Deliberately or not, the majority of iPhone game developers have succeeded—if you can call this success—in creating a sense that their games are disposable, meant to be briefly enjoyed, then discarded and quickly forgotten. As was the case with iPod Click Wheel games, only a few iPhone releases have the either the quality to make a lasting impact (see: Rolando) or the depth, sometimes aided by post-release updates, to survive for even 15 minutes of fame.
Click Wheel iPod users know that Popcap Games’ original Peggle was a major exception: a title that had the right control scheme, the right gameplay, and the right depth to actually serve as a reason to turn on the iPod rather than just something to do on occasions when music alone wasn’t enough to occupy your mind. We got hooked on Peggle on the iPod, then played it on the Mac—one of us utterly tearing through every nook and cranny of the challenges, spitting them out and demanding more. And then we became hungry for the inevitable sequel, Peggle 2.
What PC owners received late last year and Mac owners discovered this week is Peggle 2 without the 2, an updated, decidedly 1.5-like version called Peggle Nights ($20). We discussed Nights in a brief update the other day shortly after it became available, and since then, it has occupied the better part of our evenings, found itself recommended to numerous friends and family members, and generally made itself a part of our lives. It is the addictive equivalent of Street Fighter IV for people with no interest in learning special moves or punching martial artists in the face; a game where you can be competitive with others—“how many levels have you completed?”—without actually bloodying their characters or faces.
As with the original Peggle, the core concept is simple: you fire a ball from the center top of the screen onto your preferred angle into a maze of colored pegs, attempting to eliminate the orangish red ones; getting rid of the rest, most numerously the blues, is a “challenge” for superior players, and hitting the very few green ones activates a special turn-limited power that will typically help you clear more pegs. There are now 11 different powers in Nights, up from 10 in the first Peggle, and 60 stages to complete. So compelling is the game that even novice players will find themselves trying to beat all 60 in a single session, perhaps stopping after 20 or 30 as real life irritatingly interrupts.
Popcap’s oddball cast of characters, who start out in Peggle as merely bizarre, ingratiate themselves in Nights—in-joke backgrounds, comical post-stage dialogue boxes, and other little details reward those who have played the first game first, without excluding those who haven’t. While virtually everything looks and feels the same as in the original Peggle, the music’s been updated with a bit of night-time funk, and the backgrounds have all changed, some with truly beautiful, original art, others with amusingly inspired replicas of famous paintings or themes. It’s fun to go from level to level just to see what’s in the art; small animations and more in-motion pegs have been added to the original Peggle’s design.
In Nights, the incentives to keep going past the first 60 stages—no easy task, we’ll add—are three in number. First, there are the aforementioned challenges, which range from “clear all the pegs with only 1 ball” to “use a special power three times to clear all the pegs.” There are 60 of these frequently difficult levels, in addition to the core stages, as well as secondary, extra visual rewards for completing the core stages to certain standards of perfection. Two of iLounge’s Peggle masters went through the core stages in a day or two days, respectively, but a week later are still working through all the challenges. One has completed 44 of 60, on track to be done with all within less than a month.
The other incentive? Free additional levels. Popcap gave PC owners a free “holiday” pack of new stages, which annoyingly were not made available to Mac owners when the title launched last week. Now the holiday pack is gone (serious note to Popcap: put it back up for your Mac customers, at least briefly), replaced by a Spring 2009 pack with 10 new stages and 5 new challenges, bringing the totals up to 70 and 65, respectively. We blew through the new stages last night—they’re cute, fun, and easy. The challenges, however, may not be quite so simple. Anyone can understand them; few will be able to complete them all.
For $20, Peggle Nights is one of the rare computer games we’d consider a “must-buy,” a phrase that long-time iLounge readers know that we virtually never use around here. But thanks to a 50% Popcap coupon code that’s currently working—“blitz1”—you can get it now for $10. And the original Peggle for $2.50. Run, don’t walk. If you don’t want to drop the cash, try the demo versions; if the coupon expires before your hour of testing has finished, you’ll be kicking yourself. But if you get both games, you’ll understand pretty quickly why we’re so excited about the prospect of a Peggle 2, and even being able to carry around the prior Peggles on an iPhone. These are truly great, mainstream titles—ones that manage to work as well on a computer as on an iPod, equally delighting gaming novices and experts. Except for the Mac-slighting delayed release and holiday pack issues, Popcap deserves a lot of credit for a semi-sequel well made and played; let’s hope the iPhone version, expected shortly, lives up to the same standard.