Review: Peggle (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Peggle
Genre: Puzzle
Developer: PopCap Games
Publisher: Microsoft (Xbox Live Arcade)
Release Date: 03/11/09

Before you spend your Microsoft Points on the Xbox Live Arcade release of Peggle, be warned: Peggle is the enemy of productivity. Peggle was originally released on the PC in 2007 as part of PopCap Games ongoing war against the attention span. If you look at PopCap Games’ history, their mission statement becomes clear: make a game with the fewest gameplay elements as possible, use bright colors, and make it feel as if there is a constant sense of progression or reward. This simple plan has created some dangerously addictive games such a Bejewelled and Noah’s Ark.

What’s amusing is the fact that people talk about Nintendo catering to an audience that only plays games casually or has never played at all when PopCap has been doing this for years. I know a lot of people in my office that do not even know what video game system exist currently, and yet all of them have played at least one PopCap game on the PC.

Even with all their other addictive games, nothing comes close to the odd addictive power of Popcap’s Peggle.

Essentially Peggle is a mix of Pachinko, Bust-A-Move, and Pinball. The various levels of Peggle have a 2D background picture and in the foreground are different colored pegs. At the top of the screen is a pointer from which you launch a ball from. You use the joystick to move the pointer to select where you want to shoot the ball then press A. As the ball descends, it will take out any pegs that bounces off of. There are different colored pegs, but the overall object of the game is to take out all of the orange pegs.

Those are just the basics. At the bottom of the screen is a bucket that slides back and forth, if the ball you launch lands in the bucket then you get an extra ball. There’s also a score element to the game with purple pegs acting as a multiplier to get a higher score. If you achieve a certain score you also get an extra ball. There are blue pegs that are the standard pegs that you can take out for points. Then there are green pegs, which when hit activate different level specific abilities.

In the main mode of the game, you will advance from one Peggle master to another. Each Peggle master has a unique ability and five different levels to clear in order to advance to the next level. These different abilities range from the very helpful, such as the Zen ability that chooses the best shot for you, to fairly unhelpful, like the Lucky Spin ability due to the fact that its effect is random.

When it comes to gameplay Peggle is all about randomness. Sure, it does take some limited skill to make a good shot, but once the ball starts bouncing around the screen it’s unpredictable as to where it’s going to land next. Most of the skill is just recognizing an appropriate time to use an ability. Yet for a game that doesn’t rely on skill, there’s something inherently rewarding about making a good shot. When you let a ball loose and it bounces around the screen hitting a bunch of orange pegs and then it lands in the free ball bucket makes you just want to stand up and yell “Oh, yeah!” even though there was very little player input into the outcome.

Then there’s the matter of removing the final orange peg from play. When you shoot the ball as it gets close to the final peg the game will cut to a slow motion close up. If you hit the peg, the ball lights up sparkling like fireworks while Ode To Joy starts to blare in the background. The bottom of the screen is replaced with different point values (10,000, 50,000, and 100,000) but at that point you have no real influence as to where the ball lands. When it lands into one of these holes, a rainbow will arc across the screen while the game totals up the points you just scored.

It’s one of the oddest and strangely most rewarding things in any video game I’ve ever played. You’d think defeating a Nazi menace, or finishing the fight in an epic space FPS would feel more rewarding then just hitting a small orange peg, but the way the game treats that moment makes it seem like you somehow cured cancer, ended world hunger, and fixed the current economic crisis all at the same time. Maybe I just haven’t spent enough time with the game yet, but so far it just doesn’t ever seem to get old.

This should be a lesson for every developer out there. While I don’t expect Ode To Joy to play everytime I get a headshot in a game, if you want your game to succeed you should try to make your game feel even half as rewarding as hitting the last orange peg in Peggle.

As far as presentation goes, this is the exact same Peggle game that appeared on the PC a few years ago. The graphics are bright and colorful and the sound works perfectly for the game.

All of the modes from Peggle are intact here. All of the adventure levels, the additional challenge levels, and the offline multiplayer mode. The two player offline mode is sort of odd. Both players share the same balls and take turns shooting. Whoever scores the most, wins. All of the levels are available once they’ve been unlocked and the same going for the different character abilities.

The Xbox Live Arcade version of the game does have an additional multiplayer mode called Peggle Party Mode where you can play against up to three other people. Even though the host sets up what board, time limit, etc, you never really get to see the other players actually playing unless you hit the Y button. So while you are competing for the highest score, you never really get to see what the other players are doing. As such, it never really feels much like you are playing against other people.

One nice addition at least is the inclusion of score leaderboards. You can see the score of your other Xbox Live friends on different boards, or just view who is doing the best on Live overall. There are some insane scores already up on Live and if you’re curious to see how they got that score, you can press the Y button to view a replay of that game.

While it is a little disappointing that two years after the game hit the PC the Xbox Live version isn’t much of an improvement over the original, Peggle still remains a completely addictive experience that is worth every MS point it costs merely due to the amount of time you’ll likely end up playing the game.

The Scores:

Modes: Incredible
Graphics: Classic
Sound: Amazing
Control/Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Unparalleled
Balance: Great
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Unparalleled
Appeal: Amazing
Miscellaneous: Classic
Final Score: INCREDIBLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:
Peggle almost doubles as a weird psychology experiment. Somehow with extremely simple gameplay that requires little input from the player it manages to be a hugely addictive experience that feels rewarding.

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