This could get messy. We're not exactly sure on what planet it is that guardian frogs must protect the spiralling corridors of their temples from an unholy invasion of coloured balls, but we suspect it's the same one Bub and Bob visited.
Yes folks, you are now entering ball-bursting territory. Abandon all hope of having normal dreams for several days.
Not content with raining down from the skies above in Bust-A-Move, these evil, merciless, relentless coloured balls are now intent on invading and terrorising the confines of the musty, once-deserted chambers of these eerie old shrines. But a wise old frog knows the weaknesses of the nefarious spherical menace; you could call it a good old fashioned trichotomy: two's company, three's a crowd. It's satisfying in the knowledge that however many hundreds pour through the defenceless temple doors, this ball-spitting frog idol can send them packing back from whence they came... with a satisfying pop.
In case we hadn't rammed home the point enough lately, Xbox Live Arcade on 360 is just about the most instantly entertaining way to get your kicks on a home console these days, and thanks to the complete lack of any definable storylines or premise, we get to completely make them up off the top of our heads. It's a win win, and no mistake.
Spiral of doom
Zuma Deluxe is another one of those games you'll probably be familiar with from the previous Live Arcade, or from the shareware scene it originated from. As with almost everything available for download on the 360, it doesn't look anything worth bothering with from the outset. Sure, it's in high definition, but it looks simple, dated, low budget and certainly nothing to get excited about. And then, unexpectedly, six hours later you're hauling yourself off to bed with spiralling eyes and humming that tune forever.
But as anyone who has ever sat playing through dozens of Bust-A-Move levels in one sitting, it's got that devilishly moreish appeal that seems to follow all good puzzle games. We are the Bisto kids, and this is the smell of home-cooked gaming that we'll follow to the end of time.
Zuma's certainly no slouch, though, and that's where your problems start. You control the aforementioned frog idol, a passive aggressive little fellow who sits in the middle of the screen with the ability to rotate 360 degrees and spit balls at the oncoming evil horde.
Much like the other ball-poppers we know and love, the rule of three applies, so you must attempt to fire your ball at two or more balls of the same colour to destroy them. But unlike other ball-popping extravaganzas, the ever-spiralling throng are on the move, thus making it harder to line-up a shot, and increasing the risk of missing the mark entirely. If you consistently foul up, the music enters its 'dance of death' mode, the ball bonanza reaches your gaping maw, you lose a life, you scream blue murder, and you start that stage from scratch.
The trick (if there is one) is to be quick and be deadly. Matching up chains one after the other gains you a points bonus, and the more you can eliminate in succession, the quicker you'll fill up the points bar. Once full, the floodgates dry up, no more balls appear to replace the old ones, and you can go about mopping up the remainder. In addition, enemy balls regularly change in appearance, giving you the opportunity to take advantage of the power-ups. As well as granting you incredibly useful face-saving powers such as the Backwards Ball, you'll also be able to temporarily stall the onslaught, or even cause mass explosions that give you breathing space just when you need it.
Other tricks present themselves on occasion, such as squeezing shots through tiny gaps for a bonus, or snatching coins for a score bonus - skillshots which all help towards stalling the ball supply.
Needless to say, it all gets very familiar very quickly, but somehow that's not a problem in a game where you'll be pushed to the limits. The short, sharp, addictive appeal only seems to grow the more you're tested, and with 20 temples (all with five or more stages in each) in the Adventure mode to conquer, it's a game that could feasibly last far longer than you initially suspected. Even progressing beyond the game's fifth stage is a tall order, but when games are measured in minutes rather than hours, you won't mind coming back for more when it's all over; in fact, you'll be struggling to stop yourself. It's a messy business.
Be quick or be dead
Zuma Deluxe's Gauntlet mode offers slightly less appeal for the average adventurer, delivering what amounts to a deadly survival mode where you must progress from one stage to the next armed with just one life. Challenging and palpitating as it may be, it's hugely disappointing to make huge inroads only to be punished for a minor error, but them's the breaks.
Elsewhere, there's not really much to it. There's no additional 'classic' mode, no multiplayer challenges thrown in, no online modes or tweakable skill levels or the sort of features many other Live Arcade games seem to be happy to sport. Meanwhile, some of the achievements seem heavily weighted towards the total obsessive (earn 20 points for playing for 24 hours, one ludicrous example), so don't expect to boost your Gamerscore by any great degree.
Zuma Deluxe is a hugely addictive addition to the Live Arcade scene, but very much a completist's game for the lone puzzler. Once you've waded your way through what's on offer, you'll have seen literally everything, because, as compelling as it is while you're hooked on it, it's unlikely to be something you'll revisit much. Questionable, too, is the price; at 800 points it's a little on the high side for something lacking much in the way of variety or replay value. While Zuma Deluxe lasts, though, it's up there with the best currently available on Live.
Zuma Deluxe is available on Xbox Live for 800 points (approx Ł6.66)