Friday, March 23, 2007

Peggle Review

Peggle, developed and published by PopCap Games.
The Good: Great combination of skill and luck, appropriate and progressively harder difficulty, seemingly accurate physics model, random target peg arrangement increases replay value and decreases frustration, same computer multiplayer
The Not So Good: Can’t control launch speed, only one power-up type per level
What say you? This combination of Plinko, billiards, and pinball combines exceptional replay value with excessive enjoyment: 7/8

Game shows have a solid place in American television history. Between syndicated programs and nightly offerings, there is almost always some kind of game show on TV at all times. This craze was renewed with the Regis-a-riffic Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (which was on no less than 15 times per week), but there have been several shows that have stood the test of time. One of these is The Price is Right, hosted by Bob Barker (who has been spayed and neutered, just to be safe). Probably the most popular game on The Price Is Right is Plinko (hey, if Wikipedia says it, it must be true); I know it’s one of my favorites. A good mix of some skill and mostly luck, dropping the Plinko chip down the board and aiming for the cash at the bottom is a fun time had by all (except for the guy that gets $3). Peggle is a similar game, a combination of Plinko and pool, a unique formula that I can’t remember seeing on the PC.

Peggle is a 2-D game, but it contains some decent special effects. The background and basic level design won’t wow anyone, but the end of each level features an orchestral symphony of congratulations that made me smile on more than one occasion, full of rainbows and more rainbows (rainbows are fun). The sound effects are fitting for the fanciful theme of the game, and the cartoon atmosphere of Peggle comes through in the design. Peggle is pretty average for an arcade/puzzle game in terms of graphics and sound: the game doesn’t impress, but it doesn’t disappoint.

The object of Peggle is to hit 25 orange pegs with 10 metal balls. This is done by launching a ball at a set speed at any angle you choose, and watching as it cascades down the map, bouncing off of pegs and other objects along the way. The game offers a lengthy adventure mode where you are introduced to various characters (and, more importantly, their power-ups) along the way. The difficulty increases along the way at a good pace, offering up smaller (and moving) targets and more obstacles. Once you are done with the adventure mode, you can play any level over again; since orange peg placement is random each time you play, you can play the same level (with the same arrangement) more than once and have different results and strategies. Also, there is a multiplayer dual mode where you can challenge the computer or a friend. The player who is chosen to go first has a slight advantage, since a lot of points can be earned on the first turn, but equally matched players will end up doing about the same in the end. There is also a challenge mode for those expert players that adds more orange pegs per level, requires you to clear the entire level (and not just the orange pegs), has a score requirement, or some other insanely difficult task. It would take you quite a while to fully complete Peggle, and since each map has a random placement of the orange pegs and multiplayer adds another dimension of the game, Peggle has much more replay value than most puzzle/action games.

Control is very simple: aim with the mouse. You can speed up time with the right mouse button (for levels which involve moving objects) and precisely adjust your aim with the mouse wheel. In addition to the annoying blue pegs and the target orange pegs, purple pegs give extra points and green pegs activate that level’s power-up. Each set of levels in the adventure mode is given one (and only one) power-up, which may show your ball’s initial trajectory, widen the bucket capture at the bottom of the screen, grant a spin on a bonus wheel, guidance of the ball after launching, and approximately six other things. I would like the ability to have multiple power-ups on the same level, but I would imagine this would throw off the balance of the game. As it stands, Peggle is perfectly balanced in terms of difficulty: not frustratingly hard but not too easy. You’ll never “die” in the game, and you can attempt a single level as many times as you’d like (although bonuses are reduced in each subsequent try). Because the orange peg placement is random, you just might be stuck with a difficult arrangement, and next time the level could be a bit easier. A secondary goal of Peggle is to earn a lot of points. Each peg you hit is worth points, but you also receive a multiplier bonus for clearing orange pegs from the board. Earning a certain number of points during a single turn will result in a free ball, as will landing the ball in the bucket at the end of the round. After you eliminate each of the orange pegs, you enter extreme fever mode (I got a fever, and the only prescription is more Peggle!) where you earn bonus points for hitting additional pegs and get more points based on where your ball lands at the bottom of the screen (there’s some more Plinko influence). You can also earn bonus points by landing difficult shots.

Despite its simplistic controls, Peggle is a very enjoyable game. It strikes a great balance between planning your shots and lucky bounces. The physics look to be truthful, and although you can’t adjust the initial speed of your ball, this doesn’t come into play too much. The satisfaction you get when landing a really good shot (either through skill or luck) makes playing Peggle quite rewarding. Its unique combination of different games also makes Peggle an original title, which can’t be said for almost all arcade/puzzle games. It might not have the depth of, say, Europa Universalis III, but Peggle is a very fun game with high replay value that almost anyone would enjoy.