Ziro Review

By David Stone |

The recent global warming summit in Copenhagen has brought environmental issues to the forefront of the world’s attention, and people are being encouraged to help save the planet by changing their routines. Ziro is trying to help cool down the planet… using dice?

That’s the general idea in Ziro. You are a snowman out to cool down the Earth by travelling around the globe, solving puzzles along the way. The puzzles are comprised of sliding dice around a level, trying to move two identical numbered dice with values up to nine around until they’re adjacent. To clear them, left-click and flick your cursor to mash one die into the other. The dice will slide along a straight path by clicking and flicking your cursor in one of four directions, stopping only for a wall or obstacle.

What makes Ziro much more interesting is the extra layers of math it adds. Don’t worry; it’s not the boring kind of math. If two dice are not the same but touching and you flick them together, they will combine into a new die. If the numbers add up to less than nine, they will be added. If they would add up to more, the smaller number will subtract from the larger number. For example, if a stage has four dice with two, three, four and five, you’d need to get the two and five together, the four and three together, add those pairs to seven, then get the newly-created sevens beside each other to clear the level. With 300 levels, there’s a lot to do!

Along the way, various helpers and hindrances abound. Ice blocks, for instance, stop your dice in their path, but can be cleared by clicking them. Some boxes have no value, but are there as bumpers, for better or for worse. These boxes can either be moved as many times as you like, but sometimes can only be moved once then are stuck in place. Ziro introduces each element one at a time, with an explanation for each (though not always clearly; more on that in a bit).

After each set of levels, Ziro the snowman appears and gives you ideas on how to reduce your carbon footprint, such as carpooling or turning off the standby power to your computer. It’s a nice addition, and good to see socially-conscious developers out there.

To navigate the world, you click on various cities on an overworld map that, though full, is very hard to make out. Cities appear at tiny circles that flash red, but only after zooming in on an area. It’s not very intuitive, and the order in which you play through cities has no bearing on which level you’re playing.

There are a healthy number of gameplay options. There are three difficulty levels, and options to practice any level you’ve completed. Along with a Quest Mode (the main mode of the game) and Practice, there is a Skill mode, where you try to complete as many puzzles as possible in a given timeframe using as few moves as possible. It’s a great challenge, and a good reason to go back and perform better on those completed stages.

During gameplay, thee presentation for Ziro is very nice. With smooth, detailed 3D graphics – with levels that can be rotated by right-clicking and dragging, or zoomed in or out – and clear presentation, there’s little to complain about in-game. Certainly the choices for borders are odd at times (the Statue of Liberty is present on the right side of the screen for every "North America" level, including Los Angeles or Havana) but doesn’t impact the gameplay. A word of warning though: The nice detailed 3D graphics look great in fullscreen mode, but in windowed mode, things are too small to see or control easily.

This is like all the problems in Ziro. There are a lot of details that should have been caught but weren’t, dragging down what could have been a great game. First up, the music. When the game is loading, the first sound you hear is that of a horrible 1980s computer game synthesizer – the kind we were thrilled to leave behind when CDs were invented. It doesn’t get much better. The in-game tunes are repetitive and poorly-composed, and you’ll probably be going for that Music Volume slider in a hurry.

The worst, though, has to be the grammar combined with a weird difficulty curve. Unfortunately, we have learned to put up with bad grammar in games, but it becomes a major problem in Ziro. Explanations are often very unclear, but if you click to clear the dialog box away, you’ll never be able to see it again. We had to restart the game three times to re-read the initial instructions, the "translation" is the explanation you read before. In a game with complicated mechanics, this is inexcusable. Ziro‘s difficulty often spikes – and with no way to skip a level, be prepared for some real hair-pulling moments. But when combined with the game’s difficulty in simply explaining things to you, it compounds the problem.

Sadly, the conclusion is a common one: it’s a shame that Ziro is saddled with all these problems. The developers took a great idea and dragged it down with lots of little (and not-so-little) things. Do try the demo and give Ziro a chance, and take his environmental message to heart. But issues may cool Ziro‘s reception.

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