I love the rising notes that accompany the bounce of a Peggle ball as it tumbles from peg to peg, each tinkle perfectly pitched to the serene melodies underneath. I love how each selection on the menu screen is accompanied by the notes from Peer Gynt's "Morning", a subtle nod to Peggle 2's wonderful predecessor. And I love the rainbows, and the sparkles, and the blast of Ode to Joy that accompanies a perfectly cleared Peggle board. It's absolutely mesmerizing, and indicative of a game that's as much about lifting the weight of the world from your shoulders as it is spending hours figuring out the perfect peg-pummeling shot for a high score--and trust me, once Peggle gets its hooks into you, the hours will fly by.
Describe the absolute basics of Peggle to someone though, and they'll give you the sort of sympathetic stare they'd give to someone who'd suddenly confessed to Coldplay being their favourite "rock band". It's so stiflingly simplistic at first glance that it's hard not to wonder what all the fuss is about. All you do is shoot a small ball at different coloured pegs scattered around a level, attempting to hit each and light them up along the way. Blue pegs give you 100 points, orange pegs need to be cleared to progress, while purple pegs give you score boosts, and green ones activate power-ups. Once the ball drops out of play, the lit pegs disappear, and you fire off another shot. Your only method of control is over the direction of the ball and when you decide to launch it, with a neat physics system taking care of the rest.
That might make it seem like there's not a whole lot you can actually do about hitting those pegs with any skill, and for sure, there's an element of luck about the whole thing. But it's that very randomness, the way that each shot is a gamble no matter how well-practiced you are, that makes Peggle so utterly engrossing--and the natural feel of the ball physics means that you never feel hard done by because of its random nature. The ball behaves just how you'd expect, and you adapt how you play around it. For every shot that hits just a single blue peg, there's another that somehow bounces across the board for a long shot bonus, hits a purple peg on the rebound, and then skims its way across a group of orange pegs before neatly landing in the moving free ball bucket at the bottom of the screen. It's an amazing feeling when it happens.
There are certainly some tricks to learn that come with practice too. Knowing how to skim a ball across a row of flat pegs for maximum points, or knowing just the right angle to hit a single peg to bounce it directly into the free ball bucket for a trick shot prove invaluable in later levels. With just 10 balls at your disposal, and many more pegs than that to clear, Peggle is just as strategic as it is random. Trying to beat challenges like clearing all the pegs, performing a certain trick shot, or beating an ace high score on each level can keep you going for weeks and months; I'm still trying to 100 percent the seriously tricky Zen level on the original Peggle to this day.
There are a bunch of new challenges too, under the guise of trials that challenge you to do things like beat a level under a certain score (much harder than it sounds), perform impossibly long slide shots, and score over a million points on a single level. But Peggle 2 never forces the really difficult trials upon you. There's as much satisfaction to be had from just nailing all the orange pegs on the one of the ingeniously crafted levels as there is in going after all the rainbow trophies that you're awarded for completing challenges. The delicate tones that emanate from each hit peg, the drum rolls, the way the camera zooms in as you're about to hit the last orange peg, and the rapturous explosion of music and colour are all brilliantly designed to stimulate the senses, and give you a real feeling of accomplishment, even for the smallest of tasks.
Then there are the Peggle masters, each of them offering a different power up to help you along the way. There's a greater visual focus on them this time, with each character getting the full body treatment, rather than being relegated to a headshot at the top of the screen. The results are absolutely hilarious. Play a Bjorn level and the colourful unicorn pulls the silliest of cringing faces as soon as you're down to your last three balls; perform a particularly great shot and his horn transforms into a rock 'n' roll set of devil horns; and sometimes, for seemingly no reason at all, he farts sparkles.
Bjorn is the only returning master this time, bringing his super guide power with him. The rest are all new and feature a bunch of inventive powers that do just enough to change the way a level plays out without undermining the core mechanics. Play a level featuring Berg the yeti and he freezes the screen, making the pegs slide around the screen when you hit them. Clever level design means there's plenty of opportunity to rack up some really high scores by chaining a bunch of pegs together. And if you get a particularly high score, you're treated to the awe-struck bleats of Berg's goat friends and a dance from the yeti himself, complete with a pixelated picture of his rear end.
In the first Peggle, Splork and his explosion power tended to be the go-to choice for nailing the really high scores. His counterpart here is Gnorman, a little tin robot that gives you the ability to hit three pegs at once for some outrageous high scores. His power proves particularly useful on levels that feature new armored pegs, which need to be hit twice, and levels that feature bumpers, which let you bounce the ball back into active pegs for more points. In a small but welcome tweak, you don't have to complete the entire game before being able go back and use a different master to tackle the level. Now, you unlock a master simply by making it to their level, which means you can take on the most tricky challenges much sooner this time around.
There are other little tweaks too, such as the colourful and imaginative backdrops, which are far more detailed than before, and the background music which gives a more sedate take on the different celebration themes of each character. Yes, this time you're treated to more than just Ode To Joy, and while it'd be a shame to give all the new tunes away here, rest assured they're just as well chosen, and just as shamelessly jubilant.
Indeed, it's that shameless pursuit of making Peggle 2 as fun and as accessible as humanly possible--no matter how cheesy the cost--that I absolutely adore. It's the very epitome of a pure gaming experience, one that can be as deep or as simple as you want it to be, and one that never loses sight of what makes it so appealing to so many people. Sure, the window dressing here plays its part in the fun as much as the core mechanics of the game do, but that's no bad thing; that all important feeling of accomplishment comes from the slick visual payoffs and charming audio cues as much as is does from skilful shots. Peggle 2's randomness simply isn't an issue once you're locked into the Peggle groove. It's heaps of fun, totally absorbing, and such a wonderful place to be.