Face it, the PDA is dying if not dead, killed off by the evolution of the cellphone into smartphone. This is no great shame, because it means you now have a smaller device in your pocket that does twice as much as either a cellphone or PDA on its own. In fact, the latest smartphones do three times as much because GPS satnav is starting to become a de facto must have in this highly competitive market.
Like many professional users I am not mourning the loss of the PDA in general, but like many professionals I admit to missing one thing that was hidden away in the depths of my PDA personal files directory: Bejeweled. This incredibly addictive and supremely time wasting little game, developed by PopCap co-founder Jason Kapalka, was the first ‘casual’ game title to be inducted into the Computer Gaming World Hall of Fame (in 2004) for 19 years. Before Bejeweled, the last entrant was Tetris. If you have ever played it then you will recall how difficult it is to stop lining up rows of the same colored jewels just in order to see them explode and gather up the points bonuses.
Casual games are seen as being one of the main revenue drivers in the mobile game business, and with revenue growth forecast to go from $3bn last year to $10bn by 2009 that’s quite some emerging marketplace. By definition these games are small diversions, things you can pick up and put down without having to get involved in some lengthy and complex back story. Think solitaire and you are pretty much in the casual gaming mindset already. I am, I readily admit, something of a casual games addict. There is a time and a place for everything, and console games fit in there when I have a few hours to kick back and relax, but most of my gaming time falls under the casual umbrella.
Which is why I was rather pleased when a press release landed in my inbox this morning from PopCap Games informing me that the great man himself had come up with another time wasting triumph. This time with a version for the PC, which means I can download it onto my sub-notebook for those business trips where I need a bit more computing oomph than a smartphone can provide.
Peggle is a cross between pinball, pool and pachinko and the end result is a new take on the old Breakout genre. You fire a metallic ball from the top of the screen, relying on gravity to propel the ball downwards while it ricochets off orange and blue pegs. The goal is to hit all the orange pegs on the screen before running out of balls. A moving bucket target at the bottom of the screen offers free balls, while green power-up pegs give the player a host of one-off abilities - from lobster claws which serve as pinball-type flippers to fireballs that cut through all pegs in their path. Peggle’s realistic bouncing ball physics set against beautiful 2D graphics, cut-scenes and special effects create mesmerizing game play. Enhanced by stunning sound FX and themed music, Jason Kapalka told me “Nobody can really be told what Peggle is like - you just have to play it for yourself!”
Being a casual game it doesn’t involve the sacrifice of an arm and a leg like next generation console games either, you can even download a (14.4Mb) trial version and play for a bit to make sure you like it before you open your wallet. It even plays OK on Vista. This has put the fun back onto my laptop, and for that I thank PopCap. With 55 levels and 75 ‘Grand Master’ challenges I suspect that I will be thanking them for some time to come, although my friends and family may feel differently. Still, there is always Duel Mode to solve that problem…