Peggle Deluxe, or On Doing iPod Games Right

Last week, we published a review of PopCap Games’ Peggle for the iPod—a strategic block-busting title, and the first iPod game we’ve rated a flat A. (That’s after testing literally every title released since iTunes started to sell “iPod Games,” only a few of which have rated in A- territory.) Once the review was published, we received a note from PopCap: would we be interested in trying the PC or Mac versions of the game, the ones the iPod title was derived from? “It’s even better on a larger screen, where the ‘luck factor’ gradually diminishes and it becomes a true game of skill,” said the company’s representative. Sure, we thought, why not?

So here’s the interesting thing. Regardless of whether it was derived from a bigger and better computer or console title, the iPod version of Peggle deserved our flat A rating. It’s a ton of fun to play, looks good, sounds great, is accessible to anyone, and has lots of levels to keep players busy for quite some time. In other words, it’s 100% worthy of its asking price. The surprise is that when we tried the higher resolution Mac version of the title, “Peggle Deluxe,” the iPod version didn’t feel like some half-rate, sloppy port; instead, it felt like it was designed to be as good as the iPod could possibly make it, with the same levels, challenges, and controls. Is the original version better? Almost exclusively in the graphics department. But even then, they’re close. At least, close enough.

Peggle Deluxe, or On Doing iPod Games Right
Peggle Deluxe, or On Doing iPod Games Right

The two shots above show the differences between the iPod and Mac versions—you can guess which is which. More screenshots of the Mac version are below. Would we prefer the Mac version, if all other things were equal? Yes. But they’re not. You can’t fit a Mac in your pocket. And the iPod version costs less.

Peggle Deluxe, or On Doing iPod Games Right

There’s a lot to love about the presentation on the Mac version. Peggle’s Extreme Fever mode, which ends every stage with the opportunity to score bonus points based on where your ball lands, is now laced with even cooler special effects for both the ball’s motion and the beams of light that emanate from the bonus well you hit. All of the stages, pegs, blocks, and other art benefit from the computer monitor’s higher resolution. And stage selection is more natural, with on-screen maps of several levels rather than a Cover Flow-styled scrolling display. But these points are all small, suggesting just how great a job PopCap did with the iPod version: you don’t lose any of these things, and it doesn’t become any less skill-oriented; the iPod’s art is just slightly downsampled.

Peggle Deluxe, or On Doing iPod Games Right

Is there a lesson for iPod game developers to learn from PopCap’s release of Peggle? Actually, there are two. First, release a contemporary console- or computer-quality game on the iPod, and you’ll win people over. Too many iPod games look like the shovelware sold for mobile phones, and it’s hard to get excited about them; porting downsampled console titles, assuming their controls work, is the right strategy. And second, consider iPod-exclusive content—perhaps a full slate of entirely iPod-specific levels—as a way to make fans interested in a second, related purchase. Since Peggle Deluxe’s levels are exactly the same as the ones in the iPod version of Peggle, there’s no reason to buy both unless you need pocket- and non-pocket-sized versions. If they had different levels, though, that would be a strong incentive for fans of the iPod version to buy the Mac or PC version. This doesn’t mean “cripple the iPod version,” because fewer levels would have made Peggle less recommendable; rather, it means “different and equally good levels.” A great experience on the iPod will lead to a follow-up purchase for a computer or console; a mediocre iPod experience will lead to nothing.

In any case, this weekend was spent playing lots and lots of Peggle Deluxe—perhaps too much, considering everything else that needs to be getting done right now. But from a gamer’s perspective, that’s a really good thing. Regardless of format, consider us fully on board for the inevitable Peggle 2.

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