Review: PopCap Games Peggle for iPhone + iPod touch
Popcap Games' Peggle is the best game that was ever released for the Click Wheel iPod -- a truly brilliant puzzle game with far more challenge and depth than we ever would have expected when we first turned it on. Each of the game's levels confronts players with a single screen filled with colored pegs; the challenge is to use a set of 10 balls to eliminate them, launching one at a time from the center top of the screen. Remove all of the orange-red pegs and you can move on to the next level; remove all of the blue pegs as well and you'll get a guaranteed 100,000 bonus points for doing so. Even the game's initially bizarre cast of animal "masters," or teachers who help you learn how to play the game while adding special powers to two green pegs found on almost every stage, grew on us over time; their charm and amusement factor was increased in a follow-up title called Peggle Nights.
By contrast with the iPod version of Peggle, an overachiever that pushed the very edges of the Click Wheel devices’ limitations, the iPhone version of Peggle is a more ambitious but less than perfectly tuned edition. The graphics have received a major upgrade from the iPod port, not just using every pixel on the iPhone and iPod touch’s 480x320 screens, but actually going further by adding an optional “Zoom” mode: double-tap on any area of the screen and you can see it at a higher, computer screen-like level of detail to more precisely line up your peg shots. PopCap has also graced the iPhone version with a video camera-like replay recorder, in case you want to preserve and show off a particularly awesome shot or three; additional style shots have been added for expert players.
So to be very clear, the framework of the iPhone version of Peggle is pretty solid. PopCap provides an intuitive enough interface—swipe to move your targeting arrow, press a Fire button to launch the ball—plus a fine-adjustment crank on the right side of the screen to let players take precise shots. These features, and a new Fast Forward button at the top of the screen to help you avoid waiting for the perfect shot to come along, are welcome additions to the formula. And the game continues to include all of the masters and dialogue from the iPod version, as well as all of the 55 original levels.
But unexpectedly, some things that were in the iPod version of Peggle have for whatever reason disappeared. The original game’s 75 additional challenge stages, which kept players busy for weeks or months after completing the linear “Adventure” mode, have cut down to 40—a move PopCap says was deliberate to reduce redundancy. More disappointingly, Peggle’s soundtrack is almost completely missing in action, which PopCap attributes to a desire to keep the game’s download footprint small. Though the company has hinted that the absent soundtrack might be remedied in a future version, players are now expected to provide their own soundtracks, the sort of shortcut we typically associate with less expensive, less professionally developed games. You can decide whether this meets your needs, but we liked the original soundtrack and would strongly prefer it to screwing around with the iPhone or iPod touch’s music apps to start and stop other background music.
These omissions are a little more surprising given that we’d expected the iPhone Peggle to ship with at least as much content as the iPod version, possibly more given the wealth of post-Peggle level packs and other things that PopCap has come up with in the time since the original game’s release. Unlike the Nintendo DS title Peggle Dual Shot, which received additional unlockable levels, there isn’t any bonus iPhone content unique to this version of the game; and similarly, none of the additional levels, graphics, dialogue, or updated masters from Peggle Nights are included, either. This isn’t a shock for the game’s $5 asking price, but losing content from the prior $5 iPod game is a definite disappointment.
Other little issues with Peggle are performance related. During our play time with the iPhone version, we noticed intermittent shot delays and frame stutters, which seemed to be memory-related, lessening but not disappearing when the device was restarted. Extreme Fever, a special effects and musical bonus sequence that appears at the end of every stage, isn’t quite as peppy in pacing as in other versions of the game we’ve played, though its visual effects are dramatically better than the Click Wheel iPod’s, and the song Ode to Joy thankfully remains intact. Finally, we noticed small, occasional ball glitches, such as its temporary movement through a wall in a stage where pegs are flowing off the screen, carrying it with them. Our impression is that PopCap may resolve these issues in a subsequent update, but as always, we rate based on what we’ve played, not based on what we hope to play later.
Overall, the iPhone version of Peggle is a less than completely thrilling port of one of our very favorite games—a title that’s worthy of our strong general recommendation, rather than the flat A its iPod predecessor received. While this version certainly makes impressive use of the current-generation iPhone and iPod touch displays, its almost complete absence of music and occasional performance hiccups are the primary reasons we feel less than fully joyful about the latest version of a game that brought Ode For Joy into the lives of millions of gamers, including ours. Should a significant post-release update remedy the issues above, you can be sure that we’ll revisit the title and let you know.