There was a time when people would simply sit and listen to the radio. No other distractions. When I was in college, I listened to several podcasts, which are like a longer version of a radio talk show. My favorites were 1Up Yours, Retronauts, and GFW Radio, which were all made by magazine editors for ZiffDavis publications, and later I listened to the Giant Bombcast. A frequent topic on gaming message boards at the time was, “What game do you play when listening to a podcast?” I actually took comfort in a simple Adobe Flash version of Breakout. It was absentminded enough that I’d still be listening to the show, but there went just listening to the radio for radio’s sake. Peggle was my alternative to Breakout, though ultimately it did require that much more attention, and I’d have to pause the podcast and rewind to certain segments I missed.
Peggle has a lot in common with Pachinko, a game in which a silver ball drops from the top and takes different routes, bouncing off pegs on its way to the bottom. In Peggle, a silver ball drops from the top, but the pegs it touches eventually disappear after a certain amount of time or when the ball reached the bottom. It’s very physics-based for a digital game. Pegs can be circular and rectangular. There are orange pegs, and colliding with all of them marks the end of a level. There are purple pegs, which significantly add to your score, and green pegs, which allow the character who is part of the level you’re in to perform a trick. All other pegs are blue, and simply contribute to your score.
The tricks are fun. The alien character detonates a bomb, hitting nearby pegs (with… shrapnel?). The dragon sends a meteoric fireball down, immediately incinerating the pegs in its path. The rabbit in a hat can perform a “Hat Trick,” and a little magician’s hat hovers over the ball, lighting up the pegs above the ball. Those are some of the better ones, but you get the idea. It’s fun to learn what a character can do, and use these skills strategically after that. You start with ten silver balls, but if you land in the little scoop at the bottom of the screen, you get a free ball. Also, if you surpass a certain score, that’s another free ball. It’s possible to get the right score, and hit the scoop, resulting in two free balls. Just be warned, if you’re down to your last ball, and you don’t get every orange peg, you must start the level over.
Peggle was part of a very large “casual gaming” trend. I believe it started on the Wii, migrated to Facebook, and ultimately ended up in our pockets on our smart devices. The match-three games were especially dull. Match three puzzle games feel as old as the dinosaurs. Meanwhile, companies like Zynga and ngmoco:) were making farming simulators (Farmville and We Rule, respectively) which encouraged people to level up in-game faster by spending money. These games still exist to this day, and belong in the “freemium” category of games. As in, free-to-play, dollar amounts to play better. Meanwhile, PopCap Games, in Peggle, created a nifty little puzzle game that is dissimilar enough from other puzzle games and is a good time. The podcasts recommended it and I got hooked.
It’s interesting how PopCap has grown. After being bought by Electronic Arts (probably making their founders very happy), they found success with Plants versus Zombies Garden Warfare 2, a 3D competitive multiplayer game based on the much more simple Plants versus Zombies puzzle game. I seldom see a status update on Facebook telling me someone is mid-game, making me think it really has moved to mobile. Peggle was ten dollars when I bought it and is probably less now. If you have the mental dexterity to play Peggle and listen to other people’s conversation, more power to you. It’s fun no matter how you look at it.