One of the great pleasures in a guilty layabout's life is watching telly while playing videogames. It feels like multi-tasking because you're doing two things at once, but you're still not actually achieving anything at all. It's only possible with mediocre TV programmes that don't require much attention (so The Practice, not The Wire), and repetitive videogames without a narrative (Bejeweled, not Final Fantasy XII).
This month I have mostly been watching Wire in the Blood while playing Zuma's Revenge. Or rather, Zuma's Revenge!, as PopCap excitedly insists on calling it. Turns out this is an excellent combination. Zuma's Revenge! requires just the right level of concentration to occupy the left-brain, leaving the other half to jog along with the predictable plots of Wire in the Blood. The result is simultaneous absorption and total relaxation. There's something strangely soothing about enjoying the endless plink and pop of coloured balls while Robson Green shouts, "WERE THEY ALL ANALLY PENETRATED, CAROL?"
Or perhaps that's just me. The point is, Zuma's Revenge! is gently engrossing and quietly addictive, just like all the previous instalments in the series. The problem is, Zuma's Revenge is just like all the previous instalments in the series. That's only an issue if you're a veteran, though - if you haven't played a Zuma game before, you're in for a treat.
For those who aren't familiar, you control an Aztec frog who fires coloured balls from his mouth. He's surrounded by a string of more coloured balls which are scrolling towards a skull-shaped trap. The idea is to destroy balls by matching them up. Fire a single red ball into a group of two or more, for example, and they'll explode. Let's say there are a couple of purple balls on either side - when the red balls disappear, the purple balls will match up and also explode. In this way you can set up chain reactions and trigger multiple explosions.
Matching up balls adds more juice to your Zuma meter. Once it's full no further balls are released, so completing the level only involves eliminating the balls already on-screen. If at any point the end of the string reaches the skull trap, it's game over.
In the original Zuma there were four power-ups, each one activated by destroying balls with the relevant symbol. One caused the string to move backwards for a few seconds, while another temporarily slowed down its forward movement. The least exciting power-up indicated exactly where the next ball would hit, allowing you to shoot more accurately. The most exciting one caused an explosion, obliterating all the balls within a small blast radius.
All the above power-ups are present and correct in Zuma's Revenge!, along with a few new ones. Laser Frog shoots a powerful laser beam from your frog's eyes which can destroy individual balls. Fire the Lightning Colour Nuke at the ball of your choice and all other balls of the same colour will explode too. Finally, there's the Tri-Shot. This lets your frog fire three cannonballs which are powerful enough to destroy everything in their path.
All the new power-ups are fun to play with and handy to have at your disposal. The Laser Frog is particularly useful for tactical play, as it can be used to set-up bigger chains for later on. The other two are satisfying to see in action and can be invaluable for getting out of tight spots. It's a bit of a shame, however, that there are only three new power-ups to try out, and that none of them add any significant twists or layers of depth to the gameplay.