December 28, 2013 2 Comments
Two things of significance happened in 2007 in the Vice household. #1, I turned eighteen. I could vote. I could smoke without breaking the law. I was also obligated to, you know, get a job and pay taxes and do adult types of shit. And #2, my family was held hostage for several months by a productivity terrorist dressed in bright, beautiful colors. The terrorist called itself “Peggle” and it not only enslaved me, but also my decidedly non-gamer parents. At least my Daddy had some experience with games, in that he bought all the new hip and trendy consoles when he was younger. He didn’t really play them all that much, but he had an Atari, Colecovision, NES, and SNES. My mother, on the other hand, was an unexpected victim. Before games on phones became prevalent, I had seen her play exactly two games. One was Wii Sports, and the other was Peggle. I can not stress enough how much time Peggle consumed amongst the three of us for around a four-month period. If it wasn’t eight hours a day at its peak, I’ll eat my hat.
Now that I’m a game critic, I think I have a better appreciation for what PopCap accomplished with Peggle. For all the moaning that gaming elitists do over “casual” games, I appreciate any title that can bring my whole family together. I fell in love with video games when I was seven years old, but gaming wasn’t an activity I shared with the people who I loved the most. So called “casual games”, which is a dirty word in many circles, are exactly the type of games I can share with them. So to snobs who hold their nose up at casuals, I offer you a hearty FUCK YOU, because I wouldn’t trade the memory of playing Peggle with my family for anything.
Having said that, wow, was Peggle 2 ever a let-down for me.
It’s not that Peggle 2 is a badly made game. The problem is, it’s the same fucking game as before. No new twists were added to the formula, beyond the special powers you gain from each world’s mascot. If they had done something more with the pegs, like added new ones that do weird, unexpected things when hit, it might have freshened up the experience. Instead, this feels more like an expansion back than a sequel. But, they already did that with Peggle Nights. I didn’t get into that either. It’s safe to say, after our months-long bender of Peggle, I was burned out for life. Nothing short of a revolutionary gameplay mechanic could win me back. Peggle 2 takes no risk, playing it safe and samey. As a result, over the five or so hours I spent playing it, I was never once having a good time. Not once. Not even for a second. It was all been there, done that, when is this going to feel like a sequel? The answer was never.
Some concepts were added to pad out the playtime. Each stage has three special objectives that you can complete to earn points. As of this writing, there’s no online leaderboards, which renders the point of points kind of moot, but I guess it was thoughtful. There’s also special “trial” stages where you’re tasked to do things like earn three bonus balls in a single shot. It sounds like it will be fun, but this is still Peggle. It’s a game where randomness and luck are going to factor in more than any form of skill nine times out of ten. I found the trial stages to still be boring and repetitive, only with the additional strike of being too hard. There’s also online multiplayer battles, which again, are tough to love because the game is based around luck more than anything else. The same effect could basically be had if they had made Kinect Bingo the big digital launch title.
Also, a not-so-quick technical complaint: Peggle 2 way overuses the Xbone’s DVR function. In theory, it would be cool to have it record your coolest, high-scoring shots, so that the whole world can bask in your, let’s face it, dumb luck. But, in practice, the damn thing records every shot over a small threshold of points, so much so that barely a level passed without at least one shot on it being recorded. In five-hours of playing, I never once had a single shot I thought was worth saving, but there’s no option to set what level of scoring should and shouldn’t be saved. You also can’t turn off the DVR function for just Peggle 2. You have to turn it off for every game (at least as of this writing), or have it on for every game. I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come with the Xbox One’s DVR, but I fear it might be. They really do need to get on the ball about being able to turn it off and on for specific games. They also should try to figure out why some sessions had the achievement notifications pop up and others didn’t. I’m surprisingly fond of my Xbox One, but it is a buggy little bastard.
Do you know what’s most baffling to me about Peggle 2? That it’s an Xbox One exclusive. It just doesn’t seem like it fits with their image or their target demographic or any aspect at all, really. I’m sure Microsoft paid a king’s ransom for it, but I can’t help but wonder if PopCap (and corporate parent EA) lost out on a lot more money going this route. Peggle made its name by being on everything. It was on computers, phones, consoles, handhelds, microwaves, pacemakers, the works. I don’t know if I’m right. Who knows? I have no idea what kind of revenue Plants vs. Zombies 2 generated as a freemium iPhone game, but I do know they would have moved millions of copies at $20 a pop if it had been on PCs as well. I don’t know. Maybe EA doesn’t believe in PopCap themselves and this whole exclusivity bullshit with their marquee franchises is some kind of ploy to try to legitimize “casual” games as viable system-movers. First off, Nintendo already proved that they can back in 1989 with Tetris. Second, casual games are already legitimate to any gamer whose head isn’t stuck up their ass. But Peggle 2 doesn’t suck because it’s an Xbone exclusive. It sucks because I’ve already played it to death and it offered me nothing new. Just to make sure it wasn’t just me, I invited my parents in to play a few rounds with me. They still enjoyed it, though this time around they had no problem putting it down. Then my father asked me if people were seriously sinking $500 on a new platform just to play this, which I’ve really seen mention of on Twitter. I reminded him that if this had been 2007, he would have probably spent that for a sequel during our Peggle addiction period. “$500? Psssh, I would have traded you for a sequel.” Gee, thanks Daddy.
$11.99 noted that some people are complaining that the game is too short, so if you’re not burned out like me, you might not like that there are only five “masters” to beat and one final world in the making of this review. Me? When those credits rolled, I felt like I had been paroled.