Overall Score 88%
There aren't many games that focus on environmental concerns. There was "Captain Planet", released on the Amiga back in 1991 with gameplay so awkward it was presumably a ploy to get youngsters to switch off their computers and save electricity, and our recent review game "Bionic Heart" made oblique reference to climate change within its storyline, but generally it's a fairly downbeat subject that clashes with a game's primary purpose - to have fun.
It's therefore not surprising that, beyond the background plot and the occasional advice about leaving your car at home and so on, Ziro is only peripherally connected to global warming concerns. Ziro is the name of the youngest of the ancient order of snowmen, awoken by our careless disregard of the planet's thermostat and out to teach us a few ways to reverse the damage. This seems to be accomplished by... pushing blocks around the screen. No! Wait! Don't go away just yet. This puzzler is actually quite good!
It plays in a pretty standard fashion. Each puzzle consists of a number of ice blocks, scattered amongst walls and other obstacles, and your task is to match like blocks with like. Once you push a block, it will not stop until it hits something. Push two identical blocks into each other, and they disappear. Your task is to remove all these blocks in order to proceed to the next puzzle. Doing so quickly and with as few moves as possible will score you extra points. However, there's an extra dimension to all this - each block has a number of spots on it (up to nine), and if you match two different blocks they will merge into one with either the sum or the difference of the numbers of the first two blocks - for instance, push a five into a two and you'll get a seven block. There are also the usual special blocks, such as one that can only be moved once, or blocks that can be removed with just a click when you want to be rid of them, and many more besides.
Control is by mouse, with blocks manipulated by clicking on the block to move and dragging it in the appropriate direction (up, down, left, right - no diagonals). You can also rotate the view by holding down the right mouse button and zoom in and out with the mouse wheel - there is a keyboard equivalent if your mouse lacks this feature. A range of preset camera views are also available by pressing numbers 1 to 7 on the keyboard. There are also the usual options to restart or quit in the menu, available by the escape key or the big MENU button in the bottom right. Bizarrely there are keyboard equivalents for most things except the game controls themselves! One disappointment here is that there are no instructions for these controls outside of looking at them mid-game through this menu - no manual is provided and no instructions are available from the title screen, which seems somewhat remiss.
Graphics are clear if a touch singular in colour - but then, ice all tends to look much the same! The cubic blocks you are manipulating are all clearly distinguished with red and blue spots, and cleverly alternate in colour so that red ones are odd and blue ones are even. This makes blocks with similar numbers of spots easier to distinguish. Special blocks are all clearly distinguished. Being able to rotate the game view is a nice touch, though I found it rather pointless. The different cities you visit around the world have different backgrounds, generally featuring well known landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, in a much more cartoon style than the game board (which is virtually identical in any city you visit).
Ziro doesn't just have music - it has an official soundtrack! A copy of this, in MP3 format, is in the game's installation folder, so if you like the ingame tunes you can even add them to your iPod. I'm not sure they're going to rock the music charts, though they're inoffensive enough and certainly higher quality than standard puzzle games provide. The only one that I felt was particularly weak is the title theme, which keeps reminding me of the theme tune to "Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds" (if you're old enough to remember this cartoon, you'll probably know what I mean when you hear it). A range of sound effects accompanies all the relevant actions, including the clink of ice hitting ice and the rumble as it scrapes across the floor, but understandably sound effects are limited.
Ziro is a very easy game to get into. New blocks are introduced one at a time as you play; I'm not clear whether the cities you play introduce different blocks if you play them in a different order. I haven't yet managed to get completely stuck, though I have needed to restart a number of times. There is no actual limit on moves and your time limit is quite generous (at least for the earlier puzzles!) making this a fairly relaxed experience. You also have three game modes - the main one being quest mode, in which you play through various cities and travel across the world in the process. Skill mode replays these puzzles with a limit of three lives and randomly awarded bonus dice after each puzzle. Get three of the same die and you can use them to help you out with extra time, or to beat the level straight away. Each of these has a cost, generally to your bonus score. The final game mode is a practice mode that lets you replay any level without the time limit.
With three hundred puzzles and a wealth of clever blocks (the magnets are particularly sneaky, and those teleporters can be confusing), there's plenty to keep you coming back. I've completed about forty of these puzzles as I type this review, so there's plenty to go - and since each level is just a matter of a few minutes to play, I can see myself coming back to it during quiet periods when I don't have long enough to do something more involved. I'd have liked to see a puzzle editor provided with it - a means to construct your own fiendish traps to bamboozle your friends - but, alas, there is none. Something for a future update, perhaps?
Puzzle games involving sliding and matching blocks are ten a penny these days, but this is actually a pretty good variation on the theme. Ziro strikes that delicate balance between lots of game features and a realistic difficulty curve fairly well - it may perhaps be a little too easy-going for ardent puzzle fans but, if you just want to unwind at the end of a long day at work, it's pitched about perfectly.
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