Best Games - Puzz Loop / Zuma
This is a tough one. I think Zuma is one of the best games of all time, but its core concept is also lifted from another game, Puzz Loop.
The problem I have, is that Puzz Loop is good, but not great. Zuma is great, but not original. So who do you give the honors to.
First, let me describe what we are working with here. Zuma, like Puzz Loop, is an action puzzle game. Think Tetris or Bejeweled. Three in a row, color matching mechanics, but with a ticking clock. You are trying to combine three orbs of the same color. Simple enough right? A snake of different colored balls travels along a set path. In the case of Puzz Loop, a spiral. In the case of Zuma, a slightly wiggly spiral that sometimes crosses over or under itself. In both, you operate a device in the center of the spiral that spits out different colored balls. You fire the balls out, lodge them in between segments of the snake, and, if you did it right, you match three of a kind, and they blow up. There are lots of little powerups and mechanics that add to that, but really that’s the core of both of these games. Shoot balls at other balls to make them go away before they reach the center. When they reach the center, the game is over.
Puzz Loop could have been a great game. It had all the features of a great game. Fairly simple to learn, high skill cap, lots of ways to approach the same situation. Unfortunately, it’s good, but not great.
Zuma took the concept and ran with it.
At the most basic level, just changing the path that the snake of orbs travels down is pretty profound. Both Zuma and Puzz Loop incorporate a travel time into their ball firing mechanic. When you shoot, it will take a moment for that shot to get to where you are aiming. This means that you will, however slightly, have to lead your targets. The further away they are, the more you will have to predict the path your shots will take. As soon as the snake starts to take a curvy, non-uniform, path, the skill requirement on your shots goes up. You are rewarded for playing better.
There are other, surface level, things that make Zuma better, like better graphics and sound. Those aren’t strictly tied to the quality of the game, but they are nice to have.
The real kicker is platform. Puzz Loop is an arcade game, and it lives in a standard arcade cabinet. The default control scheme for arcade machines are the venerable stick and buttons. While it works fine, Puzz Loop on a stick and buttons just can’t compare to Zuma using a mouse. The speed and accuracy of mouse control is tough to beat. It’s like going from a working concept to a full-fledged production model. Zuma is just a better game.
So what do you do when one developer lifts the ideas of another developer, but rather than creating a crass clone, actually enhances the core gameplay. It happens all the time in other genres. For a long time, first-person shooters were called Doom clones. RTS games were referred to in publications as ‘like Warcraft’ even though warcraft was like Dune II and Dune II was sort of like Herzog Zwai. Developers taking inspiration from a game and then pushing that ball further down the field is sort of how things have always been done.
Puzz Loop is en extremely simple game. The core mechanics can be intuited from a single image. It’s a good concept, but someone had to push that ball further down the field. There is a Puzz Loop 2. That game doesn’t advance the concept. Zuma does.
So, Zuma might be one of the best games, but Puzz Loop is one of the best game concepts. When offered the choice, I would pick Zuma every time.