"Packed with three games typical of PopCap's output over the last year or so, the compilation brings brings something to the table that should appeal to just about everyone. For those who are just jumping into the whole casual gaming thing, for those who haven't taken their Xbox 360 consoles online and even for your grandmother or little sister who has barely touched her Xbox 360 Elite since you bought it for her this past holiday, the time to sit up and take notice has officially arrived."
Serious gamers often forget about PopCap Games, a publisher that has found most of its success in the PC downloads sector. We're too busy paying attention to huge companies that regularly produce blockbusters, or we're supporting those brave niche publishers that cater to the old school sort of games that the new generation of player wouldn't touch with a 10-foot-pole. There's another type of experience, though, and it's a mistake to ignore it. PopCap Arcade Vol 2 proves as much. Packed with three games typical of PopCap's output over the last year or so, the compilation brings brings something to the table that should appeal to just about everyone. For those who are just jumping into the whole casual gaming thing, for those who haven't taken their Xbox 360 consoles online and even for your grandmother or little sister who has barely touched her Xbox 360 Elite since you bought it for her this past holiday, the time to sit up and take notice has officially arrived. Should you be reaching for your wallet?
From a purely mathematical standpoint, the answer is "yes." The bundle includes three games that separately would cost you something like $30. Given the $20 price tag, you're potentially saving yourself some serious green, assuming that you would otherwise choose to purchase all three separately. Since PopCap Arcade Vol 2 features three unique experiences that have little in common with one another aside from their casual approach to gaming, though, that might not be the case. Therefore, it's worth considering each title individually.
First up is Peggle, the game that arguably provides most of the compilation's value. Perhaps you've heard the concept before, which I'll admit sounded to me like it would be only slightly more entertaining than watching paint dry. There's a ball at the top of the screen. All you do is aim it toward a board of pegs below, which in turn is positioned over a moving bucket. As the ball descends toward that bucket, any pegs that it touches will glow. Then when the ball either drops from the bottom of the screen or enters the bucket, all glowing pegs disappear and points are awarded. When you remove all of the orange-hued pegs, that's a level completed. You receive more points if you touch purple ones in a given round and you gain access to special abilities--such as the ability to wipe out a bunch of objects without ricocheting, or the ability to let the computer tweak your intended shot so that it's better--when you touch the green ones.
For reasons that continue to elude me even after hours of play, the whole process becomes extremely addictive. You'll likely find yourself completely enthralled as you attempt to figure out where the ball will bounce, what angle of shot will favor you most and even where you want to be situated to have the best line at a solid end-of-stage bonus score. That surprising depth makes it far too easy to spend hours clearing stages--of which there are many more than you might imagine--without even realizing that you've done so. Throw in the option to participate in competitive matches online (or locally, if you have friends and spare controllers) and you've got the recipe for a princely time waster.
Feeding Frenzy 2, the second option in the pack, is another fine choice. The general premise is that you are a tiny fish who gets bigger by eating a bunch of even smaller prey while avoiding larger species that see you as part of the menu. Once you've feasted enough, you'll grow into something more substantial and then you can chow down on those other denizens of the deep who moments ago were content to gobble you up like so much caviar.
There's not really much depth to Feeding Frenzy 2, but it is an improvement over the first installment in the franchise. New fish have been added, including one with a lantern-like appendage that has only a limited line of sight until it collects glowing organisms, plus there are some great power-ups like a shield that saves you once from being eaten and a fish hook that sends all of the larger critters off to one side so that you can merrily gobble up anything remaining without stressing too much.
As with Peggle, there are multi-player options. Here they mostly take the form of party games. Don't expect much variety, though; the competitions mostly amount to who can eat the most fish the most swiftly. The best upgrades to this sequel are a cooperative mode (where your stock of remaining fish is shared with the other player) and--arguably--a story mode that gives you an agenda and 'boss battles' as you eat your way through the massive ocean. While all of that makes for a nice change of pace, particularly for the many who may have missed out on the first Feeding Frenzy, it probably won't keep you busy for as long as Peggle will.
That leaves only the final game in the compilation, Heavy Weapon. It features dual-analog controls and a straight-forward concept (you pilot a war machine from left to right as you pass through a hostile war zone brought to vibrant life by flashy visuals), but the content isn't as likely to appeal to a broad audience. Grandma might be perfectly happy to join you for a round of Peggle or even Feeding Frenzy, but the colorful explosions in Heavy Weapon might be a bit much for anyone who isn't familiar with old school shooters. The game has more in common with Geometry Wars or Metal Slug than it does something like Bejeweled.
Even for those who appreciate the style of play that Heavy Weapon offers, it loses much of its luster after only an hour or two. Missions grow progressively more demanding in no time at all and it's fun to see what impact the different weapon upgrades have on your vehicle, but the lack of a stage select makes it difficult to envision playing through the main adventure with any frequency. It's not much fun to start over from scratch and some of the stages can drag on for a bit long. Aside from survival modes--both offline and on Xbox Live, if you have it--there's not much reason to come back to it unless you feel compelled to dominate the leaderboards. Good luck with that.
Summarizing the overall value that PopCap Arcade Vol 2 offers becomes difficult because three games is a relatively small number. If you don't much care for one of the games--or worse, strongly dislike it--you're better off downloading the others separately. At the same time, the diversity means that someone who picks this up at the store is likely to find one of the three selections absolutely delightful, leaving the other two for perfectly acceptable "icing on the cake" status. In the end, the real selling point is the reasonable price tag. There's a good chance that you can turn 20 bucks into 20 hours of addictive gameplay and maybe experience something different in the process. On top of that, you may even add 600 points to your gamerscore . If you're a serious enough gamer, that is...
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 22, 2009)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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