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‘Peggle 2’ brings its addictive nature to the Xbox One

There are two kinds of people in this world: those that love PopCap Games’ Peggle and those living a joyless existence without meaning. It’s a wretched way to live, but it’s easily fixed by giving yourself over to this game of shooting a small, silvery sphere into a field of orange and blue pegs. The ball-on-peg impact sound on its own triggers a Pavlovian response that immediately brightens your day.

It’s addictive too. There is no escape, Peggle is your one true master. The only game that could have an E3 debut that amounts to no more than this and still be one of the most talked about reveals of the show.

Peggle 2 is set to invade the Xbox One very soon thanks to an exclusive deal with Microsoft that introduces the highly anticipated sequel to the new console’s download store. In the case of Microsoft, Peggle exclusivity makes the new console that much harder to resist. For PopCap, it gets to debut on a fancy new platform that presents the sequel in the best possible light, as we saw during a recent hands-on preview.

Story/Concept

It’s freaking Peggle. The fundamentals are unchanged. You fire a ball down from the top of the screen into a field of pegs, hoping to make contact with as many of the obstructions as possible on the way down. Striking an orange peg clears your path, while blue pegs earn you extra points. The two green pegs per level activate different “Master” ability boosts, and if you score enough points on a single shot or land a ball in the basket moving back and forth across the bottom of the screen and you stand to earn an extra ball. Each level lasts until you run out of balls or you clear out all the orange pegs.

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If you’re looking for story-driven entertainment, Peggle 2 isn’t it. This is a physics-driven puzzle game, top to bottom. You’re calculating angles of impact and working to maximize your score with each new shot. It’s wonderfully, hopelessly addictive, but Peggle doesn’t – and hasn’t ever – tried to be anything more than it is: video game Plinko. That doesn’t change in Peggle 2.

Gameplay

Masterful play. New Peggle means new Masters and new Master abilities. Bjorn the unicorn is back with his Super Guide ability, but everyone else is a total newcomer. Here’s what we know about Peggle 2‘s five Masters and their helpful boosts:

  • Bjorn: Bjorn the unicorn is once again your intro to Peggle, and his Super Guide ability is unchanged. Strike a green peg and, for the next two turns, the line that maps the arc of your next shot also shows the path of your ball’s first ricochet. It’s very useful for lining up a one-two shot at a pair of orange pegs that aren’t close to one another, a move that earns you a hefty Long Shot score bonus.
  • Gnorman: Gnorman is a gruff-looking little gnome in an armored robot suit. Don’t question, just accept it. His Uber Volt ability fires a cascading blast of electricity from your descending ball that electrifies and clears any pegs it comes into contact with. Uber Volt’s arcing electricity has a light chaining effect, which makes it especially useful for clearing out thick clusters of pegs.
  • Jeffrey: Every game needs a beer-guzzling troll, and Peggle 2‘s is named Jeffrey. His Master ability is a big, hefty boulder that crashes through and destroys everything below it in a roughly straight line.
  • Luna: Spooky, graveyard-dwelling Luna has a powerful new Master ability; when activated, renders all blue pegs transparent, allowing you to take aim on otherwise blocked orange pegs. It also has the added bonus of clearing out any blue pegs your ball passes through. 
  • Berg: The big, goofy yeti named Berg looks like a walking disaster, but he’s actually quite graceful in his own monstrous way. His Master ability puts all of the pegs into a temporary deep freeze, causing them to move around like pool balls when your shot strikes them. This, in turn, can help to light up additional pegs if you manage to knock some into others.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it. Each level in Peggle 2 has three optional objectives. Two of those objectives repeat frequently: clear all the pegs, and earn an “Ace” high score. The third objective varies from level to level; you might be asked to clear the stage using five balls or less, or score a “Style Shot” bonus using a Master’s power. Completing these objectives allows you to unlock new skins for each master.

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A new playing field. Peggle 2 may not change the formula that was established in Peggle and Peggle Nights, but each level promises to offer a bit more complexity with the addition of new types of pegs and obstructions. One such peg is extra-tough and encased in a protective shell. In gameplay terms, you need to strike these pegs twice with a normal shot in order to clear them, though many Master abilities (such as Jeffrey’s boulder) circumvent that requirement. There are also new obstructions, such as pinball-like bumpers that have the potential to keep a falling ball in play if struck correctly.

Peggle 2 offers 120 levels in all, with 10 levels and 10 “Trials” for each Master level, plus 10 “Celestial” levels and their associated trials. The Celestial levels unlock after you’ve cleared all of the standard Master levels, and each gives you the option of choosing whichever Master you’d like to use. While these are meant to be a challenge, the Trial levels are where the real pros will go. Each carries some sort of specific rule or tweak. In one example, you’ve got two shots with Berg’s freeze ability active and a field of 10 orange pegs set up like bowling pins. It’s essentially a Peggle-fied bowling minigame. Another looks like a standard level that’s been flooded with orange pegs, except you start with just one ball. The trick is to score enough points with each shot to earn extra balls. 

Presentation

Yup. Still Peggle. Don’t go into Peggle 2 expecting a rainbow spectacle of eye candy. Even on Microsoft’s fancy new console, the game looks fundamentally the same as it has before – though that’s not to say there aren’t enhancements. Every level is presented in widescreen HD, with colorful hand-drawn 2D environments. The Masters themselves are actually animated this time around; nothing too elaborate, but they jump around, make faces, and even respond to how you’re playing. Bjorn, for example, might bite his lip in anticipation when you’re getting down to your last few balls. He also craps out each of his levels. Literally. The levels emerge from his bum. It’s too cartoonish to be gross. Or look at Berg, who is all too happy to moon you, as we’ve already mentioned. We’re not sure if this is supposed to be some expression of excitement for your expert play; he may well just be an exhibitionist.

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In the previous Peggle games, clearing out all orange pegs in a level triggers Fever, which causes extra point baskets to appear at the bottom of the screen as Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” blares through your speakers. “Ode to Joy” returns as the Fever music for Bjorn, but each Master now has his or her own music as well. For example, Luna’s got Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and Berg’s got “Dance of the Hours,” from Ponchielli’s opera La Gioconda. The music for each level changes from Master to Master, with teases of the Fever music bubbling up as you play. This is a dynamic soundtrack too, so the feel and the intensity of the music is constantly changing based on how well or how poorly you’re playing. 

Takeaway

Peggle 2 is a textbook sequel, and that isn’t a bad thing. PopCap doesn’t seem to have done much to change the fundamentals of how the game works, very much embracing an “if it ain’t broke” design philosophy. Some will likely hold out for the eventual, inevitable mobile release once Microsoft’s exclusivity ends, but any fan will tell you that it’s hard to resist the allure of more Peggle. We’re not sure exactly when in December the game will be hitting Xbox Live, but it’s definitely coming this month with an $11.99 price tag.