Waiting for PopCap Games’ Peggle to hit the iPhone? We are, too. Without a specific release date in sight for the real thing, iPhone OS app developers have started to fill the App Store with similar clones that succeed at replicating the Peggle experience to varying degrees.
If you’re a game fan and not yet familiar with Peggle, we’d encourage you to care. Named the best Click Wheel iPod Game of the Year last year, it continues to be the single best title released for the iPod 5G, classic, nano 3G, and nano 4G, and has surged in popularity as it has spread to additional platforms and received a semi-sequel for PCs, Macs, and Nintendo DS called Peggle Nights. It’s an action puzzle game where you launch balls from the top of the screen into mazes full of pegs, eliminating a certain number of orange-red pegs to clear each level. Smart, addictive, and charming due to a combination of great gameplay, funny art and engaging music, it’s due to be released on the iPhone sometime soon. Though none of these clones is as good as the original, they’re all inexpensive, and offer something to do while we wait for Peggle to show up in the App Store.
The best of the Peggle-alikes is Pegs in Space ($1) from Jseuss Software, a title that offers 16 levels of action that are very close to the original game in terms of concept and execution. A ball is launched from the top of the screen into a collection of pegs, and your goal is to eliminate all of the yellow pegs to complete the stage; blue pegs can be eliminated for points, and serve as reflectors to hit the yellow ones, but can be left behind without a penalty.
A solid physics engine and properly tested level designs are two of the major reasons that Pegs in Space succeeds where the other clones fall short. Jseuss’s balls and pegs interact almost exactly like PopCap’s, so when you take normal shots or hope for some trick shot to work, all of the action plays out pretty much like it should, and there’s no sense that the developer forgot something huge or make a level impossible to beat. Levels have high-resolution space-themed artwork and no music, but simple peg-busting sound effects. Gone are the moving bucket at the bottom of the screen, Extreme Fever, and all of the various character-centric power-ups, amongst other things.
Where Pegs in Space surprises and impresses is in the single twist it offers on the Peggle theme. Like EA’s surprisingly rethought version of Tetris for the iPhone, hitting a special purple peg in this title activates a “Tilt” feature that lets you defy gravity for one move, turning the iPhone around to smash additional pegs for as long as you can keep the ball from falling off the screen. Additionally, the game adds a little challenge by limiting you to fewer initial balls, compensating for it with white pegs that give you an extra ball if hit. While these changes may disrupt the original Peggle game balance, they make the game unique and interesting. There’s no doubt that this is a clone, and not an awesome one, but between the good art, solid gameplay engine, and low price, it’s the first title that we’d recommend as a time-filler until PopCap gets its version out. iLounge Rating: B.
Pachingo ($1) and Pachingo Lite (Free) from Robert Blackwood are in the middle of the pack. Pachingo offers 22 levels that need to be unlocked through sequential play, and a very Peggle-like game formula: eliminate a certain color of pegs, regaining your ball if you’re lucky enough to hit a moving rainbow-shaped target on the ball’s way off the screen. New to the game are a far higher concentration of non-destructible pegs and walls, plus highly rubbery walls that make the ball bounce sharply when hit.
What undercuts the Pachingo titles is a combination of really weak background artwork, amateurish sound effects, no music, and levels that either haven’t been thoroughly tested or are intentionally designed to be more luck- than skill-based. Some of the levels have pegs that are unreachable by direct shots, and thus need to be played over and over until you randomly bounce a ball off of the right surface to hit them. The ball physics are also pretty weak by comparison with Pegs in Space and Peggle, floating and bouncing in less than completely believable ways.
The best things that we can say about Pachingo are that it offers additional Peggle-like challenges and that serious Peggle players might find its levels to be worth struggling over. However, our impression is that most people will walk away frustrated or disappointed, even for the low asking price. Give the two-level Lite demo a try if you want to see what the full game is like. iLounge Ratings (Both): C+.
To the developer’s credit, it’s obvious that this isn’t just a complete knock-off of Peggle: you fire the balls upwards rather than downwards, and have control over the angle and the arc of each ball. Additionally, the full version of Atomic Blink offers three different modes to play each of its 20 levels in: Eliminator, Defender, and Jammer. In Eliminator, you need to destroy all of the balls on the screen, while Defender only requires you to destroy all of the orange balls on the screen, and Jammer has you destroy all of the “normal” and “1up” spheres, but not the indestructible ones. Atomic Blink Lite only includes five levels, but both it and the full game also include a random level generator that creates additional challenges based on photos you select from your photo gallery—sometimes crashing in the process. Each of the included levels has a nice enough photo as background art, but there’s no in-game music save for a jingle when you lose, and the sound effects are very limited and poor.
The real problem with Atomic Blink is that the levels are very frequently unbeatable. Between the weak physics engine, which is even less plausible than the one in Pachingo, and the fact that you have too few balls to take out a huge number of targets, the game is rarely fun, and you have to struggle with changing the rule sets to try and find something worth playing. We like some of the ideas and features Serendipitous has included here, but they really need a better surrounding game, first. The Lite version provides a taste of what to expect from the full version. iLounge Rating (Lite): C. iLounge Rating (Full): D+.