So, if I were to mention PopCap in a review, I’m sure a lot of readers would cringe. I mean, most of us don’t want to be associated with the company that produces a ton of games at the older crowd. Sure, they occasionally hit it big with some games, but most of them involve matching some sort of item with a couple of others in the same row to remove them from the board. The design has become insanely popular and spawned tons of clones, after all – Bejeweled is undeniably one of the more popular games among the non-hardcore crowd.
However, on occasion, PopCap makes a game that manages to enthrall both the hardcore audience and the non-hardcores alike. Bejeweled actually did a good job of that with its simple style of gameplay but surprising amount of depth. Zuma is also a pretty addictive puzzler that is ridiculously simple to learn. Well, get ready to download and buy yet another high quality game from PopCap because they have another that you probably skipped over because of the cartoony theme and company it came from – enter Peggle.
Peggle is one of the oddest combinations of games that I’ve ever seen. On one hand, you have a Pachinko-style element to the gameplay – plop the ball down a set of pegs and watch as it lights them up and bounces like crazy all over the screen. Unlike Pachinko, though, you’re also playing a game of Breakout here since lighting up any of the pegs on the screen deletes them after your ball leaves the screen. At the bottom, instead of score slots, you have a moving basket that, if it catches the ball, gives you a free shot. I know this all sounds pretty darn simple, but it seems PopCap has also figured out the formula for the substance that keeps gamers hooked to MMOs and collectible card games, taken the substance and then included a liberal dose alongside Peggle.
The gameplay, as I mentioned, is horribly simple. At first, levels are a piece of cake – you’ll be tasked with eliminating all the orange pegs from a level. Eventually, green pegs are introduced. These green pegs will grant you some sort of power, be it a line that will show you where the first bounce of a ball will go to a fireball that blows straight through any peg in its path. There are ten of these powers in total and I can only really see one or two that I would rarely, if ever use.
Each of these powers is “taught” by a master of that power. Each of these powers comes with five levels of its own. Some of them are pretty simple, with random pegs scattered. However, others are pretty interestingly themed, in particular the stage with a big and small Yin-Yang and the one that is a car, complete with moving dotted line under it. The levels are well designed overall and make you want to go through them again to top your last score.
And, to completely finish the game, you’ll need to do just that. After you’ve beaten the 50 regular levels, you’ll have to take on 75 challenges ranging from pretty easy (take out 35 orange pegs instead of 25) to the ridiculously difficult (eliminate every single peg, including the blue ones, from a stage). The wide variety of challenge styles is really what makes these last so long. Another nice touch is that, if you accomplish one of these challenges throughout the course of the game (say that you get 350,000 points on one of the levels that would be a challenge level later on for 350k), you’ll get a completion for the challenge later on. You don’t have to worry about getting lucky as you go through the game only to lose the high score you got when challenge time rolls around.
There’s also the ability to play against a real, live person sitting beside you (sorry, no internet play). This is also really fun, especially since a couple of new rules are added. First of all, you have to hit an orange peg on your turn, else you’ll lose 25% of your total points (and won’t gain any that you earned on the turn either). This forces people to consider leaving a big point combo to rot since an orange peg isn’t involved but can also lead to more assholish moves such as leaving your opponent no shot. If you get down to the last peg, the person to bust it is actually not necessarily the winner, though the game does go into extreme fever mode. Each of the holes is worth half of its normal value, though, with the center being worth 50,000 points. The slight luck element in the game that can lead to one shot completely changing the course of the game is what makes it so fun, especially if you have a really cocky buddy.
As mentioned already, the game’s graphics are pretty simple, albeit colorful. They’re definitely not top-notch graphics that you’d expect from a 50 dollar game – being that the game is only 20 bucks, though, it gets a pass there. Where things really go well in Peggle, though, is the sound. The music for the levels is pretty addicting, but the best part comes at the end of the level. See, when your ball gets close to the final orange piece, you go into what is called “extreme fever” mode. When this happens, the ball gets a rainbow trail behind it but, more importantly, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (from the last movement of his Ninth Symphony) starts to play. You may not recognize the name, but you’ll definitely recognize the music. It still cracks me up every time I hear it because it feels like the game is trying to have some sort of epic feel about it. However you look at it, though, it is just plain fun to hear it belt out from what feels like a somewhat serene game until that point.
Overall, Peggle is probably the biggest surprise game of the year for me so far. Normally, I avoid PopCap stuff because it is so simple and makes me want more 15 minutes in. Peggle, however is different – while it is simple and seems to not offer much on the surface, there’s a whole other game buried deep within for the hardcore gamer. The subtle touches, though, are what really make this game worth picking up, particularly for 20 bucks. Hardcore gamers, don’t miss out on this one because of the company it is from – it is a fun game to play in between the crazy frag sessions.