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Joystiq review: Peggle (iPhone/iPod touch)


The question isn't: Should I buy Peggle? It's: Should I buy Peggle again? If you've been holding off on re-buying the game and are looking for an obsessive, detail-oriented comparison of the portable versions, read on! (Otherwise, jump to a conclusion.)

This week's iPhone/iPod touch release is the same game we've been playing for two years now on our PCs (and Macs), touch-wheel iPods, DSs, Xbox 360s, and Java/BREW cell phones. To be completely accurate, this version is a port of the original Peggle modified for use on iPhone. While it lacks any new content (so-called "trophies" hardly count) or even levels from the sequel, Peggle Nights, the iPhone adaptation excels as the definitive portable version of PopCap's masterful time sink.

Gallery: Peggle (iPhone/iPod touch) | 15 Photos

We hesitate to decide a winner on looks alone, but it comes down to, oy, the graphics. The iPhone port is simply the one handheld Peggle that best mirrors the big-screen versions' detail. Where the DS and mobile editions' appearances are fuzzy and less dynamic in tone, the iPhone version trumps the respectable touch-wheel iPod's display in its near replication of the PC's visual pop and the most detailed, if still low-res backgrounds. (The iPhone image does run on the darker side of the spectrum, so you'll need to crank up the brightness setting to appreciate the true colors.)

The definitive portable version.

The DS version has a slight edge in pegboard real estate, but the iPhone adaptation is nowhere near as cramped as the cell phone (or iPod nano) attempt and its touch controls outperform a keypad, touch wheel, and stylus in precision. Ah yes, precision. Indeed, a factor more important than looks.

Let's all agree that the touch-wheel iPod and Java/BREW Peggles aren't in the same league as the iPhone and DS versions. They forgo obsessive appeal by excluding zoom view, and, while playable, they don't allow extreme players to really show off their skills -- or, rather, carefully executed luck. While the DS's dual screens offer the bonus of seeing the full game board and a zoomed-in portion simultaneously, I still favor the iPhone controls, preferring the "Extreme Precision" wheel (which can be positioned along the right or left border) or even just my finger over the drag of the stylus; and tap-to-zoom activation over hold-to-zoom. I did notice, when zoomed, the iPhone screen would have benefited from having some sort of indicator for the bucket's changing position, eliminating the need to un-zoom before firing a shot.

Speaking of missing pieces, where's the background music? Of the four portable versions, the iPhone Peggle is the one lacking built-in tunes save the initial load screen and all-important "Ode to Joy." While you can stream in your iPod music (arguably favorable to Peggle's ditties trapped in your head long into the night), you can't also have "Ode to Joy" active. It's either silence relieved by an end-of-level burst of "Joy" or your own playlist without the well-timed fever music. Why not have a separate option to pump in "Ode to Joy" over you iPod on the final shot? (Hint: Patch it in PopCap!)

In practice, Peggle isn't vacant without music -- and its absence keeps the file size low (10.2 MB). Included, as implied earlier, are the original 55 adventure levels (also playable in Quick Play and Duel) and 40 unlockable challenge missions. For the first time, PopCap has added a Trophy Room (pictured above), which amounts to a non-interactive puzzle board with colored pieces filling the empty silhouettes as you complete certain milestones. PopCap should have taken a cue from the XBLA Peggle's Achievements -- like, copied and pasted 'em -- and created a more engaging rewards system. As is, the Trophy Room is completely forgettable and will probably remain seldom, if ever revisited.

From a recent meeting, we gathered that PopCap has started to appreciate just how dedicated players of its games are and is in the thinking stages of creating a rewards component for its entire catalog (à la Xbox Achievements) that would span multiple platforms (like a functioning Xbox Live Anywhere). It would have been exciting to see iPhone Peggle take a leap in this direction (instead of a baby step), but for now we're left pining for future patches that link together our disassociated Peggles in some meaningful way.

But I digress, iPhone Peggle is what it is -- incredibly entertaining -- for a mere $4.99. If for some unfathomable reason you haven't at least tried Peggle (shame on you!), you can demo the PC/Mac version here, since PopCap isn't in the habit of "Lite" App Store releases. For the rest of you, it comes down to either "dude, Peggle sucks" (wrong!) or that question I've taken so long to answer: Should I buy Peggle again? Okay, here it is: Yes, you should.

Peggle is versatile, especially on iPhone. It's playable over the course of brief, interrupted sessions or in battery-draining marathons. (Every mode has auto-resume, though, once exited, the application takes between 15-20 seconds to get from launch and reload back into action.) It's got right-handed and left-handed layouts, an option to add symbols to pegs for the colorblind, and the ability to flip the landscape display 180° to suit personal preference. And, let's not forget, this is the first portable Peggle to include replays, which can even be filed away in a folder accessible from the title screen. This is a quality port that deserves support.

Despite the unregulated pricing fiasco in the wild, wild App Store, a $5 asking price is not thievery, even for a game you might already own on other platforms. In my own shopping expeditions into Apple's overflowing warehouse, I find myself second-guessing anything priced over $0.99, so permit me to overrule that mindless conditioning just this once. It'll be the best five bucks you spend today.

Peggle (PopCap Games, $4.99): PEGGLE

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