Papa Pear Saga does to Peggle what Candy Crush Saga once did to Bejeweled. That is, take one of Popcap’s frighteningly addictive, accessible casual games and latch on the extras that have made King one of the richest game makers in the world – a world map to give players a sense of progression, a first flush of addiction, rewards for spreading the word on Facebook and a canny monetization scheme. And then, inevitably, a hard stop – as if to say ‘you’ve had enough free fun, now cough up’. Papa Pear Saga will go on make its creator millions when it is released in the coming weeks on iOS, there can be no doubt.
King can clone Peggle’s mechanics, but it can’t replicate its character and unassuming, immaculate polish. It is broadly speaking the same game – you aim and fire a ball from the top of the screen at the pegs on the field of play to eliminate them. Usually, the player must fulfil certain criteria – in the first twenty stages we played, that meant pinging your ballbearing (or here, the titular Pear) from a certain number of pegs (acorns in King’s game). In what we’ve played of Papa Pear, you are also asked to try and drop the ball into each of the five buckets at the bottom of the screen or remove the pegs around larger, heftier fruits so that they fall into those same containers below.
When the basic play between two games is so similar, the differences in detail begin to really stick out. Where Popcap’s perfectly spherical pegs, sheer metallic surfaces and neatly functional visual design made Peggle feel intuitive and precise, King reaches for a warmer kind of cartoon charm, but falls short. Anthropomorphic acorns join grinning carrots and grumpy-looking hazelnuts on Papa Pear Saga’s field of play, but they just confirm that sticking a pair of googly eyes on something doesn’t instantly give it a kooky sense of personality. There was, at least, a sharp vibrancy to Candy Crush Saga’s sugary sweet visuals.
The sound design is just as uninspired. You can actually hear the join in the generic soundtrack where the looped ditty starts over again. The sound of ball against peg – or here, Papa Pear against acorn – seems to be the same noise throughout, with some squeals pitched higher than others. There is, however, a satisfying clack to striking the bamboo shoots in the game, but that same noise is triggered when you hit other objects, too. It’s a jumble of noises without the clarity of thought that shines through when you look (and listen) back at Peggle.
There are also mechanical issues here – where Popcap’s eponymous pegs and surfaces are sharply defined and solid, Papa Pear Saga’s are squashy, lumpen things. It doesn’t inspire confidence or the push the notion that precision matters when you are lining up a shot, and everything on screen is smaller – the game’s ‘camera’ sits a little too far away from the field of play on iPad. The game’s backgrounds are so bright the screen feels cluttered, overall.
Both games centre upon that tension between control and unpredictably, of course; but Peggle feels like the tighter, more precise game, inspiring a greater feeling of command over the ball’s destiny. It’s the difference between a rough copy and a masterpiece. What playing Papa Pear Saga does is to cement Popcap’s subtle mastery of the maddeningly addictive original, especially in how the end of each is given real drama. There can be few Peggle players that haven’t uttered a silent prayer to the gods of gravity as their final ball pings uncontrollably about the place during that zoomed-in, slow-motion drum-roll finale. Without it, the tension as you run ever lower on shots in Papa Pear Saga isn’t nearly as palpable.
Fail a stage – should you not hit enough acorns, score enough points, free enough fruit or drop Papa Pear into each of the five buckets at the bottom of the screen – and you can either try again or pay to progress by buying gold bars. There’s also that ever ticking in-game clock, which counts down in multiples of half an hour. When it reaches zero, you lose a heart, more of which can, of course, be bought in the in-game store.
Papa Pear Saga is perfectly enjoyable for free, right up to that trademark hard stop; the twentieth stage might prove to be this game’s own equivalent of Candy Crush’s notorious level 33. It’s a beautifully timed difficulty spike which seems to remind the player that King isn’t just here to dole out free entertainment forever – it wants some money in exchange. It’s at this point many will emerge blinking from the timehole they had fallen into an hour ago. Do you persist, pay to continue or go back and play Peggle? We’d recommend the latter.