Publisher: PopCap Games
Developer: PopCap Games
Release date: Available now
Freude, schoner Guterfunken Tochter aus Elysium. Anyone with some training in classical music will recognize this snippet of German as a lyric from the fourth and final movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Moviegoers might know it as the featured music in the final scenes of the original Die Hard film, but gamers of all shapes and sizes will recognize this phrase from Pop Cap’s multiplatform puzzle-game hit Peggle Deluxe. Turns out, the game is equally as memorable as the music.
If you’re old enough to have played Pachinko (or if you’re simply a fan of CBS’ seemingly ageless game show The Price Is Right), then you know how to play Peggle. You have a screen filled with colored pegs, arranged in creative designs. Pressing a controller button launches a ball to the top of the screen, and as it travels back down to the bottom, it lights up all of the pegs it touches. You have a minimum of ten balls to light up all of the orange pegs, and if you’re successful, you get the Ninth of Beethoven, a boatload of bonus points and the right to move on to the next level. Each board is supervised by one of ten Peggle Masters, fanciful cartoon characters that endow you with special powers that you can invoke by lighting up one of the two green pegs on each level, and after five completed levels, you unlock a new Peggle Master and a new ability. Unlocking all ten Masters moves you on to five extra levels; beating them gives you the right to join the ranks of the Peggle Masters.
Reaching the end of the solo campaign is a challenge in itself, but even then, Peggle refuses to release its insidious hold on your gaming soul. The XBLA version includes two multiplayer variations: Duel and Peg Party. Duel is a head-to-head battle for Peggle supremacy in which you and your opponent play the same set of pegs on the same board, taking turns in an effort to score the most points. But there’s a nasty catch: if you fail to light up an orange peg, you lose a quarter of your accumulated points. This ensures that no lead is safe, and can make your strategy more about sabotaging your rival than increasing your own total. In contrast, Peg Party has up to four people play their own copy of the same board, with the top scorer taking the win. Small windows on the left edge of the playfield show you how the other players are doing, and if you finish before the others, one button press allows you to zoom in on a rival board.
All of this sounds very simple, and it is; but once you get started, it won’t be unusual to look up and discover that hours have gone by and you still don’t want to stop. If you do manage to work up the willpower to shut it down, you’ll only run into it somewhere else; Peggle is available on no fewer than eight different platforms, including the iPhone. You can even play it within the PC MMORPG World of Warcraft. So resistance is indeed futile.
Several things conspire to make Peggle as addictive as it is. The gameplay is as simple as a game can be; one button controls the entire experience, the levels gradually increase in difficulty, throwing in obstacles such as constantly deploying and retracting horizontal bars or a giant fish that moves from one side of the screen to the other when hit by the ball, and if the first 55 single-player levels aren’t enough, there are 75 challenge levels that take the original boards and make them even harder by increasing the number of orange pegs to hit or forcing you to score a set number of points on a level to advance. Fortunately you can choose one of the powers of the Peggle Masters to use in each of these levels, so choosing the most effective power for each situation is vital to your success. For me, Peggle‘s only flaw is the music. I was a music major in college, so I’m always in favor of a little bit of the Lugwig Van, but hearing Ode to Joy at the end of every level, especially when an average play session lasts for many hours, can become tedious.
Like tobacco products, Peggle should come with a Surgeon General’s warning: “This product is highly addictive and can cause widespread loss of productivity, crossed eyes, missed meals and, in some cases, uncontrollable poop socking.” It is the very definition of casual gaming, something that players of any age can pick up immediately and enjoy for hours at a time. The lack of musical variety is an issue, and a level editor would’ve been a great addition, but these are small quibbles about what is otherwise a great example of the “just one more level” school of game design.