Publisher: PopCap Games
Developer: PopCap Games
Release Date: September 16, 2008
Prior to release, did anyone actually expect Peggle to be the phenomenon it turned out to be? PopCap Games have a history of churning out the gaming equivalent of crack, all of it polished down the atom, but addictive though their games are, it's pretty damn rare to see one of them actually sweeping everyone off their feet.
And yet, such is the legacy of Peggle, beloved by casual gamers and serious sorts alike. A weird crossbreed of pachinko, pinball, pool and lysergic acid, Peggle challenges gamers to shoot a ball from the top of the screen and have it bounce around to hit and remove as many round orange pegs as possible. When all of the orange pegs have been hit, you win the level! It's simple enough and accentuated by various characters with different powers (activated by striking a green peg), blue pegs that boost your score/get in the way, and the game literally exploding into rainbows, happiness, and "Beethoven's 9th Symphony" upon completion of a level. The score itself grants you extra balls, so going for that big nest of blues instead of one of the few remaining oranges may be a wise idea, and you can also try to time shots to land them in a moving bucket at the bottom, which once again grants an extra ball. Not every peg is round, either, and moving pegs, obstacles, and teleporters add to the challenge of getting the ball to bounce right where you want it to, while compensating for the gravity that inexorably drags it down.
As if that weren't enough, completion of the Adventure mode grants access to the Challenges mode, a series of … well, challenges, with various goals. They function similarly to the decent kind of Xbox 360 Achievements, asking you to play levels again in different ways. Some ask for you to finish a level with a certain high score, some want you to complete a level starting with only one ball, and others significantly increase the number of orange pegs in each level. The challenges, in addition to the omnipresent high scores and the general one-more-try nature of the game, add serious replay value.
That was Peggle. This is Peggle Nights, the sequel.
Mostly, it's a lot more of the same. The mechanics haven't changed dramatically; the only major differences to what was already there are a few tweaks to some of the powers that were only rarely useful in the previous game, as well as an entirely new Peggle Master, the aforementioned characters who gift you the specialties. While the new Master isn't quite as universally helpful as, say, the Spooky Ball, which returns the ball to the top of the screen when it falls down the bottom, allowing a second bounce-through with the same points total, it has its moments — and, of course, 60 new levels and a whole raft of new challenges.
The new levels vary in scope and difficulty. By and large, the game is about as difficult as Peggle ever was, so newcomers aren't going to have to worry about having too much trouble at first. The game even plays out with the same tutorial and the gradual introduction into the game mechanics, so it's easy enough to pick up and play. The original game had more headache-inducingly difficult levels, but the hardest levels in Nights seem far, far harder. Another initial worry was that the new levels wouldn't stand up to the original ones, and while that seemed to hold true at first, they have just as much nuance as the original ever did. This is presumably a misconception that came from someone who played the original far too much and knows the levels far too well. For those who chased the "100%" for every level, granted by getting rid of every single peg, orange or otherwise, there's now a points-based achievement too. To "ace" a level, you have to hit a certain score, which should keep everyone going for a while yet.
It's the challenges that feature the most originality, though, and the biggest overhaul. The Challenge mode still has a lot of vaguely unoriginal types, like scoring a certain number of points or beating a computer in a duel on a certain level, but it's also got some new ones that drastically change the way you play. One grants a mix of special powers (Flippers, Fireball, and Pyramid, for those who care) and asks you to rack up a certain score with a certain number of balls, all of which have those powers — essentially, it's asking you to play pinball. Another goes against all preconceptions by asking you to finish a level under a certain score, which is far harder than you'd expect.
Then, on top of all of this, you've still got Duel mode. This functions as it ever did, with two-player competitive matches, either against other people or against the computer. There's still no online play, sadly, so you can only play with people who can actually see your computer, which is an alien and unsettling concept, I know. There's very little changed here, particularly in the realm of the computer's AI, which still throws out some terrible shots and then somehow makes up for them later with a frankly ridiculous shot. While I suppose that adds to the "realism" of it being another player with lucky shots, they don't feel like luck at all, and more like the computer cheating its motherboard off. When this is minimized, it's a fun little mode, and there's a great amount of joy to be had in playing against another person. You do know someone else who'd play this with you, right? Everyone likes Peggle.
There's one other thing: an intriguing little option on the main menu marked Bonus Levels. At some point, there will be all-new levels to add to Peggle Nights, but as of the time of writing, there's nothing up yet. It's hard to see this being a bad thing in any way, though, and it's presumably just going to add to the replayability of a game that is already perfect for a quick coffee break round or extended sessions. It's hard to say why it's so addictive — partly because it's simple to learn but hard to master (without a degree in physics, anyway), partly because it's stuffed full of variety and different ways to try things, and partly because it randomly generates which pegs are orange and green every time you start a level. Sometimes, it's just because that last shot you have to make is going to be nearly impossible to pull off, and sometimes it's because, when you pull off the shot and "Ode to Joy" starts playing, you know the game loves you.
Peggle was a champion of casual gaming that anyone could pick up and play, and it could be played and completed either with a great amount of chin-in-hands skill, or with a grasp of the mechanics and a bit of luck; whichever you chose, it was just as satisfying. In that sense, it was a masterpiece of design, and Peggle Nights doesn't fall short of its predecessor on any count. It doesn't enhance the original much and acts more like a nice big level pack, but this is a formula that hasn't aged or gotten stale yet, so that's not something we have a problem with. If you're new to Peggle, there's no reason why you can't start with this, and if you want some more levels to set off a new bout of addiction, then Peggle Nights is definitely for you.
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