Sunday, August 30, 2009

Some Thoughts On Peggle

Generally speaking, I always miss the boat when it first arrives in videogame land. When something new and exciting has docked ready to offload its goods, I'm still playing with titles that shipped a year ago. This isn't always the case, I do sometimes get to play the next big thing as it arrives with late last year being a nice example, but for the most part it's true: I'm always behind the times when it comes to new release videogames. It's something I've grown to accept over the years because really, it doesn't matter when I get to play a game so long as I get to eventually, but even so I do sometimes wish I was there to see the new shipment come in.

Peggle is one of the games that I missed out on during its popularity, most likely due to the fact it was on the PC, and as a result I shrugged it off as a game I would not get to play. I did hear the news that it was coming to the 360 via the console's Xbox Live Arcade service, but as I was ignoring the game the news didn't register on my radar. Fast forward to about a fortnight ago when I was idling on the 360 dashboard, unsure of what to play next. I decide to randomly browse the Marketplace and lo and behold, there it was waiting to be purchased. Curious, I downloaded the trial version and gave it a quick go. The fact I'm writing about it now should clue you in as to what happened next.

Peggle is one of those rare games that doesn't seem like it will last long at first but ends up surpassing the time spent with most big-budget releases. Just in the last week alone I've played it more than any other game I'm enjoying combined, which is a testament to just how addictive it can be. The thing I love about it is how it takes advantage of something not too many other games do, simplicity, and uses it to provide an experience that's very accessible whilst also maintaining incredible depth, too. The simple process of shooting a ball towards some pegs is understandable to anyone, and serves as a wonderful entry point to the intentionally joyful experience it provides. Another thing that makes it immediately understandable to players is the pinball influence. Sure, it doesn't look like pinball and it has enough of its own features to provide remarkably different gameplay, but the influence is still there. The obvious comparison is the metal ball used to hit the pegs, the less obvious is dependent on which character you choose to play as: choosing the crab will give you flippers for a limited time while choosing the hamster will give you a second ball. Hitting the purple pegs in each round gives a points bonus, as does lining up various trick shots that take advantage of character-specific power-ups and peg placements. Again, arguably an influence from pinball, but also one that stems from another, perhaps unexpected source: Burnout 3: Takedown. The use of stylish maneuvers and themed Takedowns -- such as ramming an opponent into a bus or off a bridge -- and being rewarded for it made Criterion's game a lot more enjoyable and it's something that developers PopCap wanted to emulate in Peggle.* By adding stylish shots such as the Orange Attack and Extreme Slide, the game constantly rewards you in a minimal but effective way with each shot the player makes. This adds to the pleasure already being derived from the game's uniquely colorful and happy visuals, as well as the cartoon-like characters and joyous music. Put simply, everything Peggle does is designed to make the player feel happy, allowing them to have a good time and to never be frustrated with the experience.

And the wonderful thing is, it succeeds on every level. Whether I play it for ten minutes or for three hours, and regardless of how I perform, Peggle does not frustrate. It's not about aiming for a high score and having a failed attempt feel disheartening, nor is it about competing against hard opposition via the game's AI or of course, other players. While a player can choose to focus on these things, it's not about any one way of playing, it's not even about what actually happens in the game, it's purely just about having a good time and nothing more. How many other games can you say achieves that?

PopCap Games are gaining a reputation in the industry for consistently creating accessible and enjoyable games that end up being a lot more addictive than people may expect. I've heard people describe them as the Rockstar or Valve of the casual (don't get me started on that term) market and after playing Peggle, I can see why. I am extremely happy that I had the opportunity to play this game and I'm definitely eager to check out their other titles in the near future. If you, like me, missed out on this game for whatever reason then I fully recommend you check it out. As soon as you get your first Extreme Fever, you simply won't look back.

*Confirmed by Sukhbir Sidhu, Studio Director at PopCap Games in the 100 Best Games To Play Today feature in issue 200 of Edge magazine.


Matthew Kaplan said...

Great review. Like you, I missed the boat on Peggle... now I know what I'm missing!

Steven O'Dell said...

Matthew -- Thanks man. Seriously, after playing it, I cannot recommend it enough. It's so simple and relaxed and yet, as I said, it has taken up a lot more hours than I ever expected. It's great in short bursts or more lengthy sessions and yeah, check out the trial version or visit the PopCap site to try it and if you like it, grab it.

And while that all sounds like I'm trying to sell it to you and that I should work for the company, I really do mean it. It's a wonderful game and I'm glad I got the opportunity to play it eventually. :)

On an unrelated note, thanks for reading the blog man. I appreciate it.