Zoombinis was later ported to Windows XP as Zoombinis Logical Journey in 2001 and finally released on Steam in 2015. These newer versions retained the originals’ music, sound effects and narration but incorporated updated graphics and smoother controls. It also altered progression to higher difficulties, making you perfect an area 3 times instead of just once before the difficulty would increase. The updated versions also included in-game achievements and the Steam release includes Steam Trading Cards and badges.
At the beginning of the game, Zoombini Isle is taken over by the evil Bloats and the Zoombinis are forced to become slaves. Hoping to find prosperity elsewhere, a group of 16 escape on a boat in search of a new land to call home. At the start of the game, you create your own group of 16 Zoombinis who are differentiated by having different hairstyles, different shaped eyes or glasses, different colours of nose and different types of feet - from sneakers to springs or propeller fans. Combining different features allows for the creation of 625 unique Zoombini characters.
The gameplay of Zoombinis revolves around completing puzzles, which are logic or mathematical based. Some require taking into account the Zoombinis features, finding patterns and matching shapes while others require problem solving, spatial awareness and strategy. There are a total of 16 different puzzles all together and each one can be attempted on one of four difficulty levels. Once a player successfully guides a group of 16 Zoombinis through a section of 3 puzzles without losing any, the difficulty will gradually increase. Increased difficulty will add more obstacles, dud answers or red herrings, more factors to consider when making a choice or less chances to fail.
The puzzles are as follows; The Big, The Bad and the Hungry section is comprised of The Allergic Cliffs, Stone Cold Caves and Pizza Pass. The Allergic Cliffs involves figuring out which Zoombini feature the sneezing cliffs are allergic to and working out which of the two bridges is safe to cross. For example, the top cliff may sneeze at Zoombinis with red noses, while the bottom cliff may sneeze at Zoombinis wearing shoes. Stone Cold Caves is very similar but instead includes 4 different paths instead of 2, this time guarded by a group of stone gargoyles who will only allow certain features of Zoombinis to pass into their cave. Pizza Pass is my favourite puzzle and the one that seems to be the most recognisable amongst players - you must make a pizza for Arno the Omnivorous (and in later levels his two friends) - but he dislikes certain toppings. For example, he may dislike mushrooms but ask for more toppings if you only add cheese and pepperoni.
The path splits into two at this point as the Zoombinis reach a campsite - these are rest areas where you can store Zoombinis and is also where Zoombinis who are knocked out of the later levels will end up, instead of going back to Zoombini Isle. Going north leads to Who’s Bayou whilst going east leads to Deep Dark Forest. The first puzzle in Who’s Bayou is Captain Cajun's Ferry, which revolves around looking for patterns and making matches, as only Zoombinis who share a feature in common with the one sitting beside them are allowed to sit on the boat. Titanic Tattooed Toads also involves looking for patterns - you must find a row of lily pads that form a path across the river and choose a toad with the matching tattoo for a Zoombini to ride on. These include colours, shapes and symbols. Stone Rise is similar to Captain Cajun’s Ferry and involves making matches and pairs of Zoombini features to light up sections of the floor and allow them to pass. This gradually gets more difficult in later levels when you have to factor in more than one feature at a time.
The first puzzle in the Deep Dark Forest brings you face to face with the Zoombinis’ nemeses the Fleens. You must lure them off the tree branch by baiting them with a Zoombini you think best correlates to the features they show. After this is Hotel Dimensia, a mathematics based puzzle that involves organising Zoombinis into columns and rows based on the features they share with others and the differences - for example a row of pink noses and a column of spiky hair. Finally there is the Mudball Wall, which in my opinion is very similar to sudoku but instead of numbers, employs the use of colours and shapes. You must find the pattern and hit the correct spaces on the wall to allow Zoombinis to pass.
After completing either path, you will regroup at the second campsite which functions identically to the previous one. After this is the final set of puzzles, The Mountains of Despair. Puzzle #1 is The Lion’s Lair, which involves placing all of the Zoombinis in an order that corresponds to the clues on the walls behind - for example putting all of the mohawk hairstyles before the flat top haircuts. Next is the Mirror Machine, which relies on matching the current Zoombini to the one projected on the opposite wall by using filters to change their features. For example, filters that make the Zoombini appear to have different hair or a different coloured nose. And the final puzzle that blocks the path to the Zoombinis’ new homeland is Bubblewonder Abyss - a maze that Zoombinis must traverse whilst encased inside a bubble. This puzzle involves a lot of forethought and strategy to ensure that you avoid traps and don’t hit other Zoombinis that are also floating around.
The only real issues with Zoombinis is the sheer lack of any sort of help or hints - if you’re stuck on a level, it’s tough - you have to work things out for yourself, and quite often you’ll find yourself having completed a level without even being able to fathom how. A lot of the puzzles revolve around luck and trial and error and on the harder difficulties can become insanely frustrating if you’re a perfectionist like me who wants to save all 16 every time. Losing one means you continue on without them or having to restart the section again - which can be infuriating if you’re on the 3rd and final puzzle in an area.
However, it is incredibly addicting - and finally figuring out how to complete a puzzle that has stumped you for hours is one of the most satisfying feelings I’ve ever experienced whilst gaming. It’s not the sort of pleasure one derives from lucky item drops, grinding levels or timing - it’s knowing you’ve beaten a 20 year old obtuse puzzle game originally developed for children with your magnificent adult brain. Suck on that, Ulla!