Final Thoughts: Peggle Deluxe
I'm no stranger to mindless puzzle games (having put countless hours into Tetris when I was a kid), but I haven't really been into those types of games for a long time. In all honesty, I probably never would have even heard of Peggle, never mind have played it, if not for the fact that a demo version came bundled with my Orange Box purchase... a diabolically ingenious move from developers Valve and PopCap.
I don't know whose idea it was, but in the end it became my undoing. The idea is so simple, so transparent, so obvious... I didn't even realize I fell for the trap until it was too late. What better way to sell an obscure small-scale casual game than to bundle a demo with a package that takes hours to fully download? When you buy the Orange Box from Steam, it comes with "Peggle Extreme", a free Half-Life themed demo version of Peggle. Of course, it finishes downloading in about one minute, practically inviting you to launch it as you wait for the rest of the games to download. A short time later, I had completed everything in the demo and was right back on Steam, happily putting up another $10 for the full version. My addiction had begun.
Before I go any further, let me explain what Peggle actually is. To put it in relative terms, it's sort of like pachinko, only you get to launch the balls from the top of the screen in a sort of upside-down version of Bust-a-Move. The screen is filled with a whole bunch of pegs and/or blocks, some of which are colored orange. You start with ten balls, and your objective is to clear the screen of orange pegs before you run out of balls. One by one, you launch balls from the top of the screen. The game's brilliant physics system (and a huge heaping of luck) takes over from there. There's also a moving bucket at the bottom of the screen, waiting to grant extra balls (if you're lucky enough to land a ball in it, that is). Aside from orange, there are three other types of peg. Blue pegs are the most common type and score the fewest number of points. A purple peg is also available on each individual shot (its location changes randomly on each turn). Hitting the purple peg gives a score boost on the current shot. And finally, there are two green pegs on each level. Hitting a green peg gives access to one of several special abilities.
The "special abilities" differ, based on one of ten different helper characters. At the beginning of the game, only one character is available - Bjorn the unicorn. Bjorn's power, for example, is called "Super Guide". When you select Bjorn as your helper and hit a green peg, his ability kicks in for a few turns and allows you to see the angle the ball will bounce before you launch it. By playing through the main adventure mode of Peggle, you unlock the remaining nine characters, each of which offers a different ability. You are then free to use any unlocked character in the remaining portions of the game.
As I briefly mentioned above, "Adventure" is the main introductory mode of the game. You progress through a series of levels/boards, all the while unlocking new characters. The goal in these levels is simply to clear the board by hitting all the orange pegs. All in all, it's actually not that difficult (given enough time, I'm pretty sure a monkey randomly clicking the mouse could probably clear these boards). But that's actually OK. Adventure mode serves as a perfect introduction to the levels, the characters, and the concepts of the game. The real meat of Peggle comes in the form of its challenges.
"Challenge" mode is where Peggle fully got its hooks into me. In this mode, you are presented with a series of boards, each with a particular goal. Some challenges require hitting a higher number of orange pegs, some require you to score a certain amount of points, and others even have you duking it out with the CPU in a multiplayer match. Unlike adventure mode, a great deal of thought (as well as luck) is required to complete all of the challenges. In most cases, you can't just shoot balls in any old direction. You have to think ahead and plan out your moves. It's a great feeling when you complete a challenge and the game awards you with a "medal". As silly as it sounds, it's a great feeling of accomplishment and provides more incentive to continue playing (damn those diabolically evil developers). But beyond that, I was actually more motivated to complete the challenges for two entirely different reasons: 1. I wasn't about to let some "casual" game get the better of me; 2. the very nature of the way challenges are presented almost compels me to complete them. What I mean by this is that it's presented in a "checklist" sort of fashion. I am the type of personality that is so anal, that once I see even one of those things checked off as completed, I simply can't rest until everything is "checked off" (one need look no further than my fully completed Pokedexes in every single Pokemon game to date for further evidence).
All in all, the challenges provide a decent bit of "meat" to the game. But wait, there's more! Oh yes, indeed. Peggle also features a multiplayer "Duel" mode, in which two players take turns and try to outscore each other on a selected board. I haven't actually tried this mode myself (as I see Peggle as more of a fun single-player distraction), so I can't really comment on it one way or the other. Actually, the "more" I was referring to above is something else. While many of the challenges are difficult enough to make you want to pull your hair out in frustration, the path to "Extreme Ultimate Master" is paved with a whole other set of challenges: clearing all the levels 100%. Yes, that's right... every peg on every level. Some of these clears are extremely difficult and provide heaping doses of challenge and frustration...but that just makes it all the more sweet when you finally complete them. At least, that's what I'm telling myself to justify the amount of time I've sunk into the game. At any rate, I guess what I'm saying is that there's plenty of content here (especially for the most dedicated of gamers).
OK, so I've outlined all of the major game modes and explained why *I* enjoyed Peggle so much, but why should *you* check it out? To put it simply, pinging little virtual pegs with little virtual balls is actually fun. I don't know why exactly, but it just... is. There are number of aspects of the game that come together and make it work well, but most notably are the art and sound design. The artwork is simple, yet cohesive. The various board backgrounds have a unique look and are interesting to look at. The characters, none of which ever speak or have any significant dialogue, are inviting. The sound design is particularly brilliant: as pegs are lit up by the ball, the game outputs a tone which perfectly matches the background music. In other words, the sound effects are interactive. The peg sounds provide additional notes to the melody, as well as create tension and excitement. The only other game I've played that uses sound in such an effective way is Chibi-Robo (those of you who've played that game will know what I mean).
In summary: between the style, the sound, the challenge and the gameplay, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better $10 package of mindless casual entertainment. I fully realize that these types of games aren't for everybody, but it's at least worth looking into. After all, I never would have imagined myself spending so much time on a game like this, and look how that turned out! At the very least, go ahead and download the free demo from Steam and see if it strikes your fancy. There have also been rumors of an impending DS version. But honestly, unless it ends up retailing for less than $20 and/or offers a significant amount of new content, it probably won't be worth it. For a measly ten bucks, you can get your Peggle fix on the PC, right now. So what are ya waitin' for?