When PopCap’s John Vechey took the stage at E3 2013 to announce the company’s new titles, he expected the announcement of Peggle 2 to be something of a megaton. “Ladies and gentlemen, PEGGLE 2!” he bellowed, as the room went dark and a short video trailer took what seemed like aeons to kick in. During the delay, we experienced one of the most awkward silences we’ve ever witnessed. A room full of gamers, game journalists, enthusiasts, and the usual YouTube sub-celebrities who have achieved fame by doing nothing other than trying to be just SO ironic all shuffled in their seats, not quite knowing what to say. Then, a titter from the crowd invited those around it to join in, and how they did. Oh, what jolly japes! This fool’s only gone and announced a CASUAL title to a crowd full of OBVIOUSLY super-hardcore gamers. Ha!
It may not be another sub-standard FPS title that looks like every other sub-standard FPS title, but Peggle 2 is an absolute triumph meaning that ultimately, the joke is on those detractors.
If you’re one of the tiny percentage of people that’s never played Peggle, let us explain the premise. Each game takes place on a board full of artfully-placed orange and blue pegs. You have a gun that fires balls down into the playing area from the top of the screen. If you hit a peg, it disappears. You “beat” a board by clearing all of the orange pegs within your allotted number of shots, but ultimate success comes from clearing every peg – both orange and blue - from the board. “Style” points are awarded from tricky shots, such as hitting a lot of orange pegs in a single shot, and a high single-shot score can get you a free ball, as will “catching” the ball in the constantly moving bucket that travels back and forth across the bottom of the screen.
On top of this, each board has two green pegs in situ. Hitting these unlocks your character’s special ability to use for a certain amount of shots. If you’re playing as Bjorn the Unicorn for example, your next three shots are easier to aim thanks to a greatly elongated guideline, which shows how the ball will cannon and ping around the board.
The concept was always relatively simple and with Peggle 2, PopCap haven’t made any changes that throw the sheer addictiveness of the gameplay off. Enhancements and tweaks have been made, such as having levels featuring armoured pegs that need to be hit twice, the inclusion of proper pinball-style bumpers that add a new dimension to some levels, and a cast of new characters complete with new special abilities. As we say, the addictiveness remains. Peggle 2 is an absolute doddle to pick up, but that quick ten-minute game that you were just going to have before doing something else regularly becomes a much longer stint. Despite the game having a plethora of boards to beat, Peggle 2 also throws in some new tasks that will keep you coming back way after you’ve run through and “beaten” each level. Every board has up to three optional challenges – beat a certain score, win without using a certain character, clear all the pegs, etc. – that can be chalked off over multiple games. Some of them will cause you to pull your hair out in frustration as you come up 10,000 points short or get an unlucky bounce that takes out the last orange peg before you can clear out the last blue one, but it’s that beautiful sort of frustration that gets you angry one minute, and makes you more determined the next as you restart the level for the 12th time.
Each world also contains a series of ten extra “trials” – which are individual single challenges that again, will keep you coming back again and again.
Visually, the game is as simplistic as you’d expect a glorified take on Pachinko and bagatelle to be, but still manages to really pop in high-definition. Throw in some well-loved and well-reworked classical music pieces and the wonderfully realised spot effects, and you’ve got a complete package that will keep you playing for many, many more hours than you’d ever feasibly expect.
In fact, the only thing we can find to really fault about Peggle 2, is the multiplayer side of things. Up to four players all take on the same board and after each shot the current scores are shown. This goes on until the allotted number of rounds has been completed and a winner is crowned, but that seems to be about it. There’s no levelling system, no win/loss record, and nothing as simple as a series of badges to indicate which players have any sort of decent skills. Not to mention the fact that with four boards showing to the side of the screen (which you can cleverly zoom in on to see how each player’s shot is going), the game’s framerate takes a somewhat unexpected and definitely unacceptable drop. Online play also isn’t all that stable, to tell you the truth. Multiple times, we’ve seen players dropping out just before they took their shot, causing everyone else to get stuck waiting, and we’ve been thrown back to the main Xbox One dashboard after the game has unceremoniously crashed, on more than one occasion.
But as damaging as the limited and somewhat flaky multiplayer options should be to the game, they don’t stop Peggle 2 from being a fantastic value proposition. As a single-player game, it would have picked up the full complement of ten stars, and done it easily. The multiplayer mode is limited, but PopCap has already announced that a new free "duel" mode is on the way and that more is to come, so maybe it’ll get there in the end.
Addictive, beautifully designed, and containing more single-player content than you could shake a stick at, Peggle 2 is a fine, fine game. Considering it can be yours for less than £10, we just don’t see how anyone could pass it up. Superb.