By Greg Newbegin
Peggle is one of "those" games: you either absolutely love it or you just don't understand what all the fuss is about. Considered by many fans to be near-perfect in terms of gameplay, the original Peggle went on to commercial success and was subsequently released on virtually every platform that was available at the time. Soon after, an expansion was released (Peggle Nights), which added more levels and Peggle masters. That was 2008, and developers PopCap Games went on to work on other franchises, some of which were equally popular, but little was heard in regards to Peggle.
A little over 5 years later, and here we are at the release of the Xbox One exclusive (for now), Peggle 2. To be honest, not much has changed... though, to be clear, not much CAN change with Peggle. Much like Pachinko, an upright mechanical pinball game (and Plinko to our American friends, a popular game as part of The Price is Right on US television), players are presented with a screen of pegs, into which they drop a small ball. As the ball hits these pegs on its journey to the bottom of the playfield, the pegs are eliminated. A certain number of these pegs are orange (while the majority are blue), and the aim of each level is simply to clear the orange pegs using only ten balls.
As the orange pegs are cleared, players increase their multiplier; scoring high in a single shot can net an additional ball, as can falling into the bucket that moves across the bottom of the screen. Green pegs, of which there are only two within a level, provide players with a special move, and these are specific to the chosen "master". While the game itself is quite simple in concept, chasing a high score is ridiculously fun, and more than that -- the game just makes you feel damned special for pulling off tricky moves. Even just completing a level will kick off rainbows that shoot across the screen while "Ode to Joy" plays in the background. Sublime.
Peggle 2 expands on these foundations, but only slightly. Sound and presentation are tweaked, resulting in a different "feel" for each master. The masters themselves react to each shot - sometimes amusingly so. On top of this, one new peg has been added and appears to be encased in wood (or possibly rusty metal); it requires two hits before being eliminated. Challenges have been added on a per level basis; "Clear all pegs", for example, or "Score over 500,000 points". This does add quite a lot of appeal to completionists who may plough through the core levels quickly. Further, the addition of "Trials" adds a challenge mode to each section of the game, and doubles the number of core levels (then again, the original Peggle did include a "Challenges" mode).
However, with only 5 masters, Peggle 2 feels a little short on variety. Each master is used for ten levels, and a final section allows the use of any master (that said, you can go back over any previously completed level and use a different master, if you like). With 10 trials each, the final level count is 120, which in reality is great for a title of this type. Still, having played the original, which included ten masters, I found Peggle 2 to be lacking slightly in terms of variation. The new masters are all great (a personal favourite being Luna, whose special move makes all blue pegs incorporeal, allowing direct access to orange pegs), and there are plenty of levels to play through, but there seemed to be so many more options in Peggle and Peggle Nights... Still, there is clearly a shop on the Main Menu screen (not yet open for business), so I anticipate DLC in the future and this will likely alleviate my uneasiness... and lighten my wallet somewhat.
All of that said, though, Peggle 2 is just as brilliant as its predecessors. In fact, even more so. The levels can be quite challenging, and the trials are either difficult or require players to pull off some pretty cool tricks, so either way they're highly rewarding (OK, to be fair - some are exceedingly easy, and exist only for training purposes). The use of varied completion tunes (in addition to "Ode to Joy") is a welcoming change, and the in-game music itself is bouncy and enjoyable. Presentation-wise, the game is gorgeous, with detailed and occasionally dynamic backgrounds, and masters that demand to be more than just an image at the side of your screen. I did encounter one issue, though - occasionally the game would crash, sending me to the Xbox One Home screen. I'm unsure if I was using a pre-release code that will be patched prior to or on release, but it happened far too often to be ignored.
There is a multiplayer component as well, but I was unable to play much given there were too few other players prior to release. It does use the Xbox One's Smart Match, though, so you'll be able to set things up and forget, only to be notified when a suitable game has been found (or in my case, not). The days of waiting and watching the matchmaking screen may well be over. The one game I did manage to play (with friend of the site @furysevensix) was simply a high score challenge not unlike that in Peggle on Xbox 360.
As a final thought, it's tough to objectively recommend Peggle. For me, it's a must-have game, and I'll almost certainly buy it on iPhone/iPad whenever it's released, just as I will buy whatever DLC comes down the line over the years. If, like me, you enjoyed the previous games, you were probably already planning to get this one anyway. But if you've never played Peggle? Well, it's a great time-waster, is simple in scope, and tends to be the kind of game that people like to watch as much as play. Further, it will net you a good 500 gamerscore in about 6-8 hours (if that floats your boat). Is it going to redefine gaming for you? Definitely not, but it's not necessarily designed to. It's just plain fun, and if you don't see the fun in it, what can I say? Life shouldn't be that hard, man.