Throughout the history of the casual game, the storyline has often been an afterthought. At first, no one cared about character and plot. In an effort to attract women, though, developers began adding simple narratives to their jewel-swappers. For a time, the story sat in silence in the corner of the room without disrupting the game; you could click past the cutscenes and still have fun. But no more. In ZoomBook: The Temple of the Sun, the narrative is such an intricate part of the tapestry, there’s no separating the two.
In fact, the story is a good place to begin this review. Developed by Argentina-based QB9 and published by MumboJumbo, ZoomBook stars John and Linda, a pair of anthropology experts who embark on a journey through an ancient world after receiving a mysterious chest. You follow the twosome through nine chapters comprised of 88 levels, piecing together puzzles that form the transition from one story segment to the next.
It works like this: in one scene, Linda is shown holding up a photo of a strange object as the narrator explains what’s taking place. After the dialogue is over, the screen breaks into several square segments which are then shuffled into new positions. It’s your job to swap squares until you return all of them to their rightful place. After everything is in order, the camera zooms in on the picture Linda is holding, and the next stage begins.
As you progress, the puzzles are split into smaller and smaller segments. At first, ZoomBook is a breeze, requiring you to swap just a few large squares. Around level 20, though, you’ll find yourself peering closer at the ever-shrinking fragments to see where they fit. That said, there’s enough discernible detail in each scene, including stationary artwork along the border, to help you determine how everything fits together.
Throughout your journey, you’ll encounter three kinds of levels. Timed stages challenge you to complete the task at hand before the clock runs out. Puzzle levels give you a limited number of moves for completing a stage. And in Chaos levels, pieces of the picture continually split into smaller segments and move around the screen. Should you allow the puzzle to break down into too many sections, you lose.
Although there’s plenty of challenge in ZoomBook, the option to choose from three difficulty levels allows you to simplify the process if you desire. This makes ZoomBook accessible to younger players and those of us who, uh, want to experience the story but aren’t the quickest at putting together puzzles. You can also make use of powerups that attach themselves to random puzzle pieces, such as one that stops time, another that grants extra moves and a third that shows where a particular piece goes.
Complete enough of the game, and you’ll unlock four additional modes, including Time, Puzzle and Chaos, all of which are identical to what I described above, and Gauntlet, which allows you play one puzzle without end.
So that’s ZoomBook in a nutshell, but how does it look and play? Just great. It’s hard to screw up a game in which you click on tiles, but I have to give QB9 props for the clever twists they threw in, especially Chaos Mode. These modulations in gameplay from level to level keep ZoomBook fresh — as does the story, which creates intrigue with shadowy characters that work their way in from the fringes of the plot. Plus, the script provides just enough foreshadowing to keep you interested, even when you might be weary of piecing together puzzles. When I found myself wondering near the beginning if there was more to John and Linda than met the eye, I knew the story was a winner.
Visually, if you can picture stills from the Disney films Treasure Planet or Atlantis: The Lost Empire, you’ll have a good idea of what the hand-painted 2D scenes in ZoomBook look like: colorful and well-drawn, with plenty of detail.
It’s evident a lot of work went into creating ZoomBook. While it won’t win over those who avoid puzzles at all costs, ZoomBook has got a great story, unique gameplay and impressive visuals. For all its intrigue, the one mystery you won’t have to solve while playing ZoomBook is what kept you up all night.