Extreme Fever! A Peggle Review

Epic win!

Epic win!

In this day and age, where the line in the sand has been drawn, gamers are either hardcore or their not. Either you blow people up with rocket launchers or you look for hidden pictures. You either spend three days zerg rushing the enemy combatant or spend three days perfecting your chocolate empire with mini-games. Well, PopCap Games is here to tear down that wall with their blockbuster hit. Peggle doesn’t care if you like shooters or sims; it just wants to make the world a better place through digitized Plinko.

The idea behind Peggle is ridiculously simple. In each level, you shoot silver balls reminiscent of pinballs from the top of the screen. The ball in turn bounces off of the many blue, orange, green and purple pegs below; each peg lighting up and giving you points as your ball pings off of it. The bottom of each stage is pit for the ball to fall into but if you time your shot right, you may hit the bucket that roams side to side at a steady pace. If you manage this, the game will give you an extra ball; the equivalent of an extra life. Each level gives you a set number of balls and the goal is to clear the board of all the orange pegs. The strategy is involved in finding the quickest way to clear the more plentiful blue pegs to get to the orange ones. All before you run out of balls. In later stages the pegs become animated, rotating or moving on and off the screen, making this simple task more and more challenging.

Those inner tube circles don't stay put.

Those inner tube circles don't stay put.

The other major gameplay element is to build up your score. For each peg hit by a single ball, a multiplier is added. Blue pegs are worth the least, followed by the orange ones, with the elusive purple peg being worth the most. If the player manages to reach a certain threshold of points with one ball, the game will reward your Peggle skills with a free ball. Once you’ve managed to clear all the orange pegs, the camera zooms in on the ball and goes into slow motion while Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from Symphony No. 9 plays in the background. The bottom of the screen, once a cavernous mouth stealing your balls, becomes five separate buckets for you ball to fall into; giving you an extra point boost anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000.

Of course that’s only the basic premise. Once the player has that down, the game adds on a layer of depth and that’s where the mind numbing addiction comes into play. The first time you play Peggle, the game will be in Adventure mode. Set up into groups of stages, each themed chapter has its own avatar. These Peggle Masters, ranging from a jack o lantern to a gopher to a sunflower, will be visible from the top of the screen. The stages for each avatar’s chapter set up the pegs into shapes that accurately depict the current theme or background; such as flowers, a river bank or car.

Vroom Vroom!

Vroom Vroom!

Each avatar also has a special ability. Special abilities are designed to make hitting the pegs easier. Using your ball to hit one of the two green pegs in each stage will trigger the special. For example, the jack o lantern’s ability is called “Spooky Ball”. Triggering this effect causes the ball to return to the top of the screen once it hits the bottom instead of disappearing. The flower will cause twenty-five percent of all orange pegs on the board to light up and so on…

Challenge Mode

Challenge Mode

After completing the 55 modes in Adventure, the rest of the game opens up. The player is now free to go back and play any level with any avatar; not just the ones affiliated with it. Dual mode allows players to go head to head against a friend or computer player and Challenge mode offers 75 new puzzles with varying tasks to complete.

On the version for the Xbox 360 there are the added bragging rights of trying to get the highest score for any individual level which will then be put on Live for the entire world to see your mad Peggle skills.

This is usually the paragraph where I go into detail about the game’s flaws, but I really can’t think of anything to put. Peggle has sold over 10 million downloads on PC and has been in the top ten XBLA games since its launch last week.  It’s spawned versions on the iPhone and DS and already has a sequel. Not bad for a little game from the company that brought us Bejeweled.

So whether your idea of gaming is Halo 3 or Solitaire, do yourself a favor and give Peggle a chance to win you over. Download the trial for free at PopCap games or XBLA on Xbox Live.

Peggle is available for the Xbox 360, PC, Nintendo DS and the iPhone. It is rated E for Everyone.


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Dysentary Is Still Fun!

Awww, memories.

Ahhh, memories.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted that I had discovered that mobile gaming had emerged from the ages of ‘Snake’ and into a surprisingly fun experience while I was busy ‘paying bills’. Having wet my feet with the several demos that came pre-programmed on my phone, I set about the task of downloading The Oregon Trail. Why? Because who doesn’t have fond memories of subliminally learning while having fun? No one, that’s who.

Once downloaded from GameLoft, I loaded the game up and instantly noticed several slight changes. First of all, the graphics have been upgraded. Some would say that this detracts from the nostalgic feel of the game, but they were still cute and pixelated so it didn’t bother me any.

After I named my group leader, my wife and three kids (all of whom you actually get to SEE) I entered the store  to load up my wagon. In the version for my phone, which isn’t quite as cool as the iPhone, I only had basic options of my career (farmer, carpenter or banker) and the game automatically generated my supplies and money based on that. No more hovering in the store debating on whether or not to buy another yoke or three sets of clothes. Streamlined is the word. For a visual example, check out the video trailer by GameLoft.

Okay, so I’ve got my family, my supplies and I’ve picked which month I’m leaving in. Let’s get moving!

Once on the trail, several more changes to the original game became obvious. For one thing, my party is visible. Gone are the classic oxen and wagon meandering over tan dirt and a black sky. My wagon and oxen are still there, but the family walks outside the wagon (just like they would have in real life). The background actually consists of moving scenery and even changing weather patterns. If someone gets sick or injured (and they will), their shoulders slump and a little skull and crossbones appears over their heads. At the bottom of the screen are your movement and rest buttons. The upper left hand corner contains the health of your wagon, party and how much food you have left. The upper right tells you how much money you have left, the date and how many miles to the next stop.

Also, to make the game have a higher replay value (I assume), GameLoft added in several new and entertaining tasks. Other than the staple minigame of moving in diagonal lines and shooting game and avoiding river rocks with your caulked wagon, there is now sluicing for gold, fishing for food or as a challenge to win supplies, berry picking, and a game that gives you the chance to fix that damn axle that breaks every two days.

The Oregon Trail now includes a small questing element as well. In each town there will be at least two people; an obnoxious child that brags his family can beat yours to the next stop and a wealthy man. If you take the braggart up on his offer to race and beat him, you win money which can be used to buy the ever increasingly expensive supplies or medicine for your sick. The wealthy man always wants you to take a package to the next wealthy man in the next town. You can either deliver the package or steal it. Inside my ill gained package was an engagement ring and letter. I felt guilty but dammit that ring was worth $60! Of course, you can also be on the receiving end of random encounters where bandits steal your supplies or, bizarrely, a bear attacks from nowhere and mauls one of your party members.

Over all, I had a great time playing this remake. It had a handy save game feature which was nice since most of my play time was in snippets while waiting on kids, food, or what have you. But that’s not to say it wasn’t without it’s drawbacks. I don’t know if I just make smarter life choices now that I’m not in third grade, but the game felt almost too easy. Never once did we all drown from a poor river crossing choice. No one ever died either, since resting for two days seemed to have the same effect as medicine; whether they had dysentary or a broken arm. And where’s the fun in not being able to write ‘Pepperoni and Cheese’ on my tombstone?

If you enjoyed The Oregon Trail as a kid, aren’t a hard nose purist, and have seven bucks and twenty minutes to spare, you could do a lot worse than stake a virtual claim on the west coast.

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Discovering Mobile Gaming

Glorious gaming.

Glorious gaming.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m out of the loop. But the last time I had a phone that could play games, I was moving a pixilated snake around the screen to eat dots. I’ve been living in the darks ages of “need to eat” instead of “spiffy phone” for too long.

But no more! I’ve thrown off the shackles of low tech phones (thanks Unlce Sam!). And boy, have things come a long way.

The phone sucked me in with its pretty graphics and demo of Guitar Hero. ‘How do I play that without a guitar?’ I wondered. That was what they wanted me to ask. Sneaky bastards. Turns out you play with the top row of the QWERTY keypad but that’s not the point. The point is the damage was done. Before I knew it, I was at my provider’s website scrolling through dozens, nay, hundreds of games. It was like video game Mecca in there. All this time, I could’ve been playing Oregon Trail while waiting in the checkout line! How have I even lived without this?

Sure I knew that games like Bejeweled and Diner Dash and other casual games were out there for the phone. I like those types but never thought I’d buy them. However, killing zombies while waiting for my lunch? Shooting spaceships to keep the road rage at bay in bumper to bumper gridlock? Hell yes! And all in wonderful detailed color reminescent of the SNES or Sega.

So, all two of you readers, don’t be surprised if a mobile review or two pops up here and again. But for now, I’m off to die of dysentery.

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