Peggle is the perfect example of the kind of game that just passed me by the first time it came out. Despite my friends and family raving about it, glowing reviews and low minimum requirements for my PC, Peggle is one of those games I missed along the way. That is, until now. Now that Peggle has hit the Xbox Live Arcade I officially don't have an excuse not to put some serious time into PopCap's oddly addictive puzzler. It's time for me to see for myself if all of the hype is warranted. Could Peggle really live up to my lofty expectations?
For the most part the answer is yes. It didn't take long for me to see what all of the fuss was about. This Xbox Live Arcade game is overflowing with personality and offers some of the simplest gameplay I have ever seen. Yet, at the same time, the game never feels so casual that a hardcore gamer wouldn't want to play it and there is a surprising level of depth and strategy to the simplistic controls. Peggle is a fantastic game that just about anybody can get into, and when everything is said and done, that is the reason why so many people are so smitten with this inexpensive experience.
In case you're like me and missed it on the first go-around, Peggle is a fast-paced combination of Taito's Bust-A-Move franchise (aka Puzzle Bobble) and Plinko from The Price is Right. The object of the game is to get rid of every orange peg in the level, and to do this you must hit that peg with a ball that, outside of initially aiming, you don't have much control over. The good news is that in any given level you only have twenty pegs to hit, but the bad news is that each level features three or four times the amount of useless blue pegs, which are only good to bounce your ball off. Once you've eliminated all of the orange pegs, the game adds up your score and you're off to the next level.
Of course, hitting the right pegs is easier said than done. As you progress through the game you'll find that the game will go out of its way to make it hard for you to hit the right pegs. Sometimes the orange pegs will be enclosed by a circle of blue pegs, some of the pegs will move and some of them will be behind walls that you can only get to from using a warp hole. Although the gameplay (aim and pull the trigger) is simple, if you're going to beat the game's 55 levels you are going to need to use your head and not waste the allotted balls. If you can master the game's physics, line up your aiming perfectly and learn the best time to use the power-ups, then you too can graduate from Peggle University and throw your imaginary cap into the air.
Wait ... power-ups? Peggle is more than just a game about bouncing balls off of orange and blue pegs; it's also a game that forces you to master the art of using the power-ups. In total there are ten different power-ups (okay, nine, one of them just randomly assigns one of the other power-ups), each giving you a specific ability that can be the difference between completing a level and failing it. You earn these power-ups by hitting a green peg, which in turn transforms your ball into a ghost (which can die and then come back from the dead) or a flaming ball (which simply cuts through the pegs without bouncing) or even a ball with a top hat (don't ask). One of the most useful power-ups comes late in the game, when you are given a power that allows the computer to take over and choose your best shot, usually resulting in a massive amount of pegs being erased from the board.
The core game can be found in the Adventure mode. Here you will work through each of the game's 55 levels in a linear fashion, going from one teacher to the next. As the game progresses you will discover that the levels becoming increasingly challenging, to the point where you will probably have to play the same level many times before ultimately moving on to the next. Because the orange and green pegs are randomly placed, I never felt like I was playing the same level ad nauseum. Instead every time I restarted a level it felt fresh and new, ready for me to rip it apart one peg at a time. The game can get difficult at times, but it's never a frustrating experience.Once you've completed the game's Adventure mode, you can then move on to the Challenge mode. If that's not your kind of thing, then maybe playing the game multiplayer will pique your interest. Despite being a fantastic single-playing experience, Peggle surprised me by also being a great two- and four-player game, especially online. Though the modes aren't anything we haven't seen before, it's great to see these extras thrown in to give this game some added value.
The graphics are understandably simple, but that doesn't mean they don't jump off of the screen. The style is in the way each level looks, right down to the puzzles themselves. It's not just weird shapes that you're working against, but real objects like a car or an elephant. Unfortunately there's no real benefit to playing the game using a widescreen display, the game is clearly meant for a 4:3 display. The music is also solid, though it's nothing I would write home about. All in all, the game's presentation is certainly strong for a simplistic puzzle game.
The game does have one problem, though. When it comes right down to it, it's all too brief. Sure the game supports downloadable content, but it won't take you long to go through all 55 of the game's stages. To add insult, other versions of Peggle feature two and three times the amount of puzzles. For example, the recently released Peggle Dual Shot for the Nintendo DS features 125 different puzzles to complete, more than twice the amount of this Xbox Live Arcade version. Still, you do get your ten dollar's worth thanks to the online multiplayer and challenge modes.
Now that I've played and seen everything Peggle has to offer, I kick myself for not checking this game out sooner. Peggle truly is a phenomenal puzzle game, the type of thing that I can go back to over and over again. Even though I am essentially doing the same thing level after leve, I didn't find myself growing tired of lining up shots and watching my ball bounce off of red and blue pegs. Throw in the exciting multiplayer modes and you have another must-buy Xbox Live Arcade title. If you already own the PC version you may want to stick with that, but everybody else should definitely check out this console port. Now, bring on the downloadable content!