once. Cannon’s also great, aimed up to the right to cut across all the layers of balls rolling in. On this level, the number of times the balls curve makes for a daunting obstacle but also a great opportunity for gap shots!
Try to allow your eye to take in the board as a whole (I find this much easier if I play in a smaller window rather than full-screen mode) so you can plan a shot that clears a gap and sets up a subsequent gap shot whenever possible! This is the beauty of the “preview” ball on the frog’s back as well as the option to swap between them if necessary. At the same time, those many layers of curve do mean you won’t have the chance to pick off any combos you set up for long, so immediate rather than long-term planning is the best strategy here. By the time you see the pairs you created coming around again, it may be because they’re heading into the final turn!
Level 3: Try not to let the balls encircle the second lily pad, but if they wind up over there, jump between lily pads as often as needed to take advantage of the biggest combo available at any moment so the balls will suck back together and close big distances. And of course, there’s the exception to that rule, which is if you have a Lightning power-up you can use, let the balls roll out as long as you feel comfortable letting them go so that when you choose your color to detonate it takes out the biggest possible number.
Once the end is nigh, try to remain on the first lily pad until there are no longer any balls on that side, because from that vantage point, you can shoot through the nearer balls to create, yes, gap shots! Gap shot bonuses are a very worthy goal!
Level 4: This is my favorite one for using a Cannon power-up (the three cannonballs that roll out at once). If I’m not in serious trouble, I’ll aim it straight up into the left corner where the balls are rolling in from, because the tracks are so closely wound at that point you’ll get rid of a huge section at once.
This is a level that starts out a little bit easy… deceptively so. It speeds up very quickly, so don’t let yourself rest even a moment! Once the balls pass beneath you, you will have little chance of beating the level without some seriously fancy frogwork. But as I always say in Zuma, hope is not lost — remember that you can see power-up balls forming out of the corner of your eye, so you will always instantly know where there is about to be a shot you could use to regain some ground quickly. Cannons, Lightning, Reverse, and Bombs are always worth taking extra steps to trigger. (Accuracy is not helpful enough to risk letting balls get by on a level this nail-biting! And Slow-down is great if I can get to it easily enough, but I won’t sacrifice time or other moves to reach it.)
Level 5: This one’s almost a gimme, like a breather. Just try to keep making matches on both sides quickly enough that the lines of balls never even pass each other; it’s easier than it may sound. (I’ve always suspected this level was deliberately made a little easier to let you rest up for the onslaught that follows.)
Level 6: Try not to make any shots that aren’t matches if you can avoid it, unless you’re setting up combos. (That’s actually good advice in general, but I find levels 6 and 9 move especially fast, making it even more important. Level 9 has the additional nerve-wracking quality of taking the playable area out of range within seconds, barring gap shots.) On 6, the area right in front of you is ripe for matches, combo preparation, and setting up gaps to take advantage of. Most importantly, though, always try to be putting each ball you shoot next to another ball of the same color. Even if it’s not a match now, it’s a match later.
Level 7: This one’s great for gap shots, and all those places where the path of balls crosses over and under itself are perfect for Bomb power-ups, because you can take out more than one section of the curve simultaneously! Be very careful with your aim when you’re shooting into any of the areas where the path overlaps, though, because it’s way too easy to hit the path above or below. Better to just choose shots that avoid those intersections whenever possible. And this winding path is deceptive too — it can reach the end before you even notice, just because it’s so hard to see where it starts and where it will terminate! Just try to keep on top of the curve.
Level 8: This is a marathon. Try to keep your eyes moving quickly between the two halves of the screen so you can aim in the direction where the matches/gap shots/power-ups are going to clear the biggest path at once, because if you can get one side pretty clear in a quick shot or two, that gives you a few seconds to focus on the bigger challenge on the other side. If you can keep that up as a kind of momentum, knocking down one side then picking at the other until it’s set up for a big blast, then taking that blast and switching your attention back to the first side again, you’ll get through this one.
Level 9: This one is a nightmare, no lie. Take a moment and pause the game as 8 is clearing, because your eyes are probably watering by now, and it’s a good idea to blink a few times before you try to tackle this monster. It’s going to be fast and furious. You’ve got mere moments before the balls are out of shooting range, so just keep plonking blues next to blues, whites next to whites, right-click if you have a shot at a match, but don’t take time to think, or you’re done!
Once the line of balls stops rolling out, you may be tempted to relax before clearing the last of what’s already on the board, but don’t do it! This is the hardest level in the game, and it will whomp you if you don’t stay on point! Just plug at those last few matches as fast as you can. The only thing more important than speed here is accuracy. No, I got that backwards. No, I was right the first time… the point is, be fast as you can be; you cannot afford to pause for thought on this level! But at the same time, be very judicious with each shot, because you cannot afford more than a few false moves! And never be afraid to throw a ball or two away by shooting it off the bottom of the screen. You need to make each move count, so if there’s no good move to be made, toss away your hand and see what comes up on the next deal!
Then pause the game again before 10 loads, blink some more, take a breath, and settle in for the last trial of Iron Frog.
Level 10: Long and arduous, but not capriciously cruel. You can get this one, if you’ve made it this far. The curves are very tight, so if you are aiming into corners of the triangle path you are likely to miss and wind up breaking up a line of lovely matches waiting to be combo-blasted. For that reason, I recommend aiming into the straight sections of the triangle path. Triangle corners are great for setting up and taking advantage of gap shots, though, so that’s a strong edge you’ve got in this one.
I hope some of that was helpful; if nothing else, it may help to know you’re not alone in obsessing and going white-knuckle on your mouse over this one. Iron Frog is a big challenge, which makes defeating it a big achievement! Have fun, and if you have any tips of your own, share them in the comments below, or better yet, head over to the forums to discuss with other players!