Like most things Popcap touch, Peggle has turned to gold - it's been something of a cash cow in the PC downloadable space, cranking out millions of dollars for the casual game developer. Like many PC developers, however, Popcap are looking further afield - Peggle is one of several games to be released on consoles and it's unlikely that it will be the last.
Peggle itself is possibly one of the least interactive yet simultaneously most engaging videogames on the market. The goal is simple - players must clear all orange pins from the gamefield by hitting it with a ball. The ball is shot from a launcher in the top center of the screen, from which point it follows the laws of physics as it bounces down to the bottom of the screen. Once it gets to the bottom, unless you're lucky enough to get it into the small catcher that moves over the pit area, it drains and the ball is lost - any pins you've hit in your turn will disappear. You get 10 balls to clear all of the (normally 25) pins.
Clearing the orange pins, however, is made more difficult thanks to a number of key gameplay mechanics - most significant of these is the blue pins. You don't have to clear these (although if you do, there's big points to be made) but they will get in the way of your shots at the orange pins. Oftentimes, they will enable clever bounce shots that let you get at the orange pins so, like any good comic book super hero needs his super villain, think of them as the foil that enables those memorable killer shots - even when occasionally one prevents you from clearing a level.
There are also fixed obstructions (think of them as walls) and moving obstructions which will impede your ball and affect its trajectory - typically the key to big success on levels with obstructions is to use them, rather than avoid them. There are also portals (which transport the ball magically to a new location, which itself is sometimes moving), which combined with the other mechanics, can make for some truly mind-bending mental calculations when trying to figure out where your ball is going to go.
Pins aren't just round, bouncy obstructions; often they come in the form of bricks which are often curved to enable lengthy paths down which your balls can roll (ooo-er). Getting your ball to roll at speed down a path of bricks is often the key to big points - very quickly you'll learn to look for these paths and how you might go about bouncing the ball in such a way to exploit them for maximum points.
Playing through adventure mode will unlock a series of helper characters - selecting one of these will affect what the two green pegs per level will do when hit. A series of powerups is enabled (depending on the character you choose) and you'll very quickly decide on your favorite - is it the spooky ball which will render the top of the playfield instead of draining? What about the zen ball which takes your shot and makes it better - does that beat out the exploding peg that lights up all the pins in its vicinity? Once you've played through adventure mode once, the choice is yours.
Exactly which pins are orange and which are green is randomly determined at the beginning of a level. The exact location of pins never changes, just what colour they are is up to the luck of the dice. In some levels, this makes a massive difference - there are pegs which are very difficult to get to, some of which you'll only have one (or at most, two) chances to get - once you bounce off a peg in an attempt to get to it, if you miss, that peg won't be there for you to bounce off next time. If you're trying to get to an orange peg and you nuke the only peg you can get to it from... you might as well drain the rest of your balls as there's no way you can get there again. Fortunately this is a relatively rare situation - just make sure you watch for it so that you don't accidentally clear away the pins you need to bounce from.
In addition to green, blue and orange pins there are also pink pins - hitting these boosts your score and, in combination with many other things, is critical to scoring the huge score shots you might have seen on YouTube (if you haven't already, check them out - some seriously amazing stuff on there). Unlike the other pins, however, pink pins appear one at a time and their location changes with every shot - there's always one in play, no matter if you hit it the previous ball or not. This tiny feature has a massive impact, especially once you're experienced with the game, on how you play each shot. The leader boards (and, hence, your e-peen) revolves around getting massive scores and these pins are absolutely essential in getting them.
Completing adventure mode unlocks more than just the character (powerup) selection screen - it also gives you access to challenge mode. Challenge mode ups the ante - it's not called Challenge mode because it's easy. There are also lots and lots of challenges available and they get harder and harder - if you think there's not much life left once you've cleared out the 55 levels of Adventure mode, you're sorely mistaken! Challenges range from clearing 35 pegs in familiar levels (instead of the normal 25) to getting massive scores or completing other specific tasks. Even the seasoned Peggle player will spend serious time completing the challenges.
Peggle on 360 isn't limited to single player - you can also play it online. Online play takes the form of alternating shots in play-throughs of otherwise normal levels - each player takes their shot in turn, looking to rack up the biggest possible score and avoid setting up their opponent (who plays next) with a massive scoring opportunity; sometimes the best technique is to score low yourself just so you can prevent your opponent having a dream run. If you miss an orange peg, however, you lose 25% of your total score so be careful!
The online mode is cleverly designed to be completely immune to lag - since the players take turns and the physics model is determinative (making it predictable), shots are calculated on each player's side so only the angle and timing of each shots needs to be communicated over the intertubes. The net result is a fun online mode that you can play with anyone on earth without fear of a lag-demon invasion. If you're looking for something to play online with your grandmother while you chat to her on your headset, you could do a lot worse than Peggle.
There was some consternation with bringing the traditionally mouse-controlled puzzle game to the mouse-less 360 - if you see some of the more advanced shots on YouTube, you'll see why: recreating them relies on placing the cursor in extremely specific locations - something you simply can't replicate on 360. If you've never played Peggle on a computer, you won't miss the mouse and it certainly doesn't feel like it should be played with a mouse. If you're a hardcore Peggle aficionado, however, with a top-ranked score on PC you might find it a little frustrating to lack that precision. Sure, you can hold in a trigger or use the d-pad for fine control but it's nothing like as specific as placing your mouse cursor on a specific pixel.
Graphically the title is, well, kinda garish. The cartoony graphical style makes sense considering the title's casual focus but it's not really carried off with any finesse. The graphics are all over the place, they clash with each other and they come across as amateurish. Fortunately they don't get in the way of actually bouncing balls off pins but they're pretty embarrassing to get caught with on your massive television. To be clear, the theme is fine - unicorns and cuddly bears, whatever - it's the finesse with which they're executed (or lack of) that's the issue here.
So - it's Peggle, game of the year and winner of numerous other awards on PC, on 360. If you're not a hardcore PC super-score hunter, the controls are fine (and you're competing in a walled garden with other 360 gamers anyway) and the addition of an excellent online mode only adds to the already comprehensive depth of content on offer. If you have any interest in this whatsoever and want to play it on 360, don't hesitate.