Reviews

Peggle 2 – Review

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Available On: Xbox One
Reviewed On: Xbox One
Publisher: EA
Developer: PopCap
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: Yes

The original Peggle came out of nowhere and amazed gamers around the world with its simplistic gameplay and cartoon style, laying claim to chunks of people’s lives and earning itself a dedicated fanbase in the process. Peggle 2 is amazing gamers not just because of its gameplay, but also because its exclusive to Xbox One, an unusual business decision, indeed. Regardless, though, Peggle 2 retains all the charm and fun of the original, while doing a few things better, and a few things worse.

But let’s assume for a moment that you’ve never played Peggle, that you’ve never indulged in its unique and wily charms, and explain what the concept is: you take control of a cannon at the top of the screen and have ten balls with which to wipe out the orange pegs spread out across the board, but to get to those you’ll also need to deal with the many blue pegs in your way. Every peg you hit on the way down scores points and builds up your multiplier, and should you score enough in a single shot you earn yourself a free ball. Likewise managing to land the ball in the ever-moving container at the bottom of the screen also nets you a free shot. Of course other things do come into play: bounce the ball from one orange peg to another some distance away, for example, and you’ll get some extra points for pulling off a skillful long shot. Slide the ball along a line of pegs and again a bonus bunch of points are your reward. Peggle 2 rewards every display of skill, even the completely accidental ones.

And that’s about it.

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Sit down and patiently explain all of this to a fellow gamer who has never sampled Peggle’s absurdly addictive delights and they’ll likely look at you with a wary eye and an expression which clearly says you’re an idiot, but trust me, it’s fantastic. No, seriously.

At first glance Peggle can seem like an almost purely luck-driven game with skill have only a slight effect, and for the first while of play that’s entirely true: attempting to guess where the ball will bounce after the first few pegs is night on impossible, but as you sink more and more time into the game you’ll begin to grow accustomed to its physics and find yourself guessing likely trajectories, allowing you start deliberately lining up awesome skill shots. Play for even longer and it becomes almost instinctual, some unseen force guiding your every shot. But when Peggle is at its most brilliantly magical is on those rare nights when you simply can do no wrong, every shot you take seemingly aided by the Gods as you unerringly bounce the ball from peg to peg, racking up points and finishing every level with ten balls still left and a grin a Cheshire cat would be taken aback by.

It’s such a simplistic concept, but how fun and addictive it is cannot be overstated, and Popcat are masters of detail, from the lovely character animations to the stunning array of music and visuals that herald every victory. Slow motion gives you a chance to see that last orange peg get its come uppance before a piece of music like the 1812 Overture starts blasting from the speakers as fireworks erupt and a rainbow displays your final score.  Every level completed, no matter how simple, feels like you’ve just accomplished something spectacular. You feel like a legend, your skill unmatched by any other mere mortal and therefore appropriately rewarded with a glorious and incredibly rewarding show of lights and song.

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New additions to the formula come in the form of armored pegs which must have their protection smashed before you can get rid of them for good, while pinball-style bumpers send the ball flying around the screen, although compared to the armored pegs their usage is quite limited. Meanwhile experienced Peggle players will not that the trajectory line emanating from the cannon is far more generous this time, allowing you to line up long-range shots with ease. But of course the biggest change to occur is that of the new Master’s, the various characters you choose to play as, each with their own unique and kickass power gained during play by hitting the green pegs. There’s five in total, and aside from the returning Bjorn they’re all new, bringing some welcome variety into the mix and providing Peggle veterans a whole new set of abilities to learn, master and debate the merit of.

Since these new Master’s are the biggest change in Peggle 2, let’s take a few moments and talk about each of them. Bjorn is the simplest of the bunch, his power being to give you three turns of increased aiming thanks to a handy line which shows you exactly where the ball will bounce, although only after the first peg struck. Appropriately Bjorn is the first of the Master’s that you’ll step into the…hooves of, him being a unicorn and all. Next up is the Jeff, the chilled out Troll whose ability lets him chuck a boulder straight onto the board which smashes everything in its path, making him a nice, simple and very direct choice, hence his arrival straight after Bjorn. Berg is a lovable clutz of a yeti with a passion for dancing and his rather interesting ability literally freezes the board. Any pegs hit while Berg’s ability is active will slide along the ice, potentially hitting even more pegs along the way and racking up big points. Gnorman is a wee gnome who decided that being tiny wasn’t all that great and crafted himself a robotic suit, which is what presumably gave him the absurdly powerful ability to electrocute several extra pegs whenever you hit one, a power so potentially devastating that you get it for a single shot at a time. The final ability is in the possession of a small girl named Luna, who also happens to be dead. Her’s is the most interesting and trickiest of the Master’s skills: once activated it allows the ball to “ghost” through blue pegs, scoring points for them but not actually removing them from the board.  This ability allows you to access orange pegs that are normally blocked, making it extremely powerful, and once you’ve built up your multiplier it also has the potential for massive points. However, since the ball can only bounce off of orange pegs actually using it can be a daunting task as it keeping it in play requires some serious skill.

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In terms of pure content each Master comes with a total of ten standard stages, and each of those also has three optional objectives to complete, like clearing the board or finishing up without ever using a power, if you feel like spicing things up a little. These optional challenges are arguably the hardest part of the game and will likely take you days or even weeks to complete. At any time you can go back and replay any completed level with the Master of your choice in order to compete for a higher score, although for some baffling reason Peggle 2 misses a beat here by having no instant access to leaderboards, nor does it present you with your friends scores during a level or at the end of it. Playing against friends for the high-score was one of the best things about the original game, and I’m at a loss as to why you can’t do this in Peggle 2. There should be leaderboards for every level, and your friend’s scores should be shown as you play to help drive competition. It’s a sore and very disappointing loss. On top of the regular stages of that there’s also ten different trials specific to each Master which tasks you with pulling off tricky shots, often revolving around their special abilities, providing a good chance to hone your skills as well. Finally there’s a bonus set of ten regular stages and ten trials.  That’s a grand total of 120 levels to play through. Not bad.

And then there’s the multiplayer side of the game which plays out pretty much how you would expect with four players taking it in turns, vying for the best scores as they attempt to clear the board. While some might find it a bit dull waiting around for three others players to make their shot, watching others play Peggle 2 is surprisingly enjoyable, especially if they happen to be rather skilled. Again, though, Popcap leave me feeling a bit disappointed as there’s absolutely no way to play Peggle 2 locally with friends, unlike the original Peggle which supported split-screen awesomeness. Presumably this missing feature is because Popcap felt not enough people played split-screen to warrant allocating resources into recreating it for Peggle 2, but it’s still something of a let-down as I loved getting a few mates round, a couple of six packs and giggling like idiots at each others failures.

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The Master’s are also a far bigger presence within Peggle 2, unlike their brothers and sisters in the original game who were relegated to mere portraits staring at the board. Here they take up the entire left-side of the screen and react to everything on, their jaws dropping an awe as you rack up points, clapping for every combo and anxiously looking on as you get to the last few balls. They each have unique animations dripping with character and are clearly lovingly designed. Jeff the Troll puts down his drink and bangs the side of the board to make the pegs appear, while cheeky Luna blows a raspberry. But perhaps my favorite animation is one Luna activates here special ability, Nightshade, because suddenly she dons  a dark cloak, the background turns darker and her eyes light up blue, creating the image of a grim reaper, before returning to her usual undead but cute child state. Mind you, Berg shaking his bare backside is also pretty hilarious. Thank god its pixellated out. Unless you’re into that kind of thing, I suppose.

Indeed, the entire games looks fantastic. Sure, it’s not exactly pushing the technical boundaries of what the Xbox One can do, nor will it ever be the game you’ll putting on to impress upon your friends the console’s abilities, but it does boast incredibly charming animations and strong, rich colors.

On a slightly unusual topic Peggle 2 is utterly recording mad. Within the space of an hour of playing there had been no less eighteen clips recorded. To be fair I’m not counting this as a genuine problem, but seriously, what’s up with Peggle’s crazy recording obsession? I like it when my awesome shots are preserved, but does absolutely everything need to be recorded and kept?

Peggle 2 doesn’t stray far from the original’s wonderful template, choosing to add just a few new things that don’t change how you play the game overly much. While it would be easy to criticise the developers for taking this approach it’s actually the smart choice – Peggle is a brilliant but very simple concept, and complicating it would likely dilute the charm that made it so popular in the first place. The new Master’s are a charming bunch of misfits and the gameplay is as ridiculously addictive as it has ever been, first luring you in with its easy charms and then holding you forever as you hone your skills. Still, having said that things like Berg’s special power shows what Popcap could have perhaps done had they been bold enough to do so.

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We live in a world of videogames where we can sail the high seas as pirates, lead entire armies, battle aliens, race Formula One cars and explore strange worlds, all in glorious HD with complex and nuanced mechanics, and yet despite this Peggle 2 is a far purer gaming experience. It’s the essence of why I love gaming distilled into a simple little title that sucks away hours of your life or can just be put on for fifteen minutes.

What I’m getting at, here, is that you should have bought it already.

The Good:
+ Charming. All the time. Charming.
+ Addictive gameplay.
+ Good amount of content.

The Bad:
– No leaderboards.
– No local multiplayer.

The Verdict: 4/5 – Great, bordering on awesome.
Who knew bouncing a ball from peg to peg could be so damn fun? Peggle 2 is a safe sequel, but a brilliant one nonetheless.

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