Like its 2007 predecessor, Peggle 2 sits somewhere between carnival game and slot machine and, honestly, focusing a critical lens on it feels kind of silly. I played through all of Peggle 2's main levels, and I enjoyed doing so, but I can't help feeling a little disappointed. The core mechanics of Peggle remain unchanged. You launch balls down a board filled with blue and orange pegs (à la pachinko). Pegs struck by the ball are eliminated from the board, and it's your job to remove all the orange pegs before running out of shots. Couldn't be simpler. Adding some flavor to the proceedings are purple pegs that boost your score, a moving bucket that earns you free shots when you catch a ball with it and, most important of all, green pegs. These activate your chosen Peggle Master's special ability, which generally makes clearing out orange pegs much easier.
On the surface, the improvements to the Peggle formula are easy to catalog. The visuals are brighter, and they have a cartoony aesthetic, complete with animated Peggle Masters who sit on the left side of the screen, marveling at your amazing shots and agonizing over your stupid mistakes. Best of all, each master sports a unique celebratory animation and song whenever you manage to clear the final orange peg. Clear a level as Peggle's unicorn mascot, Bjorn, and he'll headbang as "Ode to Joy" blares in the background. Of course, Peggle fans are used to hearing "Ode to Joy" by now, which makes it a bigger thrill to play as a different master and hear other classical tunes ringing out your victory. Personally, I'm fond of the skeleton girl, Luna, whose jaw literally falls off to the tune of "In the Hall of the Mountain King."
Mechanically, however, very little has changed. There are armored pegs now, which have to be hit twice before you can clear them. Two of the new master abilities also change the dynamics a bit. Specifically, Berg, the adorable yeti, has the power to let pegs slide around the board whenever they're struck by the ball. The result is something like shuffleboard, in that your ball will send a peg careening into another peg, which can strike more pegs, and so on. Luna's ability, meanwhile, turns all the blue pegs into ghostly apparitions, allowing the ball to sail straight through them, which makes hitting hard-to-reach orange pegs much simpler.
The remaining powers aren't much different from what was seen in the original Peggle. Bjorn once again gets the Super Guide, which helps you predict shots; Jeff, a troll and an homage to The Big Lebowski, can bowl over huge numbers of pegs with a boulder; and Gnorman, a mech-piloting gnome, can light up three pegs for every single peg struck.
The above mentioned masters and abilities, however, don't represent a small sample of Peggle 2's new cast – they are the sum total. These five are the only masters – compared to the original Peggle's 10 – and each offers 10 campaign levels and 10 trial levels. Trials are similar to Peggle's challenge levels, asking you to achieve specific goals. Some of these are more interesting than others, like trials that ask you to beat levels with as low a score as possible, or without an aim guide. A handful are more puzzle-like in nature, requiring you to clear all pegs in a single shot. The rest are generally just score challenges. Campaign levels also feature optional bonus objectives, things like clearing every single peg, scoring a certain number of points on the final shot, winning with a certain number of shots left and so on.
It's not as though there isn't enough to do, and completionists can expect to stay busy for quite a while. I prefer the puzzle-themed levels and the trials that play with Peggle's traditional objectives, such as the low-score challenges and levels that include extra green and purple pegs. Personally, I would have liked to see more puzzle levels, though I imagine some players – score hounds, in particular – would disagree.
The most troubling part of all of this is the big "Coming Soon" item in Peggle 2's main menu. The selection is shaped like a shopping cart, and you can bet that more Peggle Masters (and possibly more multiplayer modes) are on the way to help liven up Peggle 2's lack of variety. For its part, EA confirmed to me that DLC is planned, but wouldn't elaborate on what it will be.
Again though, for many players, all Peggle 2 ever needed to be was "more Peggle" and, in that respect, it succeeds. The improved production value is evident, with adorably animated masters and their ridiculously exuberant final score celebrations stealing the show. I wish the same amount of effort had gone into expanding the core game's mechanical variety, though I suspect we'll see that down the road via DLC.
Despite that, Peggle 2 remains a foregone conclusion for existing Pegglers and puzzle fans alike, even if it doesn't quite live up to the addiction that destroyed everyone's work ethic back in 2007.
This review is based on an Xbox Live download of the Xbox One version of Peggle 2, provided by EA.
Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.