The Zoombinis travel in groups of 16 across a series of puzzles. There are 12 puzzles in total, split into four legs, and the Zoombinis must complete three legs (9 puzzles) in order to reach their new home. The first and last legs are compulsory and are completed by all Zoombinis; for the second leg the player is given a choice to take either the north or the south path.
In between each leg, there is a campsite where the Zoombinis can be stored for later retrieval.
If the player successfully brings an entire party of 16 Zoombinis through a leg, the leg will increase in difficulty and a building will be constructed at Zoombiniville to celebrate. The four difficulty levels are Not So Easy, Oh So Hard, Very Hard, and Very Very Hard, and each difficulty level is color-coded. Once a leg has increased in difficulty, there is no way to revert the change. If a group of 16 Zoombinis complete a leg while the difficulty is Very Very Hard, the difficulty does not increase since there is no higher level to progress to. In the same way, completing a leg under the Very Very Hard difficulty level will only reward the player with a new building once, since there is only one building per leg at each difficulty level.
Leg 1: The Big, The Bad and The Hungry
This leg starts at Zoombini Isle and finishes at the first campsite, Shelter Rock.
Puzzle type – Logic, Set theory.
There are two bridges hanging over a cliff supported by six wooden pegs. The Zoombinis can only cross one of the bridges, and the bridge they are allowed to cross is determined by their characteristics. If the wrong bridge is selected, the face embedded in the cliff will have an allergic reaction and the Zoombini will be sent tumbling or flying back to the other side. As a result, a peg will spring loose and drop down the cliff. If all six pegs come loose, the bridges will collapse onto the faces and the Zoombinis who did not make it to the other side will be stranded, unable to cross between the cliffs. Assuming the player actually moves the same Zoombini to each of the two bridges (where the first bridge was wrong and the second bridge is the correct one), the player is guaranteed five Zoombinis to the other side.
Stone Cold Caves
The Zoombinis arrive at a stone face divided into four caves, which can be accessed by one path each. Each path is guarded by two stone guardians, who will only let Zoombinis pass if they have the right characteristics, similar to Allergic Cliffs. If the wrong cave is selected, a guardian will release a rock slide, sending the Zoombini tumbling down the path to the bottom. The player has many chances to find the right cave for each Zoombini before a rock slide tumbles down from above and seals the cave paths, leaving behind those who have not entered a cave. There is wise and quiet Onyx, sweet and snobbish Ferrous, grouchy and mean Ignorameous, and cute and beautiful Crystal.
Puzzle type-Trial and error.
The Zoombinis arrive on a dirt road guarded by three tree trolls: Arno, Willa and Shyler. There is a pizza machine to the left which has options for different toppings for a pizza and ice cream. The trolls are hungry, and the player must create a pizza with unique toppings for each of them. If none of the trolls are happy with the toppings on the pizza, it will be thrown into a pit. But if one of the trolls likes all of the toppings present on the pizza, it will be thrown onto the rock behind that troll instead. Once a troll receives a pizza with all of the wanted toppings on it, the troll will move to stand on his or her respective rock and wait for the remaining trolls to be satisfied. If the player is unsuccessful in delivering the correct pizza after 6 tries, the Zoombini delivering the pizza will be whacked back a short distance by the nearest troll that is present. If there are more incorrect delivers, the Zoombini will be whacked back to Zoombini Isle. The more incorrect deliveries, the more Zoombinis will be whacked away. Once all trolls are satisfied, they will finish their pizzas until their tummies are full and the remaining Zoombinis will then be allowed to continue their journey. Arno is grouchy and naive, Willa is witty and bossy, and Shyler is very shy, quiet and cute.
There are significant changes to the puzzle as the level of difficulty increases:
- Not So Easy: Only Arno is present, and there are five pizza toppings.
- Oh, So Hard: Willa is added, giving a total of two trolls. There are now four pizza toppings, and ice cream is added with a total of 2 toppings.
- Very Hard: Shyler is now added, so all trolls are present. Ice cream toppings remain the same as the preceding level, but all five pizza toppings can now be used.
- Very, Very Hard: Same as Very Hard, but now with three ice cream toppings.
Once this leg is complete, the remaining Zoombinis will arrive at Shelter Rock, the first campsite. The player is then given the opportunity to take either the north or the south path through to the next leg if they have 16 Zoombinis present. If the player does not have enough Zoombinis, or if they decide to return to a different campsite, the player can place any remaining Zoombinis into a storage compartment.
Leg 2A: The Marshy Trail / Who's Bayou
This leg starts at Shelter Rock and finishes at the second camp site, Shade Tree. If the Zoombinis choose to travel north from Shelter Rock, this is the leg that they will take.
Captain Cajun's Ferryboat
Puzzle type- Trial and error, Following a sequence, Pattern finding.
Captain Cajun will take the Zoombinis across a wide river on his ferry boat, but only if they have a characteristic in common with the person they sit next to. As the puzzle difficulty increases, the seats become closer together, so each Zoombini must have something in common with multiple Zoombinis. On the first level, the Zoombinis are placed in a line where fourteen of them must have something in common with two other Zoombinis and the other two just only needs something common with one other Zoombini. On the second level, the Zoombinis are placed on a 2 by 8 grid. On the third level, the Zoombinis are placed on a 4 by 4 grid. The final level is a 4 by 4 grid with the rows shifted slightly, honeycomb-style. Here, some spaces require one Zoombini to share something in common with six other Zoombinis, as opposed to four.
Titanic Tattooed Toads
Puzzle Type - Following a sequence, pattern finding, problem solving.
The player must find a path on different shaped, patterned and colored lily pads for huge toads to ferry them across the river on their backs. Each toad has a shape on its back which corresponds to a particular feature (hence 'tattooed toads'). The same toad cannot be used more than twice nor will there be any toads that hop diagonally. If the player chooses a path which doesn’t have a continuing sequence of the shape, color or pattern on the toad's back, the toad will get stuck and the Zoombini will be left in limbo on the lily pads and cannot continue. When the puzzle difficulty increases, there are few or no paths to be found, but half-formed ones. A fairy is shown at the beginning of the puzzle changing the lily pads with a wand. The wand (called the "Swapping Stick") is left with the toads and the player must swap the lily pads with the wand to make a path. Eventually, the wand's power will run out. In the third and fourth levels, crabs emerge from the river at the top of the lily pad field. The crabs have the shape of a particular lily pad on their back and, like the toads, will work their way down the field to obstruct the toads pathway, possibly taking them in a different direction.
Similar to Captain Cajun's Ferryboat, the Zoombinis must be arranged on stones so that each Zoombini has one particular feature in common with their neighbor on the next stone. The feature to be matched is identified by a small etching on the stone between them. Doing so will create a power surge between the stones. When all the Zoombinis share a connection between their neighbors and all are connected to the power source (indicated by the stones turning red or blue), the stones rise up out of the riverbed and the Zoombinis can continue. In 'Very Very Hard' Mode (Red, Level 4) of this activity, in the centre of the field usually will be a line of four stones,(starting with the main stone on the very right and the other three directly left of it horizontally. Linking Zoombinis on these four stones, and these four stones only a banner stating that the player has entered the 'Psychedelic ZB Zone' where the Zoombinis will start to flash, for visual effect only.
Leg 2B: Deep, Dark Forest
This leg starts at Shelter Rock and finishes at the second camp site, Shade Tree. If the Zoombinis choose to travel south from Shelter Rock, this is the leg that they will take.
The Zoombinis meet their supposed cousins, the Fleens, in a clearing. There are three Fleens on a tree branch, which must be lured off by a Zoombini who has characteristics that correspond to the Fleen's characteristics. The object of this puzzle is to work out which Zoombini characteristics correspond to the Fleen characteristics. When a Fleen is lured off the branch by a Zoombini, they chase the Zoombini until the Zoombini escapes onto a separate tree branch. The player has six attempts to match the Zoombini with the Fleen before the Zoombinis run out of room on the tree branch and fall off, only to be chased away by their Fleen counterpart. If all three Fleens on the tree branch are lured off, the beehive on the branch gets disrupted and the remaining Fleens are chased away by the bees, forming a shape of either a pair of scissors, an arrow, or a storm cloud.
Assuming the 16th and last Zoombini lures the last Fleen off the branch, the player is guaranteed to have six Zoombinis progressing to the next challenge.
Didimension Hotel / Hotel Dimensia
Ulla Instantaneous is a musical squirrel who owns Didimension Hotel, Zoombini sized compartments hollowed out of a row of trees. She is preparing to close the hotel for the night so that she can begin the nightly rehearsals of her jazz band or go home. The player must place the Zoombinis in the compartments by characteristics (row by row, column by column, etc.), but if they are placed in the wrong compartment, the ledge holding the Zoombini will retract and the Zoombini will fall. Every time this happens, the clock on left side of the screen will cause 5 minutes to pass and the setting will get darker. The more mistakes made, the quicker the time passes and the darker it will become. If the clock reaches midnight, all the ledges will retract, announcing the hotel officially closed and the Zoombinis who don't have a room must return to the previous base camp.
A large stone wall inconveniently blocks the path of the Zoombinis. A nearby machine creates mud balls that can be colored and stamped with a shape. If the mud balls hit a certain target on the wall, either one, two or three Zoombinis get catapulted over the wall to safety. Eventually, the mud in the machine will run out, stranding those who did not make it over the wall. As the difficulty increases, additial squares will be added that require the player to pick the correct shape, mud colour and the colour inside the shape.
Once Zoombinis complete either of these two legs, they will arrive at Shade Tree, the second campsite. Shade Tree works in exactly the same way as Shelter Rock.
The only difference with Shade Tree (in terms of gameplay) is that there is now only one path that the Zoombinis can take - the path leading to the Mountains of Despair, which is the final leg.
Leg 3: The Mountains of Despair
This is the final leg of the journey.
The Lion's Lair
The Zoombinis encounter a dimly lit cavern where a large, stone lion guards the only way onward. Below the lion is a path consisting of 16 stones. The Zoombinis must be placed on the path, in order, according to certain characteristics, which are shown on the wall. If a Zoombini is placed on the wrong stone, that Zoombini is transported to the correct stone and a peg holding up a large gate pops free. When all the pegs are gone, the gate falls and the Zoombinis behind the gate cannot continue. The Zoombinis which are placed correctly on the path are allowed by the lion to continue their journey. As the difficulty increases, characteristics disappear from the wall until no characteristics are shown.
Puzzle type – Identifying, forward planning.
The player is presented with a set of glass slides, each bearing the image of a Zoombini. The player then has to pick a Zoombini from the party to match a slide featuring its doppelganger. The images from the Zoombini and from the slide are then projected onto each side of a large, crystal pendulum in the center of the stage. Think of it as balancing an equation. If this is done correctly, the pendulum is lifted and the Zoombini, riding a mine cart, will jump across a shaft and can move on. If it is done incorrectly, the pendulum is lowered and the Zoombini will crash into it and fall down the shaft. As the puzzle difficulty gets harder, the original reflections have to be modified by adding extra glass slides in front of them. Later on, the player will be forced to use a particular Zoombini (based on the order in which they left the last challenge), and later still, the player will be forced to use the same set of intervening slides to make the images of two Zoombinis in succession match the images of two slides.
The Zoombinis have to navigate a maze while encased inside a bubble. They have to be sent through the maze through one of the starting points, and the player has no control over the bubble once it is in motion. Panels at junctions in the maze will change the direction of some Zoombinis, according to certain characteristics. A wrong move can result in Zoombinis getting sucked into a whirlpool and lost when their protective bubble pops. If they are placed correctly, they are able to pass to the other side of the abyss. All Zoombinis that were lost will return to the Shade Tree base camp.
As the puzzle difficulty gets harder, the Zoombinis can only navigate the maze from one starting point. The player must notice arrows that alternate the directions in which they send Zoombinis, as well as panels that switch direction when a bubble passes over a corresponding trigger. Still other panels lock bubbles in place until another bubble passes over a release trigger, allowing the trapped bubble to continue in its previous direction. So as to not lose Zoombinis, players must send Zoombinis into the maze with the correct sequence and timing. The player should also be aware that if two bubbles collide with each other, both bubbles will pop and those Zoombinis will be lost. (The exception is if one bubble bumps another one out of a lock panel.)
Those who survive this leg will reach their goal: Zoombiniton. The more Zoombinis complete the journey, the more buildings, houses, etc. get built and the bigger the town will grow.
Zoombiniton / Zoombiniville
Zoombiniton is the new home of the Zoombinis. The first time the player gets an entire group of 16 Zoombinis through a certain leg at a certain level, a special building gets constructed.
The buildings that can be earned are (in order): a band shell, a windmill, a general store, a swimming pool, a clock tower, a bowling alley, a fire station, an opera house, a paper clip museum, a courthouse, a monument, a school, a city hall, a library, an observatory and a playground.