PopCap have seemingly made it their mission to bring the war between casual and hardcore gamers to their front porch, owning both camps with addictive, satisfying, and more importantly fun-first experiences that shirk things like drama and action and go straight for the physical comedy. When the heads of a thousand zombies pop off and you pick up a valuable diamond drop in Plants Vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time, for example, you feel successful not for murdering countless undead, but for understanding the strengths and weakness of the plants at your disposal.
In fact, PopCap’s infectious and unwavering love of gaming and gamers and the culture of play has made them a household name. Now at the end of 2013, new Bejeweled and Plants Vs. Zombies games are joined by even more Peggle, though you might question your PopCap fandom if you’ve come to love the developer from the casual camp. Aside from new Masters with strategic powers and a slew of new puzzles, Peggle 2 just doesn’t feel right on a next-gen console.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a little biased. Many discovered Peggle on their PC where mouse control allowed pinpoint shots for skyrocketing scores, but I got my first taste on iOS and wasted no time whipping my device out when, well, I had time to waste. Everyone’s first board plays out the same. You aim the silver ball towards red and blue pegs alike. Red pegs add to your score multiplier and eventually let you “pass” the level once you’ve removed all of them. Blue pegs are just for points. Eventually, you clear all the red pegs and the game explodes with the kind of joy only the Nintendo 64 kid is capable of displaying on a human face.
Green pegs allow you to power up your next shot with a Peggle Master’s abilities. Unicorn Bjorn returns from past games and offers the Super Guide shot which gives you a preview of the ricochet your current trajectory will produce. Gnorman, a mecha-powered Gnome, can electrify pegs near your silver ball as it bounces around the board. Luna, a ghastly little girl with the fiendish ability to pass through blue pegs, requires a lot of skill to wield for big points. Each Peggle Master’s power isn’t as obvious as in past games, but mechanically each are more satisfying to use and less easy to lean on.
You can’t just pop a green peg and expect Jeffrey’s boulder power-up to clear half the map for you. Peggle 2’s hardest puzzles require a ton of thought, planning, and precision, especially if you want clear all red and blue pegs alike for Extreme Fever bonuses. That’s where Xbox One’s controller comes in handy with plenty of buttons for setting up the perfect shot. You can hold the left trigger while moving the left stick for very fine control, or use other buttons to ratchet your shot left and right by increments. While the controls are certainly more capable than those Peggle Masters have had on iOS, Xbox One’s asking price can take your wallet a peg too far.
It’s not that the game doesn’t look great on a big screen TV, but that sitting for several hours at a time like you would with a typical console game robs Peggle 2 of a lot of its joy. For short sessions in between Ryse co-op and Call of Duty: Ghosts multiplayer, PopCap have created Xbox One’s first must-play downloadable. Unfortunately, replaying boards over and over again for the perfect score or binging through the entire campaign of puzzles in one sitting can leave you feeling numb to PopCap’s incessant celebration.
My Xbox One’s Game DVR is also chock full of Peggle 2 clips thanks to several events that can start an automatic recording. Any old Extreme Fever shot could trick you into thinking you’ve unlocked an achievement when in reality the game is just documenting another high score. Didn't the developers at PopCap realize that everything in Peggle is a high score, or did they just want to ensure that the unending self-celebration is there for us to relive at any time?
Peggle 2 doesn’t change much of its campaign structure, but it also adds copious amounts of replay value thanks to special board-specific objectives. While a level’s layout doesn’t change every time you play the peg colors do, so hitting retry might take you from a failed puzzle to a leaderboard-topping score. The result is an incredibly deep and rewarding experience.
Better yet, Peggle 2 provides an excellent chaser for Xbox One’s more hardcore experiences. If it weren't for PopCap's first Xbox One downloadable, I'd say Microsoft can’t keep their digital shopfront together in the console transition leaving the glory days of Xbox Live Arcade behind the brand. Hopefully PopCap will have more for Microsoft soon. For fans who aren’t also Xbox and Halo fans, I can’t recommend Peggle 2 no matter how smartly it farts the franchise forward.
Catching your ball in the bucket below or racking up enough points to gain an extra shot satisfies like never before, but the title will absolutely appear on a device you probably already own sometime very soon. Don’t chuck that iPad and don’t delete your Origin ID. Peggle 2 is just too good to stay chained to Xbox One forever.
Code provided by publisher. Exclusive to Xbox One.