When Peggle arrived way back in 2007, it was an absolute sensation. Despite only appearing on the PC initially, PopCap’s pachinko-esque title – with pinball style lights and sounds – was so popular that it came to every format imaginable in the years that followed. Back then, I even had it on my pre-Android/iOS mobile – despite having it on PC, that was the first format I completed it on (and, I may add, the only format I’ve ever managed to get to 100% completion on every single level). Though a sequel followed in 2013, it emerged in a world where casual, physics-based games were far more common and widespread, especially on mobiles – and failed to make the same impact as its predecessor, feeling like little more than an expansion to the original, rather than a true sequel.
Part of the joy of Peggle was the fact that it almost felt like a physical game, but it also had very compelling audio design. Firing your ball down into a screen of pegs and watching them light up as they were hit, the sound effects rising in pitch as the ball comes into contact with more and more of the pegs, before dropping off the bottom of the screen (hopefully into the constantly moving bucket, which grants an extra ball to add to your limited and ever dwindling supply). The aim wasn’t to clear the screen of pegs entirely; just to clear the orange pegs – though clearing the blue pegs as well granted an assured mega points bonus at the end of the stage.
I can’t possibly talk about Peggle without talking about the wonderful end of stage music that added to the undeniably Pavlovian responses that the other sound effects triggered, but really made it go to eleven: when the ball hits the final orange peg, a gloriously uplifting snippet of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy rings out.
Yet very few games seem to have tapped into the design ethos of Peggle and produced anything that could be seen as a continuation of the powerfully addictive formula that it laid down. That is, until Roundguard made its appearance earlier this year.
Much like Peggle, Roundguard is a pachinko-esque game in which you fire a ball onto a screen to clear certain obstacles, with the sound effects increasing in pitch the more you hit after a shot – with more than just that as similarities between the two games. Characters with special abilities? A moving safe spot at the bottom of the screen that functions just like the bucket? A jaunty musical number that plays once you’ve cleared the necessary obstacles from the screen, before you move onto the next stage? All present and correct, but there’s an awful lot more to Roundguard too.
Roundguard is also a procedurally generated, roguelike dungeon crawler. Even though those buzzwords seem to pop up everywhere in the indie scene these days, having a procedurally generated, roguelike dungeon crawler using the Peggle mechanics is definitely not something we’ve seen before. And it works wonderfully.
You’ll start a ‘Run’ – a delve into the procedurally generated dungeon – by choosing a character from a selection of three, from a choice of the Warrior, the Rogue or the Wizard – with the balance between health and mana (magic) differing per character, along with the strength or magical potency of the abilities each class has access to. Each is an appealingly designed little sphere, cartoonish in appearance and full of character (and with a nice selection of costume changes if you select different armour as you progress).
Each stage is classified by a symbol on your map, for example a treasure room, equipment room or a boss. When a stage is cleared of enemies, the exits appear – with the exit you leave by determining which route you take on the map that’s been generated for the run you’re on.
When hit by your character, enemies take damage depending on the attack rating of your weapon and any bonuses it also inflicts. Your character takes damage equal to the enemy’s attack rating; in a neat touch – and even though you only have one life – your number of attempts at a run is determined by your health; run out of health and your run is over. Health can be replenished by hitting red potions in a stage; likewise mana, used to trigger special abilities that you can equip, can be replenished by smashing blue potions.
Making your way through the three act structure of each map, you’ll come across a variety of nicely distinct enemies with plenty of strengths and weaknesses; many will be familiar to players with experience of fantasy games (the squishy, sticky gelatinous cubes that slow down your descent and apply status effects to your character are a highlight, as one example). Bosses are huge, varied and very challenging.
There’s trash talking between your character and the bosses or bigger enemies between stages – and sometimes even humourous exchanges between hero characters too. Additionally, an intermission in each act provides a chance to win rare equipment from a wheel of fortune; these also kick in if you die, giving you an artifact to start your next run with. In addition to attempting a run – which you can handily save at any point – there’s also Daily and Weekly challenges to take part in.
Though all of this may seem like too much to layer on the incredibly pure framework of a game such as Peggle, it works wonderfully. Though there’s no Ode to Joy here, the music is jaunty and appealing, as is the Peggle-esque rising pitch of gold pots (this game’s equivalent of blue pegs) as you bounce off more and more in a stage. Collecting gold and loot, along with equipping items, abilities and armour is incredibly compelling – and the game as a whole is absolutely dripping with charm and gentle humour. It’s a wonderful game that scratches an itch that you didn’t realise you had; a physics-based, pinball/pachinko game with a little more depth and structure than you may expect – and bags of loot to collect too. What more could you want?
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