PopCap HITS! Vol 1 & 2 review
|REVIEWS - VIDEOGAME REVIEWS|
Despite featuring many of our favourites - and evidently full of pop - this title neither snaps or crackles to its £30 price tag...
PopCap are the undisputed kings of casual gaming - operating on all major platforms and the web - and their games have been downloaded a massive 1.5 billion times worldwide. With sales like this, the chances are pretty high you’ve played one of them, and you probably enjoyed it too. To put it simply, Popcap do the basics better than any other, and their games are simple, colourful and more addictive than a dose of crack. They sell like it too; Plants Vs Zombies is the fastest selling App of all time on the App store, and sold 300,000 in its first nine days.
Now PopCap has released a ‘greatest hits’ collection for the Xbox 360, broken into two volumes. Volume one contains Bejewled 2, Peggle, Feeding Frenzy and AstroPop; while Volume two has Zuma, Heavy Weapon, Feeding Frenzy 2 and Plants Vs Zombies. These games are all available already on Xbox Live, so it would appear that PopCap are trying to expand their reach to the 30% of Xbox owners that have never downloaded an arcade title before.
The first volumes flagship game is Bejeweled 2, PopCap’s most popular - and biggest selling - release to date. Its classic gem-swapping gameplay is as easy to pick up as it is hard to put down. Matching clusters of gems of the same colour to burst them into points, creating power gems, sparkling cascades and combos, numerous hours could be lost in one sitting. You can burst your gems in classic mode, against the clock, in a series of puzzles or in an infinite ‘zen mode’. Bejeweled 2’s incredible popularity is well deserved, and its tight, puzzling and brilliant colours will keep you playing far longer than you had planned.
AstroPop is a block-breaker with a twist, making you fire blocks at the wall above, before attempting to match up the colours in order to pop them. There are four different pilots to choose from, each with different power-ups and abilities. Like all PopCap titles, AstroPop’s presentation is flawless and colourful, but the gameplay lacks the rapidity and heart-stopping moments of panic that makes other casual games so addicting.
The inclusion of Feeding Frenzy in this first volume seems a little odd, as Volume two has the more recent Feeding Frenzy 2. Nevertheless, Feeding Frenzy is still a fun title, with the basic premise being that you - as a fish - zip round eating all the fish smaller than you, whilst avoiding anything larger. The game is solid and enjoyable, but also showing its age a little, and is eclipsed by its more recent sequel.
Perhaps the finest game in Volume one is Peggle. A long time favourite of many gamers, its gameplay is a mix of pinball and pachinko, with players expected to lob fire balls at coloured pegs, hitting as many as possible before the ball drops off the bottom of the screen. Like most PopCap games, it sounds simple, but Peggle’s strange mix of accuracy and luck make every shot exciting and entirely unpredictable. Peggle has been around for a while and is wildly successful, so the majority of players will be familiar with it, but those that aren’t are in for a real time-sink.
Volume two is the stronger release of the two, featuring the outrageously popular Plants Vs Zombies. Taking solid tower-defense gameplay - and combining it with the almost guaranteed success of anything with a zombie in it - players must protect their homes from huge waves of the shambling dead, placing helpful plants to slow their progress, squash them into mush or blow them to bits. Facing off against said zombies is both fast and fun, and the story mode is pleasingly long. Each level starts the same though, and placing the same pattern of plants for every level can be a drag.
Also in Volume two is Zuma, a ball-blasting temple puzzler, where you fire coloured balls from a toads mouth, matching their colours with those of an advancing column of balls. Miss too many shots and its game over. Zuma is fast and fun, but doesn’t have much in the way of lasting appeal. Heavy Weapon is a side-scrolling shooter. You guide your tank across the screen, shooting down an endless stream of enemy aircraft. Your guns are upgradeable, but the similar levels and repetitive enemies make the experience grow stale long before the game ends.
Feeding Frenzy 2 takes the positives from Feeding Frenzy and builds upon them. Adding multi-player support, new playable fish and a variety of enemies and power-ups, Feeding Frenzy 2 is a much deeper game than its predecessor. Providing 60 new levels of fish and food, it is easy to get lost hoovering up herring, tailing for trout - or whatever other fish pun you may fancy (as long as it fits in plaice...sorry). The last few levels are pretty challenging too, and many players will be uttering the timeless phrase “just one more try...” in their endless pursuit to become King of the sea.
While both volumes contain a number of solid and entertaining casual games, they are also contaminated with fillers; titles that have no place in what is ultimately a greatest hits collection. Furthermore, a cohort of the games are extremely dated - and all of them are available individually on Xbox Live - so don't be surprised if PopCap struggle to find gamers that haven’t played these 'hits' before. The high RRP of £30 per volume may also put some people off, as £60 is an extortionate amount to pay for eight casual games, a number of which can be played for free on a PC. That being said, the amount of time you can waste, and the fun that can be had, with PopCap's games is endless; and, if you haven’t played Bejewled 2, Plants Vs Zombies or Peggle, then this is certainly a recommended purchase.
Ultimately, these volumes constitute great games in a bad package, and there is no bonus for buying them on disk as opposed to purchasing from the arcade. If you have an internet connection, buy the games you still haven’t played from the arcade. If you don’t, then these are worth a look.
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