Taking a cue from the success of Bejeweled Blitz, the team at PopCap have just released another totally free time-limited spin on a classic formula. Zuma High Speed Challenge takes the ball-bursting, color-matching action you know and love, puts it online, and has you struggling to get as high a score as you can in under 3 minutes.
If you're at all familiar with Zuma or Zuma's Revenge, you're going to know exactly what to expect in Zuma High Speed Challenge. Controlling a ball-spitting frog in the center of the screen you'll try to make matches of three or more like-colored marbles as they slink along a path. Once you make a match the marbles will disappear. Move too slowly and the seemingly endless parade of marbles will reach a hole and disappear, thus ending the game.
What makes Zuma High Speed Challenge a little different is that the object of the game isn't to eliminate all of the marbles from the board, but to rack up as high a score as possible in under 3 minutes. Your game can still end early by letting the marbles slip into the abyss, but with a slightly different objective you'll find that you'll need to bust balls a little faster than you ever have before if you want to do well.
The game is limited to only one map, but it's a small and understandable sacrifice in a game that's all about high score competition. There's only one thing that's really missing here, but it's such a huge omission it left us scratching our heads when we should have been enjoying our games: where was the social integration?
You'd expect a game with a formula clearly inspired by PopCap's own Bejeweled Blitz to be all about competing with your friends on Facebook, but Facebook Connect options are nowhere to be found! Why create a game all about getting a high core in this day and age without letting you fight for supremacy on a Facebook friends' leaderboard? How about on any kind of a leaderboard? There's no central high score database to check out when you end your round. Nowhere to enter your initials. Nowhere to even track your own past scores. In a game that's all about score, this total lack of competition is baffling.
What makes this omission stand out even more like a sore thumb is how much better this is than PopCap's proper Facebook-connected Zuma. The other Zuma (also not playable directly on Facebook) was little more than the old web-based version of Zuma with Facebook friends' scoring competition and a few medals to mark scoring milestones thrown in. Zuma High Speed Challenge, on the other hand, has a much higher level of visual polish. It's downright beautiful – nigh indistinguishable from the recently released Zuma's Revenge.
Zuma High Speed Challenge offers up a great, score-driven version of Zuma but falls flat on its face when it comes to embracing the social aspects needed to make score-driven games worthwhile. One can hope that changes are on the way, but unless they materialized Zuma High Speed Challenge feels like little more than a dry run for what we expect to be Zuma's inevitable conquest of Facebook.