Tuesday, March 31, 2009

When I say I need you, you say “you Peggle, you Peggle, you bet!”

I’ve talked in a previous post about the PC downloadable version of Peggle. My basic conclusion at that point was that $19.95 was too much, but I would consider purchasing it for 400-800 points on XBLA ($5-$10).

A few months and $10 later, I now own Peggle for XBLA. It’s a fun, well-polished, “time waster” game that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed with few reservations.

My reservations are these:

  • A few of the “master” special abilities seemed less fun to play with. I specifically think about the crab claws (which did not seem responsive to my taps of the A button and whose physics didn’t seem congruent with what I would expect) and the sonic boom which I still don’t really understand in terms of why I would ever choose it instead of, say, the flower ability. Yes, it affects both blue and orange pegs, but somehow its visual effects make it seem less cool and useful – in fact the first few times I tried it, I didn’t even realize what had happened.
  • Peggle party mode seemed a little under-developed. I didn’t play Xbox Live mode but I did try a duel with my fiancee. The fact that there was only one competitive mode (and no co-operative play) seemed rather limited. Moreover, there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to who shot first/second. It seemed like I almost always shot first, which was almost always a big advantage. Finally, while “hotseat” games can be fun, they are really much more a PC convention than a console convention. When I think of a console “party” game, I mostly think of everyone mashing buttons at the same time – even though I recognize that there are a number of very fun turn-based party games.
  • A related, but much more minor, complaint is about the critter-select UI (where you select which “master” you play as during duel/party mode). First, the screen is very flat and doesn’t appear interactive at first glance. Mostly this affects “player two” who didn’t realize she was required to press A to jump in and then select a master to play as. A slight variable interval pulse and subtle sound cue might have helped a bit. Second, there was no confirming “thunk” audio reinforcement when a master was selected. A minor thing, but it stands out against an otherwise incredibly polished game and game shell UI.
  • Achievements require me to play (and be competitive at) multiplayer. As a “time waster” game, this seems somewhat antithetical to the way I want to play Peggle. I can understand the desire to foster viral adoption through competitive multiplayer, but I think that leaderboards and Xbox Live Rich Presence are similar to Facebook status updates in encouraging other players to pick up and play the game. Why should I have to play *and beat* a stranger to max out my gamerscore?

The rest, as far as I’m concerned, is chock full of addictive Peggle goodness.

  • Even though I complained about the underwhelming local party play options, Liza and I had a blast shooting pegs and comparing successes and failures. The core mechanics are fun and the visuals and sounds are pleasing and reinforcing whether you succeed or fail at any given play.
  • The game and theme are completely congruent. From the initial whimsical “debug” text that scrolls by when loading, to the use of different musical notes to indicate which game shell button is currently highlighted, to the “ode to joy” finishing song the game sets the expectation of light, fanciful fun, Peggle completely delivers.

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