Peggle may be coasting into the 2010s, but it’s still Peggle. People still love it. On almost every system, Popcap spreads its influence and “casual” gaming power, Peggle edition by Peggle edition. Peggle Nights for the PC isn’t an exception, but compared to recent Peggle releases (especially Dual Shot for the DS), it lacks even the smallest amount of innovation or originality. This is Peggle (and, quite surprisingly, PopCap) resting on its laurels.
Peggle is like a gravity-based pinball take on Snood. Small balls get shot out onto a playing field where different colored pegs await. Hitting pegs earns points, and hitting special pegs earns more points and sometimes powerups. That’s really all there is to Peggle, no matter which version you’re playing. Each new iteration adds a little there (and trims a little, depending on the system and the abilities that system brings with it), doing its best to enthrall gamers whether they are familiar with Peggle or not.
Peggle’s strengths have always lain in its almost perfect design and balance, and its friendly, knowingly whimsical world. In campaign mode, missions are divided into subsets, each corresponding to a character. To beat the main campaign, you have to play five levels with each character, hitting all of the orange pegs to clear the stage. The characters aren’t just different, outrageously drawn faces: Lord Cinderbottom (who has the best name by far), when allowed access to his special power, fires a flaming ball that cuts through all pegs (but as a result, is much more likely to fall off the bottom of the screen if fired properly.
Every character also infuses their respective stages with a bit of peculiar character. The aforementioned Lord Cinderbottom is, of course, a firefighter. His tables depict the roguish (as I like to think of him) Cinderbottom doing battle with various kinds of fires and conflagrations. One even presents his partnership with (naturally) firehouse cats.
This is because the main conceit behind Peggle Nights (aside from the fact that it is Peggle, and thus, people will buy it by the ton) is that of “night-time” versions of our heroes. Claude the Crab, Splorg the Alien, and others all possess personas unique to their new starry settings. It has absolutely no meaning as regards gameplay; it is entirely there to keep things interesting (unless you’ve seen it all before, in which case, it’s meaningless).
This is all mostly meaningless. If you like Peggle, you like it for the gameplay and the general ambience of Peggle: silly, excitable, and designed in every way to catch and hold the attention of gamers. The game is perfectly calibrated. The balls and shots are affected by gravity, but it’s a loose, uncertain brand of gravity, one that PopCap obviously bends to its will when it sees fit.
This allows for Peggle’s great, “addictive” quality. The game is as random and clumsy as you allow it to be. For the uninitiated, playing a game of Peggle is almost entirely a delight. The ball flies all over the place, the pegs ping in a truly friendly and encouraging manner (this isn’t the empty jingle of a slot machine, it’s here to cheer you on), and the bucket that runs along the bottom of your screen catches your ball more often than you’d think (as a newcomer, that is).
The amazing thing about Peggle is that it plays just as well in the hands of a seasoned Peggle fan. For an old hand, carefully calculated shots (and carefully picked characters) are everything. You’ll be angling shots and hitting gaps with pinpoint accuracy. Yet the game still throws every other one of your shots to the winds of chance. Sometimes, a bounce just won’t make it quite to where you were thought that it would, and sometimes, the ball will bounce impossibly and infuriatingly out of the bucket. It keeps you on your toes, and it keeps things interesting even when you know all of the game’s ins and outs.
What this Peggle outing doesn’t have is anything new to brag about, beyond a new character (a shark who lines up long shots). It really isn’t enough to keep you interested in plain old Peggle not unless you really love Peggle. PopCap has a great formula on their hands, but they’re dragging out this generation of Peggle games, and it is starting to show. How many more times can they foist the same games upon us (albeit with one tweak or two).
Really, the only exciting development for Peggle has been multiplayer. Hot seat on the DS was really quite fun and tactically interesting, and the 360’s Xbox Live offering had its own multiplayer (although it wasn’t nearly as good). If Peggle is going to remain relevant in the world of quality, enduringly fun “casual” games, it needs to stretch its legs a bit and go hunting for new ideas. It’s still a great game, but it’s still the same great game that it was years ago.