Publisher: PopCap Games
Developer: Q Entertainment
Release Date: February 27, 2009
It is a well-known fact that the people at PopCap Games know how to make an addictive title. The company subscribes to the casual games mantra: take a simple game concept and make it easy for anyone to pick up and play. For some reason, though, PopCap constantly gets the game done so well that everyone who plays any one of their games stays with it for quite some time. Whether it's the old-school shooting action of Heavy Weapon to the word-building skills of Bookworm to the puzzle action of Zuma and their best-selling Bejeweled series, the company keeps both hardcore and casual players playing their games so much that it takes another one of their games to get people to stop playing.
Recently, the company found great success with their latest addiction, Peggle. After conquering the PC gaming space as well as the iPhone and Xbox 360, PopCap has teamed up with Q Entertainment to bring the game to Nintendo DS owners everywhere. Peggle Dual Shot is the result of this union, and aside from the PC iteration, this may very well be the definitive version of the game.
Like most games of this type, the concept is simple enough to understand. You are given a playfield containing a combination of orange and blue objects (pegs, bricks or a mixture of both). You are given control of a ball shooter located at the top middle of the screen. Using angles and the power of gravity, you fire a steel ball at the objects, causing them to disappear once the ball touches them. Given a limit of 10 balls per round, your objective is to make all of the orange objects disappear before you exhaust your supply of steel balls.
The game features more than just orange and blue objects, however. During each round, there will be a purple object that, when hit, will dispense bonus points for that round. Bonus points will also be given for doing special tricks, such as being able to hit two consecutive orange objects from a long distance. Points play a big role in the game, since scoring over certain point thresholds gives you extra balls in the process. The ball catcher does the same thing if you happen to let the ball fall into it. Finally, there are green objects that activate special powers when hit, depending on which character you're playing as. Some add extra guidance for your aiming path, while others cause an explosion that tags any objects in the area or changes your steel ball into a fireball that plows through all objects in its path.
All of the above describe the features found in the original Peggle game. However, the Nintendo DS version adds a few more things to the mix that make it a bit more enticing to even the hardcore Peggle addicts. For starters, the purple objects now give you stars when hit, in addition to bonus points. Getting enough stars in a level takes you to a bonus sub-level, where you can try to get as many gems as possible for even more bonus points.
The Challenge levels from the original are back, each with its own devious goals, and are joined by10 exclusive levels from Q Entertainment, each one as tricky as the originals. Finally, this version of the game has both the original Peggle and the sequel, Peggle Nights. That game is pretty much the same as the original, but with more twisted levels to deal with in both Challenge and Adventure modes, bringing the total number of levels to over 100.
Dual Shot is just flat-out fun. At the outset, it seems as if the game runs on pure chance. You simply aim at where you want to fire and pray that the ball hits as many objects as you want, and you hope that it barely makes it into the moving cup for a free ball. The more you play, though, the more you begin to realize that you can plan out a few things, and you'll start seeing possible angles that can be taken to get the most out of your shot. Strategies begin to form, giving you an idea about when you want to try and hit the green object for your powers or when hitting nothing but blue pegs is actually a good idea if you want a clearer path to an elusive orange object. The lack of an in-game timer helps make these decisions less nerve-racking, giving you more time to enjoy the experience instead of making snap decisions to prevent you from dying.
The multiplayer is quite fun, though very limited. The only available multiplayer mode is for two players. One person plays a stage and then passes the DS to another player, so that everyone takes turns trying to score as many points as possible with the objects that are left on-screen. The mode is fun and competitive, but the fact that the user must pass the system along all of the time limits it a bit, especially if the players have a habit of betraying each other by playing on the opponent's turn instead of their own. While that's the bad news, the good news is that this is one of the few cartridges that has the ability to deliver a demo version to other Nintendo DS systems. This is a great feature that helps give them a taste of this addicting title.
The controls are solid in Dual Shot, no matter how you choose to play it. The user can opt to use a classic control scheme that uses the d-pad to move the aiming cursor while hitting the A button to fire a shot. Alternatively, the user can opt for a more PC control scheme, where dragging the stylus on-screen controls the aiming cursor and tapping on the ball cannon fires the ball. If you need to fine-tune your shots, the L and R buttons nudge the aiming cursor left or right, respectively. Because of the small screen size of the system, holding the stylus over a certain area activates a zoom on the top screen that gives you a better view of where you want the shot to go. The controls are great for the game, since they are easy to figure out and give you complete control over anything you need. Best of all, the controls are very responsive, something you always need in a game that needs precision to get the objects you want to disappear.
If there's one weakness that Dual Shot has, it would be the graphics. Graphics would usually be something that could easily be overlooked in a game due to the emphasis on gameplay, but here, the quality of some items stand out so much that it becomes hard to ignore. While the system isn't expected to compete with the other platforms on which the game was released, the pixelated nature of the backgrounds brings down the game visually when compared to other puzzle games on the system. The same can be said for the pegs and metal balls, especially when you zoom in on the environment. If you can deal with the pixelated visuals, you'll find a game that not only moves smoothly but is also very colorful. Every environment you come across is bright and whimsical in nature, which is a nice contrast to the difficult puzzles you'll face.
Gameplay aside, the sound is probably one of the best things about the game. The sound effects are simple but effective enough. Hitting more objects with one ball, for example, will always give you a sound similar to piano keys going up in scale in order to let you know how close you are to getting a free ball bonus. Getting this bonus or a free ball shot in the cup gives you a nice sound cue, similar to a heavenly revelation from a church choir.
What really stands out in this category is the music. For the most part, you'll get nice subtle tunes that won't pressure you into quick and careless thinking. What will catch people off guard is the other music in the game. Powers, such as the fireball and spooky ball, come with instantly recognizable music, such as a quick medieval riff or pipe organ music, respectively. The biggest piece everyone anticipates, though, is the short piece of "Ode to Joy" that plays every time you complete a level. No matter how many times you hear that piece, it never fails to make you feel excited; you almost want to complete the next level, just so it can play again.
Peggle: Dual Shot is another example of how PopCap Games can take a simple concept and twist it into something highly fun and addictive. The controls are terrific, and the sound is simply amazing. While the graphics could definitely have been better, the gameplay trumps all complaints that people may have about the game. There's even less to complain about, since gamers are actually getting two products in one, along with a little extra bonus goodness, so unless you absolutely hate puzzle games, there's no reason not to have Peggle Dual Shot in your Nintendo DS library.
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