Ode to Joy: The Peggle Review

by Mitchell Dyer

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It’s strange to think that Peggle has dethroned Breakout as the go-to game when we hear “brick breaker.” But PopCap’s fusion of pachinko, pinball and Atari’s seminal ball blaster easily consumed the lives of the casual crowd as well as the unsuspecting “hardcore” players. The charming world was almost embarrassingly adorable, but the hook wasn’t in unicorns and fanciful settings. It was the simplicity of pointing, clicking and watching the points rack up as a ball bounced on multicolored bricks and pegs.

But Peggle‘s simplicity hides the fact that you’ll need to be skillful to truly succeed. Accommodating for physics and effectively using your super powers to make the most possible points as you bounce off of multi-colored bricks isn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds. There’s a subtle art to racking up an impressively high score, and it’s built on combos, multipliers and special bonuses after clearing every last orange peg.

The transition to Xbox Live Arcade emphasizes this for what seems like the umpteenth time. Peggle‘s numerous iterations have appeared on what seems to be every platform ever. Starting on the PC and moving its way to iPod, the addictive puzzle game is also pushing its way to Nintendo’s DS, Apple’s iPhone, and now, Xbox Live Arcade.

Ironically, the most interesting thing about PopCap’s constant re-releasing is how little Peggle changes. Until its sequel, Peggle Nights, the same 10 characters and their five-or-so levels each, have been recycled. The special abilities, like pinball flippers, multi-balls and physics adjustments lend a unique touch to each of the 10, so approaching each stage requires its own bit of strategy, and becomes an even bigger challenge when playing as another character. If you’ve played the game  on any platform prior to this release, it’s hard to get excited over playing with these powers again on Xbox Live Arcade. But the brazen fun and addictive nature will keep us fiends coming back for that “one quick hit” that lasts hours at a time regardless of the repetition — and if you’re new, well, welcome to the club.

Peggle on Live Arcade spices things up a bit, however. The inclusion of four-player Xbox Live play adds a competitive edge over its predecessors. Since you can see your three opponents’ progress on the side of the screen while you’re blasting away, there’s a more intimate incentive to step up your game with long shots and bucket drops. This duel mode is unique to the Arcade iterations, while the other features such as Challenges and local-duels return for a solid change of pace.

This multiplayer addition compensates for the wasted real estate on either side of the screen. There’s a large chunk of unoccupied space that shows PopCap’s neglect for making use of a widescreen display is bothersome. I suspect that it’s a result of not wanting to modify the boards, and it’s merely a minor inconvenience in a game that continues its tradition of being one of the easiest games to get hooked on since, well, Breakout.

VERDICT

Psychotropic similarities, unicorns and high scores… Peggle for Xbox Live Arcade is certainly Peggle. It looks stellar in HD and has a rad, unique multiplayer mode to keep you playing for far longer than you probably should. If you’ve had or currently have an unhealthy addiction to one of the best puzzle games around, prepare to get hooked again. If you’re late to the party, give in to the peer pressure and take your first hit, already.

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