Peggle 2

Human beings are essentially glorified monkeys.  There is no stronger proof of this statement than how Peggle works as a game.  It is a wholly unintellectual affair designed to stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain with flashing lights and catchy noises.  The user responds by pushing a button to launch a bouncing ball at some pegs until all of them are gone, at which time the sensual rewards reach their climax.  It sounds like a simple formula that should be easy to replicate, but games like the original Peggle are exceedingly rare.  It was incredibly successful with casual and hardcore gamers alike.  After the series launched in 2007, it received a sequel of sorts in Peggle Nights though it was more like an expansion pack than a sequel.  Surprisingly, it took another five years for a true sequel to arrive as a launch title for the XBox One.  Peggle 2 has now been ported over to the PlayStation 4, so that more people can experience the game’s simple addictiveness.

Peggle has been compared to pinball and Plinko, and those comparisons are reasonable but the game is still its own beast.  You shoot a ball, it hits and bounces off pegs until the ball hits the bottom. Repeat the process until the balls run out or the orange pegs are eliminated.  You earn extra points by chaining together lots of hits and performing trick shots, and your ball is returned if it lands in the bucket.  Every level has two green pegs that trigger some sort of special ability, which you can use in your next ball to get an even higher score.  The game’s simple rewards – points, flashing lights, and sound effects – are remarkably effective at always enticing you to play one more level or try one more time to get a higher score than before.

As a sequel, the game contains numerous minor improvements in  gameplay and production values without spoiling the simple formula of the original in any way.  Fans will be pleased with these improvements, but may find the volume of new content a bit disappointing.  Peggle 2 is a little light on levels, with some content feeling too similar to the original game. Other enticing features have been locked behind a paywall.  The original Peggle had ten types of special green pegs and their associated “masters.”  Peggle 2, unfortunately, only has five masters with ten dedicated levels each, and then another ten levels to use whatever master you want. The first special ability is the “super guide” peg that was also in the first game.  The final ability is completely worthless, as it makes the ball pass through blue pegs.  Since the best shots include lots of bounces off of blue pegs, this ability actually makes your shots worse. That means that Peggle 2 brings only three new quality masters to the table, with two more available as paid DLC.  There are also short challenge levels that require you to make one or two tricky shots.  These levels have been nicely set up to make setting up the shot easy enough.  The volume of content is still reasonable for the game’s $12 price tag, but including the DLC into the core game would make it easier to recommend.

The game has multiplayer, but it doesn't feel essential to the experience.  There is a "Peg Party" mode where players compete separately over the Internet, and a duel mode where you take turns shooting a ball on the same level.  There is nothing particularly special about how Peg Party works, and the Duel mode is largely worthless since the player shooting first has an enormous advantage.

For a casual 2D game, Peggle’s production values were quite high.  It is pleasantly surprising, therefore, that PopCap managed to improve them while maintaining the series' charm.  In the previous games, every level used the same sounds and the end of level music was always “Ode to Joy.”  In this game, every “master” has his its own sound effects and music (the William Tell Overture, for example). One of the master's peg sound, for instance, is an old Atari 2600 “bloop.”  Each master also has its own setting, and the background music subtly gets more intense when the end of the level draws near.  In addition, the masters are animated this time, watching you from the left side of the screen and expressing their wacky personalities in all kinds of ways.

Like its predecessor, the game has a peculiar, inexplicable hook to it.  Your only action for each ball is to point where it goes and then push a button to launch it.  After that, luck takes over.  The game feels like it is about 90% luck, but you have just enough control over what is happening in the game to keep you stuck to the controller.  The rewards are just rare enough to make them special.  When you finally do make that perfect shot, you feel a surge of excitement akin to hitting a perfect drive in golf or swishing a three-pointer in basketball.

Between the game’s enhanced visuals and music, new special abilities, new levels, and some new trick shots, PopCap did a great job of enhancing the experience of the original game without ruining the relaxing simplicity that made it so popular.  They deserve a lot of credit for doing this, since the original Peggle was executed very well and didn’t have any obvious areas for improvement.  It is a little bit disappointing that you only get sixty levels and an unsatisfying quantity of special abilities, but that issue isn’t a deal breaker.  Peggle 2 is still a solid casual game whose randomness and variety of challenges provide the levels with a lot of replayability.  If you are reading this, then chances are you have a lot of games in your library that require long time commitments or a high level of engagement.  If you need a break from those games, then kick back, relax, turn off your brain for a while, and enjoy some Peggle 2.