Platform: Xbox One (timed exclusive)
Developer: PopCap Games
In almost every way that counts, Peggle 2 is exactly what we need it to be. What I need it to be. Another hit, another fix, just a bit more of that sweet Pegglin' action to calm the shakes and stop my teeth itching. A prescription for the Extreme Fever we've all been suffering from these last few years.
PopCap's beloved Bagatelle-meets-Pachinko-meets-psychadelic-insanity timesink is is still as enjoyable and inexplicably addictive as ever. Flinging balls at little coloured pegs shouldn't be this much fun, yet Peggle 2 once again nails the middle ground between chance and skill. Superb ball physics allow experienced players to line up and call the perfect trick shot, while most of us enjoy the thrill of a one in a million chance coming good with random desperate punts. Whatever your style, nailing all of the orange pegs results in a crescendo of classical music, fireworks and ridiculous shenanigans that makes us feel warm and tingly all over.
What? You know it's true.
As you'd expect from a next-gen debut title, Peggle 2 is also very shiny indeed. It's crisp, colourful and utterly gorgeous, oozing both class and painstaking attention to detail alongside rampant hilarity by the bucketload. The five characters look fantastic thanks to big expressive animated portraits, reacting to your shots in all manner of silly ways. Returning unicorn Bjorn prances and whinnies, farting out rainbows and magically throwing up the horns with his... horn. Jeff the troll quotes The Dude as he relaxes with a cold pint, all while his goat pals get so amped in the background that their heads explode. Zombie girl Luna's jaw drops so hard that it falls off. Each master is absolutely packed with personality, though of course, they aren't just pretty faces.
Our quintet of characters (as you doubtlessly already know) boast unique powers triggered by hitting green pegs. Ballet dancing yeti Berg steals the show with his ice ability that sends pegs sliding all over the board, genuinely providing a new and exciting twist to take into account, while his fellows are somewhat more conservative. Bjorn's super guide skill makes a return, easing you back into the swing of things by giving you a better idea about where shots will end up. Jeff lobs bowlders [sic] that chew through lines of pegs, Luna turns blue pegs into ghostly shades, and Gnorman the mecha-gnome hits three pegs with each impact.
Most impressively, each master also has their own orchestral soundtrack based on classical anthems, from William Tell to the 1812 Overture, factoring into both the orgasmic Extreme Fever payday and the tone of each individual impact between ball and peg, creating pleasing harmonies with every ricochet. There's no doubt that the roster are all intensely likeable and quirky... but they're also Peggle 2's greatest weakness.
Though Berg's and Luna's powers are surprisingly versatile, they're overshadowed by Gnorman's unbalanced and unerring ability of getting all the points ever, and crucially aren't particularly inspiring. Most are derivations of abilities from the original game and don't hugely change the way you play. Where are the crazy electric jellyfish, PopCap? Sending pegs flying or rendering them incorporeal is fun, but all too often it feels like the five masters are going through the motions, making Peggle 2 feel somewhat staid and underwhelming after years of waiting. I can barely remember most of the frictionless campaign levels despite having completed them scant hours and days ago.
The observant among you will have also noticed an interesting number in the preceding paragraphs. Five. Peggle 2 features five masters compared to the selection of ten in the original game and expansion. It's all too easy to fall into a predictable rhythm, making the 60 levels slip by much faster then they should, as opposed to constantly jazzing up the formula with new characters. The shopping cart icon in the middle of the main menu whispers fell promises of mastertransactions, though we hope - perhaps naively - that PopCap will go down the Peggle Nights route or charge a reasonable amount for any new content.
Mind you, sixty levels is already a fairly impressive figure - and it doesn't include a similar number of new trial modes that offer discrete puzzles with logical and lateral solutions. They're brainteasers that encourage you to experiment with new playstyles and get to grips with some of the less glamorous powers. Or in practice, finding exactly the right place to place a shot through trial and error. Fun and frustrating in equal measure.
As such, trials are a worthwhile and meaty addition for completionists, but sadly PopCap have taken less risks in the campaign proper, resulting in a selection of nicely-balanced but completely forgettable levels that don't put up much of a fight and generally pass by without incident. There's no hint of the more adventurous arenas from Nights, those crazy amalgamations of walls, pipes and perfect timing that might eventually arrive as DLC. The addition of optional challenges feels more like an afterthought than a truly essential feature, though acts as yet another draw for avid 100% completionists.
Peggle 2 uses Xbox One's DVR functionality to great effect, automatically recording your best shots for effortless bragging rights, but omits some surprisingly basic features. There are no leaderboards, for reasons I cannot humanly fathom. No Peg Duel multiplayer mode, leaving us solely with the (still extremely enjoyable) Peg Party. Most gallingly of all, Kinect support and voice commands are totally MIA in Europe, adding insult to injury by reminding us that we can't have nice things in the UK every single time we boot up the game. This heartbreaking screen is perhaps the worst introduction to any game in recent years, taunting an entire continent before even showing us the main menu, and this inconsiderate willingness to sully the magic before it even begins tips the balance when it comes to the score.
There's no denying that Peggle 2 is fantastic fun for the duration. I was hooked and enraptured as I caned my way through the campaign, dancing along to each Extreme Fever, but I emerged both wanting more and unable to remember any particular standout moments from the preceding few hours. Unlike the original game, the thrill dilutes sooner than you'd expect. There's little pulling you back in after after the last level yields to your perfectly-placed long shot beyond the fireworks, pomp and circumstance - unless you obsess over getting 100% completion. It's still colourful, cute and cathartic, but will need a Nights-style expansion to fulfil its true potential; to feel like a forward-thinking sequel as opposed to just another fix.
- Gorgeous graphical and audio overhaul
- Tricky trials and optional objectives provide significant replay value for completionists
- Intensely enjoyable and addictive for the duration (Extreme Fever is still utterly joyous)
- Smaller selection of masters go through the motions with surprisingly uninspiring powers
- Forgettable (if well-balanced) level design in the main, frictionless campaign
- No leaderboards, single multiplayer mode and lack of European Kinect features
- Feels somewhat conservative and underwhelming after years of waiting
The Short Version: Peggle 2 is more Peggle, only vastly prettier. Which is absolutely what we want. If you're looking for a shot of colourful fun and orchestral orgasmic peg-busting bliss on Xbox One, you can't go far wrong here.
However, when judged as a sequel rather than a long-awaited fix to tide us over, I wish that PopCap had shown more ambition and willingness to innovate with new ideas; making Peggle 2 substantially bigger and better instead of simply extra. The Fever is still as Extreme as it ever was, but it may break sooner than you'd expect.