Peggle: Dual Shot (DS) review
"Peggle: Dual Shot is a simple, casual activity that won't take much out of you, and is perfect for morning commute when your brain is still mush and doesn't want to heavily invest in anything. "
The premise is simple: pachinko meets billiards. Shoot a ball into a series of bouncy pegs and let gravity do its work. Every level is filled to the brim with said bouncy pegs and it's your goal to hit all 25 orange pegs in each level in order to move on. Each peg you hit disappears after that turn, so you'll have to restrategize constantly. Furthermore, there is a "free ball" basket waffling back and forth at the bottom of the screen. If you're lucky enough to have your ball land in it, you get an extra turn. It's simple. It's addictive. It's Peggle.
The divisive factor that will make or break Peggle for you is just how passive an activity it is. Once you launch your ball, you have no control over the proceedings (unless you happen to get the wonderful "flipper" ability, adding a dash of pinball into the mix). As such, the game leaves far more up to chance than I would have liked. If you're really talented, you can sometimes go for a single peg late in the proceedings and get it to bounce into your "free ball" bucket,. Though, on the whole, it feels as if no human can predict the ball's trajectory beyond the first bounce or two, making the game feel all too random at times.
Adding insult to injury, the scoring system seems to be a bit uneven. Once you complete a level, your ball will fall into one of five pits at the bottom of the screen. Those nearest the edge will give you a 10,000 point boost, the ones closer to the center give you 50,000, and the one in the very center is worth a whopping 100,000. So that's a 90,000 point difference based on one single shot. It's easy to do well an entire round only to end up getting a weak bonus, making it all for naught. Conversely, you could do rather poor, but get a lucky shot at the end. It makes high score seeking an arduous task.
Thankfully, the game is ridiculously long, so even if your goal is simply to complete each level, scores be damned, you'll still get around 20 hours just out of Peggle: DS's single-player content. The game's carefree nature is such that you'll want to keep playing as the levels are short and sweet. Despite my criticisms of it leaving too much up to chance, the game is wonderfully paced and that feeling of "just one more level" will leave you playing far longer than you would have expected.
Much of this is due to the wonderfully designed power-ups you can get. Each level has a couple special pegs that grant you a special power for the next turn. Some give you flippers, ala pinball, others automatically give you the nearest 20% of the orange pegs, and another allows you to break through chunks of the levels with a flaming ball. In the final series of levels, you get to choose what power ups you want for each stage, adding a greater levels of strategy to the mix.
Visually the game is simple, but effective. Each level has a distinct theme. From a haunted house environment where you are aided by a jack-o-lantern, to the medieval castle series where your mascot is a dragon, every level has a bit of character. There's no narrative whatsoever, but for a simple physics mini-game, it looks the part.
Sadly, that isn't as true of the music, which in a word, is almost universally forgettable. After playing through such recent puzzlers as World of Goo and Meteos, I've come to realize just how much music can add to a puzzle game (especially one as passive as Peggle). Without the option for custom soundtracks that you get on the XBLA version of Peggle (which admittedly does not contain Peggle Nights and offers less than half of the content, though at only a third of the price), it lacks that extra "oomph" that would otherwise make Peggle a joy to the senses. It's not all bad though. The "ping" you hear each time your ball bounces on a peg does fill one with giddy excitement and, in a stroke of pure genius, each time you hit the final peg in a level the screen zooms in, everything regresses in slow motion and Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" starts blaring from the speakers. That's something that never, ever gets old.
Ultimately, Peggle: Dual Shot is a simple, casual activity that won't take much out of you, and is perfect for morning commute when your brain is still mush and doesn't want to heavily invest in anything. Even if it's simple, unfair, and lacks the production values you may be used to, don't be surprised if it eats up not only your commute, but the better part of your evenings as well.
Freelance review by Jeffrey Matulef (March 31, 2009)
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