We usually preface our reviews with a (hopefully) entertaining preamble, but in this case, we need to cut to the chase. PopCap Hits Volume 1 contains Peggle, Bejeweled 2, AstroPop and Feeding Frenzy in a single package... but they aren't updated versions of the previously-released Xbox Live Arcade titles. They are the XBLA versions, right down to any existing saved progress and achievements you may have already earned.
This essentially means that you can throw any notions of value out of the window if you already own Peggle or any of the other three games. Seriously, you might as well stop reading now and get back to hypnotically flinging balls at brightly-coloured pegs. However, if you haven't already bought into any of these masterful thieves of time, PopCap Hits presents a slightly more attractive proposition than paying separately on Xbox Live.
Upon booting up the game, you'll be whisked into a no-frills menu that lets you select the title of your choice. Surprisingly little of PopCap's signature charm has made it through to these bare-bones screens- and vexingly, you can't change the game without quitting out and starting from scratch. It's an awkward and charmless way of stringing the four puzzlers together with little or no thought to presentation or accessibility.
On that troubling note, let's take a look at the four games included in the bundle.
Peggle is the naturally the headline act- simply because the experience is as close to a perfect casual game as it's possible to get. Brendan's full review should clue you in on the subtle blend of skill, luck and reward that Peggle brings to the table, but take it from me: it deserves a place in even the most discerning gamer's collection. PopCap's masterpiece is a timeless classic that will never lose its appeal.
Unfortunately Peggle Nights (the hefty expansion that delivers a myriad of new levels) is absent from the package and needs to be purchased separately on Xbox Live. Shame.
AstroPop is a fun, engaging and addictive puzzler (who'd have thought it?) that mixes familiar match-4 mechanics with a healthy dose of Breakout. Controlling a ship at the bottom of the screen, you'll break blocks by making colour matches as the wall descends implacably towards you. Colourful art design and simple mechanics make AstroPop a truly delightful little outing.
But many of you won't be able to play it!
Bizarrely, AstroPop doesn't run in PAL-60 mode. Since this setting can't be changed if you're running your Xbox 360 through a composite or HDMI cable, you'll have to manually swap to standard definition in order to actually run the damn thing. It's absolutely outrageous that 60Hz functionality hasn't been added to the experience as it means that most gamers simply won't be able to play it without completely changing their video cables! The whole thing reeks of rank laziness and an unwillingness to spend any more time or effort than absolutely necessary in porting it over.
Bejeweled 2 is absolutely fantastic. It's the sequel to the original Match-3 monster that has wrecked countless relationships, killed numerous pets and sucked thousands of hours away from innocent players with its overwhelmingly addictive mechanics. Minutes soon become hours as you compulsively make match after match, with the beautiful gems soon becoming more important than any of the trifling chores that the real world has to offer.
The eyecatching HD graphics and surprisingly capable musical score make Bejeweled 2 a primal force to be reckoned with. If you don't own it along with Peggle, PopCap Hits Volume 1 is tailor-made for you.
Feeding Frenzy is unashamed filler material designed to take up a little more space on the disc (and the back of the box), but don't be too quick to write off this cheerful little adventure. Starting out as a tiny fish, you'll need to progressively chow down on smaller marine fauna and grow large enough to complete the level. A huge number of stages and a challenging time trial mode actually make Feeding Frenzy more meaty than it first appears, though it's only suitable for playing in short bursts.
The Big Question
If you haven't already made up your mind about PopCap Hits Volume 1, you simply need to ask yourself one question.
Do I already own Peggle?
If the answer is yes then the choice is obvious. There's nothing for you here.
- Peggle is amazing
- Bejeweled 2 is amazing
- The other two games are also pretty good
- AstroPop doesn't support 60Hz
- Clunky bare-bones interface
- Lazy XBLA ports with nothing to attract existing fans
The Short Version: If you can't (or won't) connect your Xbox 360 to the internet, PopCap Hits Volume 1 finally gives you the opportunity to try out some of their fantastic casual titans. However, most consumers will be arguably better off downloading Peggle and Bejeweled 2 from Xbox Live. Ultimately there isn't enough content to justify this cheap and lazy port job.