PC, Mac

I previously mentioned Peggle-meets-Bookworm game Peglin during October’s Next Fest. It’s infectious battle-based pachinko had me replaying the demo over and over, and now it’s out on Early Access, I’m doing the same, only over a longer chunk of game.

The concept is so brilliant it feels like madness that PopCap didn’t think of it themselves. Two of their most successful game ideas, brilliantly blended, to create a ridiculously moreish RPG. You aim a variety of powered balls at screens of pegs, exactly like Peggle, in order to accrue attacks against rows of enemies at the top of the screen, just like in Bookworm Adventures. Successfully defeat the queue of baddies, and you move on to the next level, via a multiple-choice path as in Slay The Spire and any number of roguelites.

As you win levels, you get options to pick up new types of ball – perhaps a fireball that burns you a little to use, or one that scores no attack points but adds useful bombs to the screen as it bounces around – and even discard them, deck-building-style. There are also bonus items to add that tweak your approach, maybe protecting you from attack when you’re reloading your balls, or improving your efficacy with bombs, sometimes with detrimental effects to weigh up.

On the journey you encounter “?” areas, that most often have text describing an encounter, where you can make decisions that affect your balls (yes, I know, I’m trying to be a grown-up about it), upgrade them, or perhaps even lose them. Then there are tougher mini-bosses, chests containing more bonus items, and a bunch of regular battle screens, all leading to a level’s final tougher boss fight.

An awful lot of your progress is decided by which power-ups you get. This is not to say there’s only one route that works, but I’ve noticed that missing out on some can make progress a lot less likely. I’ve completed the Early Access build of Peglin twice, using two extremely different builds, but I’ve also lost and restarted dozens of times. Of course, that’s a big part of the nature of these games, and assured success would break it, but there clearly remains balancing work to do here.

At this point, the game is only three chapters long, which is a bit disappointingly short for its first release, especially given its sizeable £15 price tag. I wish it had been four or five, and I certainly wish that a lot more of the “?” scenes had been written. These very quickly start to repeat, making replays feel a little too predictable. And yet, I have replayed it and replayed it and replayed it.

A lot of that is due to smart level design. It has Peggle‘s chops, and as such there’s satisfaction in just watching the balls bounce around the pegs, before any of the many layers laid on top. Boss fights are well designed (although the third and final is too easy compared to the first two), and it’s interesting to try different “decks” of balls on different runs.

Importantly, there is an early version of what the game calls “The Cruciball”, which offers a greater challenge. This is intended to become a much more involved feature, but in the meantime lets you experience a tougher run.

If I’d paid the £15 for this, I really think I’d have had a far less positive perspective on the experience. Getting review code, I’ve had a fantastic time despite its brevity, but still really wish there had been a bunch more content at this stage. This leaves me suggesting to perhaps wait a while longer into its year in EA before jumping in, unless you’ve cash to splash, and feel this one’s worth the investment. I strongly suspect it is, but currently there’s certainly not fifteen pounds of game here.

But, it’s great. It’s a bunch of fun, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it expand with many more levels, zones, abilities, and scenarios. It’s a genius evolution of Peggle, and PopCap must be kicking themselves.

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  1. There’s great potential here but so far the balance is terrible, in huge part thanks to the limit of one discarded orb at the time, so the situational ones are mostly drawbacks. There are three builds: bombs, stones+obelsik, and dagger and/or fire + crits. All the other things either have no synergy or are worse than a stone in most situations(and since bin can only fit one orb, you should only get one situational orb).

    I also tend to avoid question marks since they are at best a trade at worst double drawback(for example losing useful orb and health). Well, there is a chance to rest but it’s not worth the risk.

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