Peggle's success lies in its simple but addictive gameplay
Peggle is the sort of game that relishes in word of mouth. Since its original PC release in early 2007, it’s has been bouncing from platform to platform appearing on Apple’s iPod, Valve’s Steam service and most recently on Nintendo DS. Fans of the series will be pleased to know that not much has been lost in the translation to Xbox 360, and if players unfamiliar with the series can look past its cutesy exterior, they’ll find a deep and skillful game that deserves any gamer’s attention.
At first glance Peggle is the sort of game that frightens the life out of hardcore gamers. Right of the bat you are introduced to the head of the Peggle institute 'Bjorn the Unicorn', a charming stallion drawn beautifully in soft pastel colors. Soon after you meet another handful of cute characters including Claude the French lobster, Jimmy Lightning a skateboarding beaver and the Zen-Master owl named Master Hu. Each of these Peggle Masters guides the player through 5 of the 55 campaign stages of the game, bringing with them a special move to mix up the gameplay.
Peggle does what all casual games do right, its fun to play in long and short bursts and is easy to get to grips with no matter what your gaming skill. The objective of each level is to clear all the orange ’pegs’ from the screen by shooting balls downwards into the stage. The ball bounces down through the pegs like a pinball, picking up scores and removing pegs along the way. Each level is populated by low-scoring blue pegs which clutter the stage, high-scoring purple pegs to tempt your shot in a certain direction and green pegs which activate your Peggle Masters special ability. These include multi-balls, score multipliers and pinball flippers among others and are a treat to master during each stage of the campaign. Add to this a bucket that slides across the base of the level, rewarding successful dunks with an extra ball, and you have a game that rewards lateral thinking while keeping the core gameplay simple and snappy.
Peggle is quite a simple game to play but its hook is in how it constantly delivers positive feedback to the player. Though the player controls which direction the ball is shot, what it does on its downward journey has more to do with random chance. Watching the ball bounce downwards, racking up a score as it clears pegs, is pure drama. Trying to hit the last remaining orange pegs as they hide behind obstacles takes equal parts precision and dumb luck and watching the ball drop neatly into the bucket at the bottom is satisfying every time. These mechanics all to work toward building the excitement which crescendos in the slow-motion impact of the final orange peg, triggering an explosion of color and digital fanfare as Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ blasts from the speakers.
The difficulty curve is steady and shallow and once the main story mode is completed challenge mode is unlocked, allowing the player to take on 75 more levels, each with an added stipulation. These range from quite easy to a degree of frustration usually reserved for call center conversations, but as each attempt usually lasts less than two minutes it gets away with it.
The final mode is 'Duel' where players pick their own Peggle Master and alternate taking shots in an attempt to get the highest score. This can be played locally with a friend, against an AI controlled character of varying skill, or online in ranked and unranked matches. The game translates very well into online as matches are short, encouraging players to take risks in pursuit of pole position. Currently the online community is thriving and any lag met is made redundant by the turn based nature of the gameplay.
Peggle is a game with a broad appeal that every gamer must give a go. To dismiss the game on its visual style would be a shame, as beneath the fuzzy exterior lies a rewarding single player game, coupled with a fun multiplayer component that will endure on its simplicity. The only imperfection in this gem of a game is that it's almost entirely a like for like port with the original PC version. Though more original content would have been welcomed, it's a testimony to the genius of Peggle's core gameplay that its omission doesn't stop Peggle being a terrifically fun game.
Peggle is available now on Xbox Live Arcade for 800 Microsoft Points.