PopCap has a history of making games that are nigh-impossible to put down, including Bejewled, which reintroduced the world to match-three puzzle games; Plants vs. Zombies, a totally amazing take on the tower-defense genre pitting, well, plants against zombies; and Peggle, the pachinko-Breakout hybrid that is easily one of the most addicting videogames to have ever been made.
Peggle, released for the PC and Mac in 2007, is the perfect combination of luck and skill. Each level consists of a static screen covered with blue and orange pegs. The goal of the game is simple: hit all of the orange pegs. The player gets 10 balls, although more can be acquired by hitting certain scores or by getting the ball into the moving bucket at the bottom of the screen. There are also pink pegs, which give point bonuses, and two green pegs, which award special powers. The special powers correspond to each world and each game “master.” The first game had a lobster gives pinball-like bumpers to the bottom edges of the screen, a dragon shoots a fireball that destroys every peg in its path, and eight other masters each changed the game in some small way. 2008’s Peggle Nights, only added one master, but it was more of an expansion than a serious sequel. After that, there was a lull in the Peggle-verse.
Then, at this year’s E3, PopCap announced Peggle 2. (Whoo!) As an Xbox One exclusive. (Wha?)
It seemed an odd choice, and not just because of the tiny install base. A controller is the least effective way to control the game. It’s not bad, but sometimes shots miss because the controller simply isn’t as precise as a mouse/touchscreen, which is frustrating when there’s a limited supply of ammunition. But more Peggle is more Peggle, and I wanted to see what PopCap would do to make this game even more addictive than its predecessors. The answer is not clear-cut.
The game looks great, and has seen a clear face-lift. There are more colors, more animations, and more music, although the game stuttered pretty heavily at times when a lot was going on. Upon completing a level in the original game, “Ode to Joy” would ring out in celebration. While that is the case here, it’s only for the first master, Bjorn the unicorn, who head bangs along. (Yes, Peggle 2 features a unicorn that head bangs to “Ode to Joy.” Amazing, right?) In those moments, the Peggle 2 experience is a joyous one, and I frequently had a big, dumb smile on my face. Other classical pieces accompany the other masters.
Unfortunately, there are only five of them, and one (Bjorn) is a holdover from the first game. Considering the five years between the last Peggle game in this one, it seems oddly sparse, and the “Coming Soon” marketplace featured at the bottom of the main screen leads one to believe that more were held back to be released as DLC (downloadable content), an unfortunate trend in the modern gaming industry.
But two of the new masters really change things up. Berg, an abominable snowman of sorts, has the power to physically move pegs across the board as they’re struck, actually changing the layout of the level. Luna, a ghost, simply makes the blue pegs transparent, so each special ball goes through them entirely while still racking up their points. With only orange pegs left to hit, the dynamics of play change dramatically. Testing the limits of these powers is fantastic, but by comparison the other masters are kind of weak. They’re different, sure, but not that different.
That being said, this is still Peggle, and it is still an experience that is easy to get lose hours (or days) to. As with the last games, reloading a level will change the placement of the orange and green pegs, so a level will never play out the same way twice. There are now 60 levels (up from 55) and another 60 trials, which task players with specific objectives. Every main level also features three non-essential objectives, giving yet another reason to try and try and try again every time. I made it through all of the levels in a couple of hours (all of it in just two sessions, because it really is hard to put down), but I’m going to keep coming back for a while.
When the original Peggle hit the Xbox 360 in 2009, it was priced at $10, which was standard at the time, though games costing $15 became more and more popular as the system aged. The initial Xbox One digital lineup jumped that price up to $20, although nothing in the lineup so far justifies that price hike. By comparison, Peggle 2’s $12 price tag seems like a steal. But with the guarantee of more DLC coming (at an unknown price), it’s hard to know how good of a deal the full Peggle 2 experience is. Luna and Berg excited me in a way that no other masters have, but it’s not quite the completely exciting and robust package I expected.
Still, Peggle 2’s fundamental gameplay scratches an itch that few other games can scratch. Remember, it has a head banging unicorn.