Academically, Peggle might be the perfect game. It has clear, concise goals. It gives you constant feedback as you progress towards those goals. Finally, it gives you more positive reinforcement than your creepy high school guidance counselor. I mean, seriously, this game throws up rainbows and bursts into chorus every time you complete a level. Now that is love.
In practice, though, Peggle is a game that is probably best utilized as a distraction. It's the game you play between playing other games, or doing the laundry, or washing the dishes. Essentially, it is the tool of the devil, and significant others should be wary of even letting it into the house. It's too easy to find yourself dropping time on Peggle, but it's actually difficult to find yourself dropping a lot of time on it. This is because the genius of Peggle is that it never really changes, but it's also different every time you play it.
The gameplay mechanics are simple. At the top of the screen is a little cannon, which you use to aim, and then propel, a little ball downwards. If you fall through the bottom of the screen your ball will be lost, but if you happen to land in the little bucket that will endlessly pace back and forth along the bottom edge, your ball will be returned to you. Now, between your canon and this bucket, the screen is filled with colored pegs, which act as little bumpers for your ball. Essentially, your goal is to eliminate all of the orange-colored pegs on any given screen, without losing all ten of your balls. Yes, it's totally a dolled-up version of Pachinko, or for the daytime TV crowd out there, it's Plinko on very cute steroids.
It's a simple concept that plays on our ability to perceive a sense of control where there is none. Sure, you can aim your initial shot, but after about the first or second bounce, you are at the mercy of the game's physics. This magic formula, the fine mix of perceived control and chaos is why we have a very profitable Las Vegas. You'll obtain various power-ups to help put a little more control back in your hands, but at the end of the day, it's all about how a little ball is going to bounce off a little peg. That being said, Peggle won't be taking your kid's college fund while you progress through its different modes and challenges.
The main focus of the single-player is the Adventure mode. Here, you'll be introduced to Peggle's cast of characters, each of whom bestows a different magical power for use on his or her level. You'll unlock the power by hitting one of the few green pegs strewn throughout the board. So, for example, while you're playing through Bjorn-the-male-unicorn's level, you'll be able to use the Super Guide power, which shows you where your ball will bounce after its initial impact. When you're going through Splork's levels, you'll be able to use the amazing Space Blast. This power is probably my personal favorite, as it indiscriminately destroys a given number of pegs on the board. There are considerable differences in how the powers behave, so not only will they add some variety during the Adventure mode, but later in the game you'll be able to pick your favorite power to use on any map, giving you a chance to vary your strategy.
Once you make it through the Adventure portion of the game, you'll unlock Challenge mode. This lets you play the Peggle maps with some additional requirements. These range from the inclusion of more orange pegs, to having to clear the entire board of all the pegs. These challenges add a lot more gameplay to the bundle, but I feel they could have been a little bit more creative in the requirements for each stage.
There's also some multiplayer Peggle to be had. You can play online, in a ranked or unranked match, or you can play locally. There's not much variety either way, as you'll be trading turns with your opponent as you both try to get the most points by hitting those orange pegs. Again, it's not the most creative scenario in the world, but it gives you a chance to showcase your Peggle skills, and become the number one ranked Peggle player on Xbox Live!
Peggle is a great game, and it's one that can easily fill those hours you've set aside to actually be productive. Other versions of Peggle have been available for years on the PC and Mac--platforms which, in all honesty, are probably better suited to the game's short play sessions--but the Xbox Live Arcade version is no slouch. It would have been nice to stretch the brain-box a bit with crazier modes or challenges, and the inclusion of a level editor certainly wouldn't have hurt, but at 10 dollars, Peggle is a welcome addition to my procrastination repertoire.
*Not depicted: Peggle