Peggle is a popular puzzle/action game for the PC and Xbox Live Arcade. It's certainly aimed at the casual game market, with bright colours and cheerful sounds, but there's plenty of playability for more hardcore gamers (if they can get over the sugar).
The basic premise of the game is to remove all of the orange pegs on the board by dropping a ball from the top of the screen. It's similar to Japanese Pachinko games, but the pegs disappear after being hit. There are also green pegs that grant super-powers, such as multi-ball or pinball-like flippers.
There are no official sales statistics, but the PC version has been downloaded over 50 million times 1, and the Xbox Live Arcade has made at least 100,000 sales 2. Clearly the folks at PopCap are doing something right.
Peggle is very easy to pick up and play. There are no complicated controls to memorise, and the core gameplay isn't based on having quick reflexes. Simply aim the ball, release the ball and hit the orange pegs.
Given the previous point, Peggle seems extremely shallow. However, beneath the surface there's a lot going on. There are then Peggle Masters to play as, and each has a different ability. Each special ability has its strengths and weaknesses, and choosing the right one can make a big difference.
The game also has a challenge mode, which includes scenarios such as clearing the board of all pegs, racking up a high score or beating a level starting with only one ball.
It's a silly game that doesn't take itself too seriously. Rainbows, sparkles and a unicorn. What more could you want?
Despite being a simple game on paper, everything about the execution shines. Clearly a lot of time has gone into making it look and feel great, and it pays off. Each board has it's own beautifully drawn background, the menus woosh in and out smoothly, and the sounds are cheerful and fit the game perfectly.
There's certainly skill involved in playing Peggle, but luck plays a huge part too. You only need to look at the $45 billion spent on US lotteries every year 3 to see that people like to take a chance. You might not win a million dollars at Peggle, but the thrill of uncertainty is still there.
Perhaps the gameplay is a little too simple. There's plenty of fun to be had, and the extra powers add some more longevity, but after a while it gets a bit repetitive.
Misses its potential
Peggle seems ripe for downloadable add-ons, yet so far there has only been Peggle Nights. Considering how many games offer some pretty poor DLC options, it's surprising that there aren't more levels for download.
Peggle is also the sort of game that's ripe for a level editor. It certainly doesn't need one, but levels made by family and friends could add so much more.
It's not uncommon to find yourself saying "just one more go" whilst wanting to ram your controller through the screen.
Simple games can take a lot of resources
Peggle is a simple idea, but the execution is highly polished. Even if each level is just a collection of a few peg co-ordinates, there are still hand-drawn backgrounds, music and a friendly interface on top of it all.
People like to take a chance
Experiment with chance in your designs. This doesn't mean adding slot machines, but adding risks for big rewards.
You don't have to win to have fun
Some of the later challenges are very tricky, but the game still enjoyable even when you lose. It's almost like watching a near miss in football - exciting, even if there was no goal.
You can be casual AND have depth
There's no mistaking that Peggle is a casual game. Very casual. It's a quick fix, and it's perfect for players that want to sit down for a bit and de-stress. However, there's plenty of extra content for people who want to go digging.
For example, the scoring system can be quite complex, but learning how it works can mean the difference between a good score and a great one.
Don't neglect polish!
Polishing a game takes time and effort, but it pays off. Make your game fun to use as well as play, and take the time to make it really sparkle. People will notice.
I see what you mean about the resources needed to make such a simple game - I wonder if it would be half as popular with Bjorn Unicorn and friends? Again, they provide a lot of depth too, with the special green peg powers, so with Peggle and Puzzle Quest there's obviously a big push for character in puzzle games.
I read an interview once that said Peggle combined Pachinko with Burnout. When I eventually played Peggle I was disappointed not to find any cars in it.