Fucking Peggle

I don’t play as many games as I used to in the olden days when I was (a) young and knew no better; then later (b) got paid for it. So these days I like to try and make them count. My stack of recent games is pitifully small compared to my old N64 collection, but that’s because I’m less susceptible to shiny impulse purchases than I used to be.

The exception being Virtual Console and XBLA, of course. All those downloads, available right now for PRETEND MONEY! Who can resist? I found myself buying Super Star Wars on the VC the other week, quickly remembered that it was actually quite difficult and monotonous, and didn’t mind one bit. And a few months ago I got Ikaruga off XBLA because it was on special offer for 400 MS points, even though I have the Gamecube version and it’s one of those games that I like in theory much more than in practice. Haven’t played it. Don’t care.

And sometimes you can get sheer awesomeness in handy downloadable form. Trials HD is my game of 2009, no question. I’ll return to that subject at a later date. Shadow Complex, very nice indeed. I’m hoovering up the best bits of my old N64 collection as fast as Nintendo can get them on the VC (i.e. not very fast at all) and then getting annoyed at how the Classic Controller and Wavebird emulate the N64 stick (not very well at all).

At the other end of the awesomeness scale is Peggle. Fucking Peggle. I’d heard people make appreciative noises about the PC version for a while, and then it came out on XBLA and I figured it wouldn’t hurt.

Like fuck.

There’s plenty in Peggle’s favour. Excellent presentation, loads of polish and a central concept that you can get your head around in about a second. Inverted Puzzle Bobble plus pachinko, what’s not to understand?

Well, there’s the thing. Pachinko. Japan’s equivalent of the fruit machine, played obsessively by row upon row of dead-eyed salarymen. No real skill involved; your only control lies in how hard you launch your ball. Once it’s in motion and starts bouncing off pins, however, you’re into the realms of Chaos Theory, and realistically you have no chance of influencing whether you win or lose. You just keep pumping in the balls and hoping for the best, and once you win you’re well on the way to being hooked.

So what Peggle does is essentially tart up pachinko, making the pins (well, pegs) go away when you hit them, adding an apparent extra layer of skill with both direction and power at your command, and taking away the fabulous prizes and replacing them with the aim of getting rid of all the orange pegs. Oh yeah, power-ups as well. Winner!

It’s addictive, I’ll grant you that. I played it all the way through. Here’s the problem, though: it’s categorically NO FUN. None whatsoever. Because which ever way you spin it, you’re still in the realms of Chaos Theory. However much finesse you can put into your aiming, the skill to luck ratio is still weighted heavily towards luck. You can make your own luck by trying to time your shots so that you catch your ball rather than lose it, but when it has a zillion stupid pegs to bounce off you may as well just guess. And unless you get really lucky, the assorted power-ups only nominally increase your chance of success.

Anyone can bludgeon their way through Peggle. It’s the ultimate in casual gaming, because if you know about directions and have a vague understanding of gravity, you can play it. While there are levels unfinished the temptation to do so is immense, and because it’s all so well constructed you might be fooled into thinking that you’re enjoying yourself and picking up skills that’ll help you on the later levels. But with so much bias towards luck you’re going to beat every level sooner or later, just like Mr Salaryman will, after putting enough balls into his pachinko machine, hit the jackpot. At least he actually wins something. You get to go to another bloody level of more of the same.

Peggle is the methadone of gaming. Addictive as hell but no fun. Just say no, kids.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Fucking Peggle

  1. AK

    You are absolutely right. It’s not fun, is it? I’ve tried it on DS, PC and Xbox, and have never played beyond the second set of levels. I don’t like random in games; be it randomly generated dungeons, or enemy placement in Left 4 Dead. I want a strict, clear set of rules, that I can then learn and exploit. And that FUCKING ball is the embodiment of random.

  2. jedburgh

    See, I don’t mind a bit of random in the right game. Geometry Wars 2, for example. That’s pretty much made of random and forces you to learn ways to cut a path through the chaos. See also Robotron; set number of enemies but random placement. I enjoy settling into a control style where I can have random chucked at me and cope with it; much rather that than learning games by rote.

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