Zuma: Sequelable?

The recent announcement of Zuma‘s sequel has also got me thinking about what a peculiar notion that is. To my generation’s grandparents, talking about a sequel to a game makes no more sense than talking about a sequel to a cheese or a hatstand. But this is because the word “game” has shifted in meaning. Modern videogames, unlike traditional games, are a narrative medium. A game can have a plot, and that’s all a sequel needs.

But does this really apply to Zuma? It has a plot of sorts, but it’s paper-thin, and about as important to the experience of the game as the inter-level animations in Pac-Man (you know, the ones where the ghosts chase Pac-Man across the screen and then he chases them back). There isn’t a trace of a story until you get past the third chamber, at which point you get some nonsense about an ancient prophecy and some sort of spirit guardian. (For some reason, prophecies seem to figure into videogame plots a lot, much like abducted princesses. Perhaps because inescapable fate is an easy excuse for constraining the player’s actions.) My point is, no one can seriously be expecting that anyone will buy Zuma’s Revenge to find out what happens next.

Rather, people will buy it for whatever new gameplay and graphics it provides. But even those can’t be too new. It looks like they’re keeping the fundamentals intact, which means whatever innovations the new one provides will be the sort that, under a different business model, would be provided as an upgrade to the original. The fact that PopCap is releasing them as something they call a sequel, rather than as an expansion pack, or even just an incremented version number (as a freeware game like Nethack would), is clearly a business decision, not an artistic one. PopCap knows how to sell new titles, not updates to old ones.

1 Comment so far

  1. Jason Dyer on 23 Aug 2009

    I think you’ve mostly hit upon a simple semantic overloading.

    What would you call Asteroids Deluxe in relation to Asteroids, Space Invaders Part II in relation to Space Invaders, Frenzy in relation to Berzerk, and Ms. Pac-Man, Pac-man Jr. etc. in relation to Pac-Man?

    Side note: Mario Galaxy 2 has been called the “first direct sequel” of the 3D Marios. Of course the first three super marios put numbers as if they were sequels and have about as much relation to each other as the 3D games do.

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