One of the greatest tragedies in Windows Phone gaming is that PopCap’s original Peggle never made it onto the platform. Originating as a PC game, Peggle eventually made its way to practically every platform under the sun except for Windows Phone – including the Xbox 360.
Still, at least we know PopCap loves Xbox consoles. The long-awaited sequel Peggle 2 launched earlier this month as a timed Xbox One exclusive. The new console needs games and Peggle 2 happens to be one of the most enjoyable games around. A bit of polish got lost in the rush to launch, but the new Peggle still deserves your attention.
Detailed review with video after the break!
Take it down a peg
Peggle combines the game of Pachinko (shooting balls at pegs for points) with Pool-like aiming to create a game all unto itself. Each level consists of an assortment of colored pegs and bricks for players to destroy by firing balls at them. Blue pegs just give points; purple pegs add to your score multiplier; green pegs activate your character’s special power; and all orange pegs (a very red orange) must be cleared to finish the level.
Players have ten balls with which to take down all those pegs. You aim and fire the ball from a launcher at the top center of the screen. Once it hits a peg, the ball bounces around realistically, hopefully striking other pegs before it falls off the bottom of the screen.
The more orange pegs you take out during a level, the higher the score multiplier on the right side of the screen goes. As an individual ball bounces around hitting targets, it also fills a score meter on the left. Should the shot rack up enough points before leaving the screen, you’ll earn one or more free balls for your trouble.
As players take aim and bounce a shot around the field, a bucket moves back and forth along the bottom of the screen. If your ball lands in the bucket, you’ll gain an extra ball. This often happens by chance, but really strong players can intentionally cause the ball to ricochet from a peg and into the bucket. By earning balls from points and bucket shots, players can recover from a bad situation and end up beating even the toughest levels.
In the original Peggle campaign, players progressed through 50-odd levels. Every few levels they would play as a new Peggle Master – cartoonish animal characters. After beating the game, you could play a separate Challenge Mode in which old levels received new, harder goals. A lot of people called it quits without touching Challenge Mode though, including me.
Peggle 2 creates a more cohesive experience by wrapping everything up within the new campaign. There are five sets of levels – one for each Peggle Master, now with a short story sequence between each set. Following the five main sets, players will take on a super tough sixth batch of celestial levels using the Master of their choice.
Every normal level in the campaign now has three Optional Objectives to complete. Two of those challenges will always be clearing all pegs in the level and reaching a certain Ace score. The third challenge varies by level. A good player will often complete one or more challenges on his or her first attempt, but some challenges will take many, many tries to knock out. At least you’ll earn a special outfit for the level’s Peggle Master if you finish enough of them.
New to the campaign are Peggle Trials. After the fifth level of each Master’s standard level set, you’ll always encounter a special trial level. These include such challenges as making a Super Long Shot or destroying a batch of pegs with a single ball. Once the player beats all of a Master’s standard levels, a batch of 10 trials will then unlock for that master. Beat them all to unlock a new outfit for that set’s Master, plus an Achievement.
All told, the new campaign is more interesting and filled with replay value than before. Instead of finishing it once and forgetting about whatever unlocks afterward, you’ll be more motivated to replay levels and take on Trials this time out.
The first Peggle offered 10 Peggle masters to play as, but the new game cuts the roster down to five. Bjorn the unicorn returns with his trusty but not flashy Super Guide ability. The other four masters: Jeffrey the Troll (a Big Lebowski parody), Berg the Yeti, Luna the Ghost, and Gnorman the Gnome are all-new. Each has an original special ability, with Gnorman’s proving the most useful overall.
Their new characters look great, with cartoon-quality character designs and lots of amusing animations. Opinions on how they sound will be mixed. Gnorman and Jeffrey’s voice samples get on my nerves. PopCap’s sound team usually turns in a perfect performance, and the new music and overall sound quality certainly lives up to their reputation... Just not those awful grunts that Gnorman makes.
Peggle 2 launches with a single competitive online multiplayer mode. Before anyone cries foul about the lack of local multiplayer, know that the first Peggle on PC has no multiplayer at all. PopCap added local multiplayer to the iOS version, but otherwise it has never been a core feature of the game. Peggle is all about going through the campaign and trying the various side challenges on offer. Playing against others (in versions that support it) is just a bonus.
That said, PopCap recently announced that the iOS version’s popular Duels mode will come to Peggle 2 in the near future. Duels will allow two players to compete on the same playing field either on the same console or online. Should be fun!
I wish I could tell you how good the current multiplayer mode is. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work for many players – including me. Instead of traditional matchmaking or browsing open games, Peggle 2 offers two options: Smart Match or Private Game.
Smart Match (which evolved from a similar feature in Street Fighter IV) basically makes matchmaking take place in the background while the player does other things. You can play single-player or just sit at the title screen, and before long a match will come up.
Choose to accept the match and you should be in for some delightful online Peggle action. But for whatever reason, my console never successfully joins a game. It sits there for an excruciating 90 seconds in which I can do nothing, not even cancel the matchmaking attempt. Finally, the message “Failed to Join a Game” pops up. You can see the process in our video review below. Hopefully PopCap fixes these connectivity woes when they add Duels mode.
Update: In March 2014, Peggle 2 received a multiplayer update that fixed Peg Party and added Duels mode (playable locally or online). Check out our impressions and video here.
Room for Improvement
Besides the partially broken multiplayer, Peggle 2 shows a few other rough edges as well. Colorblind mode (a standard option in the first game) is nowhere to be found. How will hamsters and horses be able to enjoy the new game? Oh, I guess colorblind people are out of luck at the moment too.
An omission that affects all of us is the lack of leaderboards. Peggle is traditionally a score-based game, with much of the replay value coming from besting not only the Ace Scores but also one’s personal best scores. Peggle 2 has no leaderboard support at all, so you can’t even see your own high scores, let alone other players’. Leaderboards are such an obvious feature, I can only assume PopCap left them out due to the launch game rush. Let’s hope they show up in the game soon.
One last annoyance: this game records clips constantly! It happens so often that it must be a bug. You can't turn off sharing within the game, either. The only way to prevent it from spamming your friends is by turning the console's video recording off entirely.
The new Peggle has 28 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 GamerScore. The only tough ones involve finishing every Trial (reasonable) and completing all 180 Optional Objectives. The latter will take many hours of attempts – I’ve spent more than an hour on a single level before. Luckily the game is crazy fun and the GamerScore rewards are so much higher than the original Xbox 360 Peggle’s.
The Optional Objective Achievements have been glitchy for some players, though reportedly they will still unlock if you keep playing enough levels. See this guide for details.
Peggle 2 is exactly what most gamers want from a next-gen sequel: everything that we loved about the first game, a few structural improvements, and vastly improved graphics and sound. The new campaign does a great job of encouraging players to go after the Optional Objectives and Trials. Most importantly, the gameplay is as fun and approachable as ever.
As long as PopCap adds the missing features and gets online multiplayer working for everyone, Peggle 2 will become just as much of an enduring classic as the original. Every Xbox One owner should have it. Let’s hope this one comes to Windows Phone someday as well!
- Peggle 2 – Xbox One – 1.72 GB - $11.99 – Xbox.com Store Link