There has always been a sort of odd distinction of "hardcore" versus "casual" games, but sometimes that line becomes hazy. PopCap is at the front line of having games that not only appeal to a mass audience of "casual" players, but anybody who considers themselves a fan of games in general. Peggle consists of the simple task of shooting balls into a play area of pegs with the goal of removing all orange pegs from the board. It's a simple enough premise, but it has exceedingly addictive gameplay that causes one to lose themselves for hours trying to get that one last peg.
Beyond just shooting balls at pegs, there is also a range of specialities that affect how these pegs are rounded up. There are different characters that become available as levels are beaten that all have their own ability. Some characters can make a larger bucket to save balls that fall to the bottom for a better chance at a free turn, while others can manipulate how the ball moves or have an area effect of where the ball hits. The interesting thing is that none of these abilities outweigh each other and can be swapped out for a new take on the same level.
One of the oddball things about Peggle is that all of these characters have a back story that give the game a little more depth. Each character is an animal ranging from an extreme sports loving hamster, to a Peggle institute champion unicorn. Although the characters are all really cheesy, everything is very tongue-in-cheek, it makes for some funny little lines between levels. There's even a bit of a throwback to Mortal Kombat when sometimes the hamster will pop up and say something like "Toasty!" when a combo starts. All of these little bits of entertaining writing really help to break up the game and make it a little more diverse than just a peg buster.
The other great thing about Peggle is that it plays well anywhere. On the go, on a PC, or on the TV. The biggest advantage of the console versions though is that there is a multiplayer mode available to play with friends online or offline. Peg Party allows for up to four players to take shots simultaneously on the same board to see who can score the most points. The coolest thing about this mode is that after shooting, there is a short period while waiting for everyone to finish their shot that you can select other players and watch live or replays of the current shot and see how they are doing. It also supports voice chat, so it's a fun party game where everyone can have fun with each other while trying to take a shot.
Another note worth mentioning on the console version is that the visuals are well formatted to the full HD resolution and scaled so that nothing looks oddly stretched or out of place. The backgrounds of all the levels look really good in HD as well, considering each level has its own portrait in behind all of the pegs that are cleverly placed on top. Everything also animates and the physics all feel as expected. It may sound odd to hear that the physics feel good, but being such a simple game, this is a core aspect that needs to be just right. After all, if the physics weren't right, the game would be ruined.
On top of the visuals being presented well, the audio cues are another factor that makes Peggle all it can be. When hitting multiple pegs in succession, a ping noise happens that gets higher and higher in pitch until a free ball is unlocked. It may not sound like much, but it makes the game very exhilarating when everything may be hinging on one more peg. There is also the incredibly appropriate timpani roll right before hitting the last peg that breaks out into a chorus of Ode To Joy that is just amazing gratification for beating the level that never seems to get old.
All in all, there is so much to be had out of such a simple game. Peggle works great as something for a bit of bite sized gaming or for anyone to play with a group of people. It's pretty rare that a title is so open for such a wide audience and can still hook any hardcore players out there as if it were the next biggest shooter out there. It's difficult to even find anything wrong with the game, as if it were perfectly distilled, digital fun. For any system, or even multiple platforms, there is no reason not to pick up Peggle and give it a try.