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.
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