Peggle is a funny one, part of a genre sadly known as “casual gaming” (simple games are not remotely casual – try playing Galaga for details) it looks a bit crap on paper – basically a pinball varient that, whilst entirely based on skill, feels more like it’s based on luck much of the time since it’s so hard to predict beyond a couple of bounces where the ball will end up. And yet its extremely simple gameplay, beautiful presentation and wide range of features make this a modern classic, easily for me one of the games of the decade.
The main reason that Peggle works is that it’s a highscore game. Unlike “hardcore” games which are often story-driven – all too often to the detriment of gameplay in the same way special effects films often spend too much time trying to dazzle and forget to tell a decent story (which reminds me, Avatar is out now) – highscore games are about achieving scores and either give the player a personal best to beat or, if they play with other people, an opponent to compete with and humiliate or be humiliated by.
And it’s in multiplayer mode that Peggle works best. Playing it on its own is like playing a high-tech version of an old-fashioned pinball machine; playing it with someone else is like competing in some kind of futuristic carnival game. It’s great fun aiming the gun and firing the shiny balls, trying to get the best angle to hit as many of the red pegs as possible whilst taking out as many blues as you can on the way; it’s even more fun when there’s someone else there to jeer as you bounce off a single blue and your ball careers into the gutter or gasp in annoyance as you hit dozens of reds and take out a cascade of blues before the ball makes a flukey landing in the bonus jar at the bottom for an extra ball.
Not everyone will like Peggle, some will be put off by its simplistic gameplay, some will dislike the somewhat “random” feel the shots can have if they’re not too good at judging how balls bounce. But I suspect most will see those as strengths, not weaknesses; a game that’s accessible and easy to play but takes real skill to master and yet is still a game where a novice can get a massive score with a lucky shot. There’s only one way to find out how you feel about Peggle and that’s to give it a try.