Unfinished Business is NME’s weekly column about the weird and wonderful world of Early Access games. This week, Rick Lane ponders the orb in Pachinko-roguelike Peglin.
If you’ve ever played Peggle and thought to yourself “I wish there was a version of this game that let me kill things,” then step this way, you bloodthirsty little rascal. Peglin takes the pachinko-inspired action of PopCap’s superb 2007 physics puzzler, then wraps it up in an elaborate deck-building roguelike where you guide an off-brand version of Baby Yoda through a fantasy world filled with dangerous creatures.
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A typical round of peglin inside your cute goblin pal in a Pokémon-style encounter with one or several enemies, which could be bats or knights or blobs of slime that wield swords for some reason. Replacing Pokémon‘s straightforward list of possible attacks, however, is a board filled with gray pegs. To attack your enemies, you fire a ball (known in-game as an ‘orb’) into these pegs. The more pegs you hit, the more damage you do on that turn.
It’s a simple but effective premise. Pegs that you hit with your orb are cleared from the board, meaning that the more damage you do in one round, the fewer pegs there are to hit in the next. Unless, that is, you hit one of the green pegs scattered about the board, which instantly refill it with all the pegs you previously struck. Hence, you want to try to hit as many pegs as possible, but also aim your shot so that it hits one of those green pegs, letting you maximize damage in the next round too.
Peglin then slathers these basic rules with a rich and creamy modifier sauce. Like the green pegs, some modifiers are on the board themselves. Yellow pegs trigger critical hits, increasing the damage value of each peg you strike. Every board is also scattered with bombs which explode after being hit twice, dealing massive damage to every enemy in the encounter. Indeed, bombs are your main source of dealing damage in the first few rounds of Peglin. But the emphasis of dealing damage slowly shifts from the pegs to the orbs themselves.
Initially, your goblin can only throw rocks, which don’t deal much damage. But completing encounters unlocks access to more specialized orbs. There’s the Daggorb, for example, which does low base damage but get a massive boost when it hits a crit peg. Then there’s the extra-bouncy rubborb, and my personal favorite, the Poltorbgeist. Not only does this pass through pegs when it bounces upward (meaning it generally hits a lot of pegs) but its ensuing attack also passes through enemies as it hits them. In short, a good shot with a Poltorbgeist can wipe out every foe in the encounter. Each orb can be upgraded over time, too, making them deal more damage, or have other effects.
In addition to providing new orbs, winning a battle lets you progress through the game world. Here you’ll find more battles, but also non-combat encounters framed around narrative choices, such as whether to put your hand into a tree-knot covered by brambles, sacrificing health to obtain a new type of orb. Each world also culminates in a boss, where you’ll need to battle enemies like a giant mole, or a strange stone face that moves toward you very slowly before killing you in a single move.
All told, Peglin is neatly put together. It strikes the right balance between luck and skill, letting you create strategies based around specific orbs without guaranteeing success. Runs can also have an impressive amount of variance depending on the types of orbs you pick up. In my second run, I picked up a “Doctorb,” which healed my goblin based on the number of pegs I hit with it. Soon after, I was able to upgrade and duplicate the Doctorb, letting me use it twice per encounter, turning my goblin into a little green cleric.
That said, there are a couple of issues. Visually, the game lacks Peggle‘s winning sense of style. The pixel art is fine, but the decision to color the peg board an unappealing shade of gray is odd. Peglin also falls short of PopCap’s masterpiece in general feel. Hitting those pegs merely feels good when it needs to feel amazing. Finally, the game is fairly short for the current price tag, with successful runs taking as little as an hour. The variety of orbs helps support multiple runs, but even then, you’ve probably seen all that Peglin has to offer in 3-4 hours.
Fortunately, expansion is the primary focus of the developer’s Early Access plans. Red Nexus Games intends to add “regular new content” over the next twelve months, alongside extra features like different game modes, including seeded runs. With foundations this strong to build upon, Peglin has plenty of potential to become the inheritor of Peggle‘s wonderful legacy.
Peglin is available now, via Steam Early Access.
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