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Peggle (Xbox 360) artwork

Peggle (Xbox 360) review

"As a game and an experience, Peggle succeeds tremendously in what it set out to achieve. You might say, by that measure, itís perfect."

As much as I hate to admit it, Iím a bit of an elitist gamer at heart. Thereís a part of me that feels enlightened and superior because Iím playing Street Fighter IV and Chrono Trigger DS, rather than mixing it up with the masses on Modern Warfare 2 or whatever FPS happens to be flavour of the month. And donít get me started on casual gaming! How can you have a proper gaming experience on the cramped screen of an iPhone or with the constant chat interruptions of Facebook?

Pompous and terrible though I may be, the purpose of this review isnít to character assassinate myself, but to remind the Ďhardcoreí gamer in us all to get off that high horse every now and then and have fun. Peggle epitomises that sentiment because of its simplicity: your goal is to clear all the red pegs from the board by hitting them with a pinball fired from the top of the screen. Scattered amongst them are blue pegs (non-essential to clear the level but score you extra points) and various environmental objects the pinball can bounce off of. Thereís also a bucket at the bottom of the screen that moves from side-to-side; youíll get bonus points and an extra turn if the pinball lands in it.

As the ball pings around from top-to-bottom, the sheer unpredictability of it all will enthral you. Are you going to get the red peg, the bucket bonus... these seemingly trivial things will have you in ecstasy when they do and despair when they donít. And to make it even more effective, it plays on sensory reception to enhance the effect. Pegs that get hit emit a mystical glow to signify as such, before being cleared from the board on your next turn. Not only that, but each hit elicits a chiming sound effect that increases in pitch for every peg in that turn. That doesnít sound particularly exciting when youíre sat there reading about it, but it all contributes to that sense of child-like glee that Peggle is so good at creating.

Part of the appeal when youíre playing competitively (local or online) is the fact that everyone is reduced to ground-zero. The twitch reactions accumulated from hours of Modern Warfare 2 or the perfection of multi-hit combos in Street Fighter wonít help you. All you need is to line up your shot with the analogue stick and hit the button to fire the ball; your mother (and grandmother probably) would have no problem with it. It plays out a little differently than a solo game: instead of clearing all the red pegs you compete with each other on score. But you still have to hit a red peg each turn or you take a 25% reduction to your accumulated score. This will inevitably lead to some checkmate situations that make it nigh-on impossible to hit a red, and occasionally, odds-defying shots that will have you jumping for joy (and quite possibly exchanging some friendly banter with your opponent).

Simplicity is the name of this game, but there is a (small) layer of strategy when it comes to selecting your character. Each of the ten characters (the latter eight of which are unlocked in the single-player game) has a specific power triggered by hitting a green peg. Some of them activate immediately and others remain activated for a few turns, but there arenít any game-breakers and the effects are quite diverse. Mayhem inevitably follows the activation of multi-ball (which grants you one extra ball for that turn), and the flippers that last for three turns make it feel more like conventional pinball. Other powers are less flamboyant but equally useful; super-guide shows you the trajectory the ball will take after hitting a peg, whilst the Zen-ball has the AI hijack your shot and make what should mathematically be the best shot for score accumulation.

Great as the core game-play might be, Peggle offers up a nice selection of modes to keep things fresh. The single-player mode walks you through the basics and explains how to use each characterís power, or you can play in free mode against the computer to practise (although there are far more exciting ways to play). The real attraction, besides online (for up to four) and local (for two) multi-player, is challenge mode. The only true deviation from Peggleís cater-to-everyone approach, it tasks you with clearing maps with special conditions. These include clearing the board of all pegs, beating the computer set to master difficulty, and even clearing a board starting with a single ball! Some of these will have you tearing your hair out if you commit yourself to beating them, but rest assured they are completely optional.

As a game and an experience, Peggle succeeds tremendously in what it set out to achieve. You might say, by that measure, itís perfect. Obviously nothing is perfect in the truest sense of the word, but you really have to pick at stuff. For the sake of balance Iíll have a go. The range of boards could be greater; there are quite a lot, but the games are pretty short, and if you spend a while on a multi-player session, you might find yourselves repeating boards. To that end, a board editor would have been fantastic. And a quick reset button wouldnít have gone amiss in challenge mode and the latter stages of single player. Beyond that, Iíve got nothing.

And on that note, I stand by my earlier statement that the core of what Peggle sets out to achieve is perfect. Itís accessible to the masses, and coated with artificial-sunlight visuals and day-dreamy sounds that will amuse the young ones and charm the oldies. At 800 Microsoft Points itís a bargain that should be on everyoneís hard drive: show the hardcore gamer within you what s/heís missing out on!


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Community review by PAJ89 (December 13, 2009)

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randxian posted December 22, 2009:

Don't particularly care for the soap box intro. Yes, I understand what you are trying to accomplish here, but it takes almost two full paragraphs of introduction before you finally start discussing the game. There has got to be another way of writing a creative intro that takes up less space.

While your review is certainly informative and you obviously put a lot of effort into describing the game, I feel the writing could be a bit tighter. Some of the sentences read a bit awkwardly.

I don't mean to imply this is a bad review; you clearly covered all the bases and give your reader a good idea of what this game is like as well as to whom it may appeal.
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PAJ89 posted December 23, 2009:

Cheers for the feedback. It was very much an experiment for me; my natural style is more structured, but I figured as I'd decided on a 10 score I'd depart from that on this occassion.
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- posted December 23, 2009:

I don't think the intro is as bad as Randxian makes it out to be. You start discussing the game very near to the start of the second paragraph, and the first paragraph isn't really that long. I don't think "iPhone" or "Facebook" should be italicised (I could be wrong), but it's an interesting approach to writing the review. After all, there's nothing much exciting at first glance when you look at Peggle, at least in my opinion. You pretty much echo my thoughts in the opener, and it's something I can relate to.

Good review overall. I enjoyed reading it.
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PAJ89 posted December 23, 2009:

That's exactly what I was going for. Explaining Peggle without playing it is pretty difficult, which is why I went for that opening paragraph. On italics, I thought it was titles and brand names but not totally sure. Been a while since I last saw you Ben, hope alls well with you. Merry Christmas, and all the best in the New Year.
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- posted December 23, 2009:

Hm, might need another opinion on the italics thing. I've never italicised brand names, which is why it looked odd to me, but that's just me.

But yeah, everything's fine at my end - hope it's the same at yours. Enjoy your Christmas and have a great New Year! And I also hope to see you around more often.
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randxian posted December 23, 2009:

My main issue is the first paragraph comes off as elitist. I'm just saying perhaps there is a better and less abrasive way of putting this.
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zigfried posted December 23, 2009:

I personally think it's a pretty darn cool intro, although I see Rand's point.

To a casual games gamer, you are going to sound elitist. Especially since you're the one who brought the word up! This might irritate Peggle fans briefly... but they'll appreciate that Peggle was so mighty as to make you see things in a new light. Especially since you demonstrate self-awareness of your elitism.

People who are big fans of Modern Warfare 2 probably won't take too kindly to it, and there's no redeeming revelation for those people (since they probably thumb their noses at stuff like Peggle, too). The intro will likely turn these people off right away. It's up to you whether or not you're okay with that. It's not inherently bad to turn people away.

To a fellow elitist like me, who also likes to do my own thing all the time, your opening paragraph has created an atmosphere of inclusion. Right away, I identify with you. I mean, the alternative is identifying with the unwashed masses... and who wants to do that?

So yes, it's a divisive opening that will have a variety of effects on a lot of different people. That's not a bad thing. Anyone who reads your review knows where you're coming from. And you want to share your experience with people like you. I thought it was a good experiment, and effectively written.

I would actually say the gameplay bits are the ones that start to drag. The problem with really super-cool puzzle/casual games is that when you describe the gameplay in writing, they almost always sound a lot less cool to the world. I have a clear idea of how the game plays, but that doesn't make me want to actually go and play it. My general suggestion for these kinds of "this one is cool, REALLY" reviews is to focus on the experience, or the high-level view of how the game engages the mind, or perhaps your feelings during a particular moment (and you can often work some gameplay description into such examples).

This is advice that I almost never follow myself. We all feel some kind of compulsion to describe gameplay. It's a hard habit to break -- the world has indoctrinated us that "reviews need to describe game mechanics" -- but I think it's a habit we need to break if we're all to grow as critics.

That being said, I thought the bit about twitch reactions not helping was excellent as it focuses more on who will like it and why, and less on the details of how the game plays.


EDIT: company and device names should not be italicized; italics are for titles (ie, italicize the name of an iPhone game, but not iPhone itself)

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