Karl Hendricks, a Pittsburgh indie-rock local legend, released an EP in the early 90′s called I Hate This Party which perfectly encapsulated teen angst, the feeling of simply not understanding the things that other people like to do, and the shame that can sometime go along with it.
I hate this party.
I hate all your friends.
I hate feeling stupid.
I always do in the end.
Peggle — which, along with its disturbingly named stablemate Chuzzle was just released for MacOS X– is a game that combines simple game mechanics with beautiful, compelling production values. This is par for the PopCap course: everything they release has a certain polish, a certain sheen that shows a fanatical attention to detail. That’s a good thing.
The graphic and sound design sensibility in Peggle closely mirrors that of Bookworm Adventures, a game I loved to the point of obsession. The game itself is simple and easy to understand: it is Pachinko merged with Breakout. You shoot balls into a field full of pegs. The ball bounces amongst the pegs, which earns points. After each ball falls off the bottom of the playfield, the pegs that it hit disappear. Clear all of the pegs from the board and you advance to the next level; use up all your chances, and the game ends.
Here’s a video demonstrating some of the gameplay:
Popcap’s attention to detail and production values has been rewarded. Everyone loves Peggle. Everyone. You love Peggle. Lorien loves Peggle. For crying out loud, even Yahtzee loves Peggle. Everyone in the entire world loves Peggle and, probably, wants to go to the prom with it. Everyone except me.
Why don’t I love Peggle? My theory is: I am a bad, bad person.
Well, perhaps there’s another reason. Peggle is a game of chance. Once you’ve mastered the basic rules of “where should I send the first shot,” whether you win a given board or not is largely a question of luck. This means that I don’t always win. As we’ve already established, I’m the sort of player who would rather reload a poorly designed strategy game rather than accept the permanent loss of a character who has much importance as a piece of moldy cheese. So Peggle makes me feel inadequate, meaning that because I can’t predict where a ball is going to carom after hitting 30 bumpers, I feel like a moron. In other words, to channel the spirit of the girl you had a crush on in 8th grade: “Oh, Peggle, it’s not you, it’s me.” The only modification to Peggle’s design that would make me truly happy would be if I could replace the yawning chasm at the bottom of the game board with a springy trampoline, which would cause the first ball fired to continue to carom around until, eventually, it cleared the board, giving me the palpable feeling that I am a trigonometric genius (memo to PopCap: my consulting rates are quite reasonable. Let’s chat — I want to pitch you my idea for a color-matching game where all the tiles are red.).
If making brilliant beautiful simple games that I don’t like wasn’t already unfair enough, PopCap is making things worse by selling their individual download games for half price until January 3rd. So if you’re curious to see just how removed from the zeitgeist I truly am, you can pick up Peggle for $9.97 at the moment, or, in other words, effectively for free. Even though I already have a license for the Windows edition, I might buy the Mac version solely to make a political statement. Then I can complain about how it makes me feel dumb without having to run Parallels or Boot Camp. And who knows, perhaps that will encourage them to port Bookworm Adventures, also.
Disclosure statement: Popcap graciously provided me with a review copy of Peggle.
Update: My contact at PopCap takes serious issue with my claim that Peggle is largely luck, and is staging an intervention by sending me remedial courses in Peggling. Perhaps there is hope for me yet.