Blazing down Marble Trails on Facebook

Another iteration on PopCap’s popular Zuma title has come to light on Facebook. The new app is dubbed Marble Trails from developer Mega Zebra. Despite its obvious inspiration, however, the game is solidly made and even devises a handful of new features like boss battles. Unfortunately, the new ideas are scarce, leaving players wishing there was a bit more than the same old game that has been played a dozen times before.

Marble Trails puts you in control of some sort of traveling hermit crab in a cowboy hat. For whatever reason or another, he can only move forward by shooting the multicolored marbles (perhaps to remove them from his path?) in various puzzles and dealing with the occasional baddie that gets in his way. It’s a curious premise, to be sure, but it plays familiarly enough.

Marble Trails

The core of the game is the standard match-three style of Zuma play in which different colored globes meander towards a pit at the end of a track and you must match three of the same color to remove them (more colors are added to each successive level) all before they reach it. It all plays into a scoring system too, with score multipliers activating for removing globes in succession, removing more than three at a time, firing through a gap, and so on. Additionally, as the levels progress, several bonuses will appear on certain globes that can also increase score as well as grant power-ups.

The power-up system is nothing terribly new either but does grant you a means to deal with more difficult levels. These consist of pausing the steady flow of globes, reversing their direction, blowing up sets of them all at once, and so on. These can also be purchased with coins that are earned with the completion of each level. That said, the power-ups are a one time use and generally not necessary until much later puzzles.

Unfortunately, it will be much later, as Marble Trails incorporates a lives system that drains one heart of life for every puzzle attempted. Like most social games, these regenerate over an extended period of time, but can be replenished by spending money on virtual currency. Thankfully, the first sitting does last a little bit longer, as apparently you level up as you play (refilling all hearts). Surprisingly, this is significantly downplayed.

Marble Trails

Where the game becomes a bit more interesting is when boss characters are encountered. Marble Trails is broken up into six different stages with each containing several Zuma-style puzzles. However, at the end of each stage there is a boss. Here, the hermit crab avatar is capable of moving on a set track (e.g. up and down a vertical bar) instead of being stuck to a single, rotating point. When “fighting” the boss, the same stream of globes will work towards the expected pitfall at the end of the track in between the hermit crab and the boss. The idea is to remove the globes so you can fire clear shots at the boss until his health reaches zero.

It’s actually a great idea and a good means of changing up a fairly repetitive style of gameplay. Sadly, the number of these encounters is extremely sparse, and most of the experience is filled with the standard type of game we have all seen before. It’s not terribly exciting in terms of social aspects either (though such is not surprising considering the score-based nature of the game) and consists primarily of gifting and leaderboards.

Even with the qualms it comes with, Marble Trails is still a fairly enjoyable game for those that like Zuma. It’s actually extremely well polished in terms of visuals and sound design too and at the very least, it is a new collection of puzzles. If you can overlook the repetitive game design, then Mega Zebra’s new title is worth trying. All that said, it is a shame that the game focuses so little on the more innovative concepts it devises — such as the boss battles — in order to work more on the stagnant ones.