This week, Yahtzee, against his own better judgment, reviews Peggle, the monstrously popular casual game from the monstrously successful PopCap.
I hope you won't mind if I put on my "new games journalist hat" for a moment, but I was pretty thrown when my editor asked me to review Peggle. Peggle is one of the new breed of casual games, and like most casual games there's not a lot you can say about it. Unlike normal games, there isn't any dreadful voice acting or inevitable sewer level to take the piss out of. What I can say about it is that I started playing it around noon and emerged from my room sometime later to find that the authorities had declared me legally dead.
If the whole casual gaming thing has slipped you by, then allow me to hold your face under the putrescent waters of knowledge. At some point in the recent past, someone noticed that simple, Flash-based 2D colour-matching games like Bejeweled were making frankly embarrassing amounts of dosh, and the reason for this is that as time has gone by, bored housewives stuck at home have all independently decided that shagging the TV repairman is no longer appropriate and have turned to video games to amuse themselves instead.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and presume that you, the viewer, have had a mother at some point. And you may at some point have seen her attempt to play a mainstream video game. In most cases, this is like watching a cat trying to fly a kite. So it's easy to understand why this new demographic of gamers has exploded the popularity of uncomplicated, easily picked up games for old people and stupids.
Peggle is a game by PopCap, Popcap being the biggest developer and distributor of casual games, and basically plays like a combination of pinball and BreakOut, dressed up with bright colours, an impressive soundtrack, and animal mascots dripping with insincere cuteness. Basically, you have to hit a certain amount of pegs with a limited number of balls while getting help from powerups ranging from very helpful to profound waste of time. Like with pinball, the game keeps talking about skill but is mostly about luck, because elementary chaos theory makes it virtually impossible to predict where a ball is going to go beyond maybe the first two ricochets unless you've got a degree in geometry from the University of Smartarse.
There are about, ooh, 130-odd levels of incremental difficulty, and after you beat them all you get a graphic of a nice trophy. In summary, it's okay, I guess. I preferred Bookworm Adventures, but then I'm one of those hopeless mutants who genuinely enjoys playing Scrabble. That's it. That's about as far as I can review Peggle because that's the entire extent of the game.
I don't know what PopCap's mission statement is, but I betting that it's something along the lines of "use pretty sparkling lights, encouraging sound effects, and as few gameplay elements as possible to make the gaming equivalent of premium crack cocaine." And it seems to be working for them, because they are now worth umpteen millions. Millions! They exclusively make cheap-o 2D games. What the hell do they spend all that money on, ice cream?
Some people think that all this is killing the mainstream gaming industry, because why the hell would anyone want to make a murderously complex top-of-the-range title with full 3D up the arse when they could make just as much with a 2D game about catapults flicking balls at coloured squares, but I don't support that point of view. PopCap's success isn't really hurting the mainstream gaming industry. But I will say this: it could very well be hurting the casual gaming industry.
You see, with their less complexity and lower production costs, casual games are an ideal starting point for new developers to get their name out and some cashflow going. But PopCap's big stacks of cash make it easy for them to buy the best talent and come up with more and more relentlessly addictive ball-bounce-a-thons that overshadow everyone else's efforts. It's unfair, isn't it? Once your funding hits the seventh digit, you're supposed to start making Gun Battle Slap Fight XXXVII for the PlayStation 12 and leave the colour-matching tile puzzles to the bedroom programmers.
Don't be fooled by the adorable, fluffy animal facade PopCap's games erect. Inside, they're a ruthless bunch. If this were an '80s sports movie, PopCap and the other large casual game developers would be the evil team, the snotty, fabulously rich kids with tailored uniforms, the ones the shabby underdog heroes have to beat in the film's conclusion in a narrow but heart-warming victory.
Sorry, this is getting a bit tangential. Peggle, then. I wouldn't say I like it, in the same way an alcoholic doesn't usually claim to like alcohol, but it's a handy little time-waster when you're trying to put off writing a review, and if you're a husband, you could buy a copy for your housebound wife. Then maybe she'll stop badgering you for sex.
My mum says I'm cool: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Presented by The Escapist www.escapistmagazine.com
"Stay (Just a Little Bit Longers)" by the Four Seasons
"Freebird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Also I wouldn't advise anyone to search for 'Housewife' on Google image search with SafeSearch turned off, that was a frightening but instructive afternoon
Share amusing ball bouncing anecdotes: firstname.lastname@example.org