Platforms: iPad, Android tablet (coming soon to Mac, PC, and Kindle Fire)
We Played On: iPad
Zoombinis is a family-friendly game that has you guiding a fleet of adorable blue creatures through tricky environmental puzzles. The game is a rerelease of the 90s classic The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis, which was (full disclosure) one of my favorite games of all time. I’m thrilled to report that the rerelease is wonderful. It fully captures the character of the original while providing many of the handy updates we expect from modern games. And if you’re an instructor, check out this educational pamphlet written by two of the game’s developers.
Zoombinis opens with an optional video introduction that explains the main plot. Basically, the Zoombinis were a happy and profitable nation of traders until the Bloats showed up and ruined everything. The Bloats promised that they would help the Zoombinis expand their sales outposts and reach larger audiences, therefore gaining bigger profits. The Zoombinis, being trusting creatures, agreed. However it wasn’t long before the Bloats began taking advantage of the Zoombinis, canceling holidays and making them work to the bone. The peaceful Zoombinis, instead of fighting the Bloats, decided to run away and find a new homeland.
That’s where you come in! You must help the proletari—er, I mean, Zoombinis, to traverse four main stages: The Big, The Bad, and The Hungry; Who’s Bayou; Deep Dark Forest; and Mountains of Despair. At the end of these is Zoombiniville, the new home of your adorable blue friends. The more Zoombinis make it to Zoombiniville, the more cool buildings appear there. And if you ever lose one (or several) Zoombinis, they’ll just reappear at the last safe campsite you passed. None are ever lost for good. Phew!
The artwork in the game is really lovely. Each area looks as if it’s been hand-painted with watercolors to create a rich and detailed environment. In many levels you can see ancient civilizations peeking through in the background.
The Zoombinis are delightfully diverse and gender neutral. There are five different kinds of eyes, noses, hair, and feet, and each Zoombini has some combination (either hand-picked or randomized) of these traits. These traits are the main basis for the gameplay. For instance, in one level you must sort the Zoombinis into various hotel rooms, but the rooms are sorted by a certain kind of trait. Only Zoombinis with the proper trait can stay in the proper room.
Many of the puzzles demand that you use a process of elimination. However, you can only fail a certain number of times. So, while failure is necessary for figuring out the solution, you must also learn from those failures or it will be impossible to save every Zoombini. This seems like an awesome way to do puzzles to me. It’s okay to experiment, it’s okay to get things wrong; what matters is that we learn from our mistakes.
The game reused almost all of the music, narration, and sound effects from the original Logical Journey of the Zoombinis, to mixed effect. It was wonderful to hear all of those old nostalgic tunes again and gosh that narrator has a fantastic voice. However, many of the little issues I had with the game (like how the pizza trolls are much more difficult to beat if your computer is muted) were problems that also plagued the original. I wonder if the developers might have caught more of these problems had they started further from the original material.
Also, because they reused the preexisting narration, there’s not a lot of hope for any new bonus levels (though the Narrator’s original voice actor, Richard Ian Cox, is still working in the industry, so anything’s possible).
There are four main difficulty levels for the puzzles, which is awesome because it makes the game appealing to a wide range of skill levels. As you play through the main journey, you must start on the easiest mode (called Not So Easy) and work your way up in difficulty. However, if you want to try specific levels at various difficulties, you can switch to practice mode, in which you play any one level at a time instead of progressing through them in order.
One thing that bugs me is that the game doesn’t have a great pause option. If I ever needed to walk away from the iPad, I often came back to find that my progress on a tricky puzzle had been lost. Also, the green arrow that allows you to progress to the next level was a little too easy to tap, and if you hit it before you’re done, you’ll accidentally leave Zoombinis behind. This was very frustrating.
Overall, though, the puzzles are clever and addictive, and because they change every time you play, they are super fun to try over and over again.
If you love puzzles, Zoombinis is the cream of the crop. It’s silly, it’s quirky, it’s cute, it’s smart, it’s addictive, and it’s enormously fun. Zoombinis is a fantastic game for families of all ages and skill levels to play together.