Tiny package, lots of balls.
There's an extremely ill-defined line in the sand somewhere between the so-called 'casual' and 'hardcore' game experiences. Popcap's Peggle happily cinches up its cleated, steel-tipped engineer boots and does the Creature Feature Stomp all over that line. With actual creatures.
[image1]Much has been said about Peggle's fiendishly-addictive properties since its 2007 debut. In fact, about the only thing that could make the Peggle franchise any more crackalicious would be, well, some sort of handheld version—let's say, a 'Peggle DS'... Why, if that happened, we could all obsessively play Peggle, unfettered, until the proverbial cows... oh, look, here they are now!
Peggle: Dual Shot isn't merely a stunningly-faithful handheld iteration of the PC experience. It's not only a hefty combo-pack of the original critically-acclaimed game and its equally-meaty follow-up. In its new Nintendo DS port-of-call, it goes well beyond the, uhrm, 'call of port' to deliver a lovingly-crafted, value-and-a-half game package that offers that special 'something extra' to DS owners who have waited—some patiently, others less so—to get their Peg on.
If you somehow missed Peggle and/or its follow-up Peggle Nights, here's all the primer you need: Each level has a ball launcher atop the screen, a playfield filled with imaginatively-themed constellations of colored pegs, and a ball-catching bucket moving back and forth across the bottom of the screen. It's a one-click endeavor—to determine your angle, shoot the ball, and hope for the best.
The object of all this: Send the ball bouncing from peg to peg, removing each peg shortly after contact; score as many points as possible; and earn, one hopes, a free ball by having the ball swish into the bucket. The result of all this: White-knuckled near-misses, jaw-dropping, freak-of-collision-stance combinations, window-rattling bellows of victory, agonizing howls of defeat, occasional chunks of torn-out hair... and hours and hours of entranced time swirled right down the crapper until you realize the sun is coming up and your chance of a productive work-day, sir or madam, is hosed.
[image2]Despite its deceptively-simple, candy-colored presentation and theme-park-worthy cast of can-do creatures, Peggle: Dual Shot is a mechanical chameleon of a game. If you want this to be a 'casual' gaming fling, you can bonk the ball around by trial and error, eventually Helen Keller-ing your way to an acceptable, minimal-conditions victory by clearing all the orange pegs in a given level. All well and good.
If, however, you want to get brow-crinklingly Serious—and, hand to God, we are talking girlfriend- and/or job-losingly Serious, here—Peggle can instantly become a 'hardcore' pursuit, before you're even half-aware of what's going on. It's got the seemingly-random chaos of pachinko, yes... but on a deeper, more committed level it also rewards the poolshark's-eye, collision-calculating precision of billiards, pinball, and the sorts of simulations that air traffic controllers have to contend with.
You can perhaps easily clear out all the required orange pegs with balls to spare, sure... but with a little extra effort, you can plan that first peg-rebound to send your ball into a constantly-repositioning, point-multiplying purple peg, or into one of the two anchored Power-activating green pegs, or along, a continuous slope of colored blocks for a “Super Slide” style-bonus, or even straight into the roving bucket to add an (oft-needed) extra ball to your ever-dwindling reserves. Easily-obsessed types will start trying to make every shot a crazy, ambitious combination of showoff wall-bounces, Long Shot peg-to-peg Hail Marys, or other style bonuses. There are some peg configurations and placements that may seem absolutely impossible, at first glance, to clear out—particularly when level challenges start adding moving obstructions, 'sheltering' pegs, slopes made out of rotating blocks, or even cutting your initial ammo in half, or down to a single ball—but there is always a way to do it.
Often, the solution, or part of it, will revolve around which of the indefatigably-upbeat 'hero' characters—each with their own distinct and fairly wacky personality and special Power—you select to tackle each mission. There's the unicorn with a predilection for projectile-path projection, a one-eyed alien whose green peg detonates any nearby pegs, an animate pumpkin whose 'Spooky Ball' takes a second pass at the playfield to the organ strains of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (that's BWV 565, for you organ fanatics), a valley-talking rodent with a totally tubular Multi-Ball ability, and a sort of carnival-huckster rabbit whose Power activates a spinning wheel including many other character's powers... just to name a few. They all work out quite differently, and each can be a useful tool in your Peggle arsenal—don't worry, because you can always choose a new hero if your current fave doesn't seem able to conquer a particular level.
[image3]Once you've worked your way through the Adventure mode and the increasingly-difficult Challenges in the first game, you've still got a whole other game to get through. Peggle Nights—so named because it proceeds on the notion of the various character's nighttime fantasies—includes attractive and often humorous background themes that offer up the calm, zen-centric owl as a wannabe, leather-clad rocker, or the aforementioned pumpkin as a beret-wearing artist (background include takes on Escher's 'Relativity' and Munch's 'The Scream'). It also introduces Marina, a comely cephalopod with an immensely-satisfying 'Electro Bolt' Power that arcs electricity from peg to peg across the entire screen. As with the original Peggle, ditto Nights for the inclusion of lots and lots of bonus challenges outside the Adventure mode.
Amazingly, Peggle: Dual Shot doesn't stop there: DS owners are further rewarded with an entirely new gameplay feature, the Gold Peg; after four purple pegs are hit, a gold peg appears—and hitting that sends the ball in play into a series of custom 'underground' levels with a more action-oriented, pinball-bumper mechanic. There, players can rack up lots of bonus points before being returned to their game in progress. It's a handy and welcome way to get a few more balls in the hopper when stocks are running dangerously low.
Once you're hooked on any wickedly-compelling, ecstasy-inducing substance, what else is there to do but get your friends hooked as well? Peggle: Dual Shot allows a playable version to be beamed to another player's DS... so soon, you'll have another helpless, gibbering addict to play with via the two-player duel mode. This feature is either totally awesome or completely evil, I'm still not sure which.
There are DS games out there that I can only call 'must-have', and Peggle: Dual Shot is the newest member of their ranks—a rocking 'port' with faithful presentation (right down to the glorious burst of 'Ode to Joy' at the successful completion of each level, which really makes you feel like a by-God winner), a literal double-shot of two complete Peggle games with DS-exclusive coolness to boot... and all of it jammed onto the same tiny cartridge, with no compromises.