He aims carefully. Very carefully. He measures just the right angle to take the shot, right down to the centimeter. He analyzes the level, carefully planning not only the shot to take, but when to take it. He fires the ball, then prays to the Lord that it goes well. In most cases, it does not.
This is, by and large, the entirety of the Peggle experience. Peggle is a game published and developed by Popcap Games, and is available for damn near every platform in existence. If it seems like there is not much to talk about, that is largely because there indeed is not. The full version of the game is comprised of 55 different levels, each with a different layout of round pegs and square bricks. The objective of each of the levels is to clear the orange pegs and bricks within the allotment of ten balls, which are shot from a cannon centered at the top of the screen. While hitting the blue pegs and bricks is not required to complete the level, they will often be in the way, and must be cleared or otherwise navigated in order to get to the orange pegs and bricks. To aid the player, there are several ways to earn extra shots: achieving score targets, landing the ball into the moving bucket at the bottom of the level, or winning a coin toss which is activated should the player fail to hit any pegs or bricks at all.
The game seems easy enough at first, but with so many orange and blue pegs and bricks, it quickly becomes apparent that almost the entirety of the game centers around luck. It is nearly impossible to plan for more than two or three bounces, with nearly everything else left to chance. More often than not, players will be left screaming at the screen as the ball bounces off the edge of the free ball bucket, misses a nearby orange peg by a pixel imperceptible to the naked eye, then falls to the bottom of the screen.
This is not to say that there is nothing the player can do at any point. While most of the time, the game plays exactly as described in the above paragraph, two green pegs in each level will give the player a special power matching a chosen support character. Each of the support characters is set for a five-level block, and include a unicorn that offers an enhanced guide, a dragon that can turn a shot into a searing fireball that goes right through pegs and bricks, an alien that blasts all pegs and bricks surrounding the green one, a crab that provides pinball-style flippers, and an owl that can automatically nudge shots in more auspicious positions, among others. Characters unlocked in the main game can then be chosen when playing individual levels or multi-player, and all characters are available for the final five levels. The problems, unfortunately, are that the powers have a limited number of turns, usually from one to three for each green peg shot, and the effects of the powers are often negligible unless the green peg is in just the right spot. As the peg colors are re-arranged with each time a level loads, it is impossible to plan a strategy around their use. Thus, the element of skill that these powers might have provided is effectively castrated, leaving the game’s result to the whim of the fates.
Of course, it is not frustrating enough to have to deal with the unpredictable path of each ball through the pegs and bricks. Later levels include unbreakable obstacles such as walls, moving decorations, and portals of all things. That last one is especially frustrating, as the portals are often connected at opposite sides of the level with a wall separating them, making it harder still to figure out where the hell the ball is going to go. This doesn’t even mention one of the final levels, where the player has to shoot the ball into one of the portals for it to shoot out of a moving object.
Multi-player for Peggle is as much of a mess as the single player game. In local play, two players share the same level, and compete to see who can earn the highest score in a ten-shot limit. On the 360 version of the game, up to four players can compete on Xbox Live. The objective is still to see who can gain the highest score, but unlike local play, each player has his or her version of the level, allowing each person to play without worrying about someone else getting to that big combo before his or her turn. No free balls are available in either multi-player mode, with a score bonus being substituted when the ball goes into the bucket.
In closing, Peggle is a game of chance in every way possible. There are far too few ways to influence the outcome of any shot, let alone a level, leading to many hours of frustration as loss after loss racks up due to nothing more than a roll of the die. Those looking for a more relaxing, skill-based casual game are better served with something like the original Uno on Xbox Live Arcade. Of course, Peggle is a fine game for those who feel their blood pressure is just too low, but everyone else would likely agree that there are better ways to get lucky.