PopCap HITS! – Xbox 360 Review

astropopIt would be nigh on impossible to dispute PopCap Hits’ title as king of contemporary casual compilations. If you’re into casual games, you don’t already have most of these, and the maths works out, buy it. It’s as simple as that. The casual gaming market is one that has long been a staple of any format, and it’s one that fits so many demographics that it’s hard to see it going away. For the RRP of £29.99 (you can pick it up for half that or less) you’re getting four titles, each having a ridiculous number of XBLA downloads. Indeed, that’s the only real stumbling block to this compilation’s popularity; there’s a fair chance that you already own one or two of these titles, making the package a little less worthwhile.

Taking the titles alphabetically, AstroPop is a title born from the late eighties and early nineties, when everyone and their dog was trying to build on the popularity of Tetris with variations on the block-puzzling theme. The idea is that you collect blocks on your little spaceship at the bottom, and throw them back into the mix of blocks above you. The more blocks, the more points. Combined with multipliers and various other fairly standard gameplay mechanics, AstroPop offers something that many other block puzzlers haven’t managed to achieve. Its requires, as many casual games do, an almost meditative state to really start doing well, and the overall result is one that covers the more frantic end of the spectrum of casual games very well.

Bejeweled 2 is probably the simplest effort on the disc. There are not many people out there who haven’t played Bejeweled, or a version of it, so you know what to expect. You’re given a board of coloured jewels and tasked to rearrange them so that the same colours touch. This sets off small explosions and brings other coloured jewels crashing down into place. Get clever (or lucky) with it and you can create massive chains of explosions that combo into equally gigantic scores. This version has a number of different modes, all of which pretty much amount to the same thing with different parameters. Time limits, infinite modes and trick shot elements all combine to turn what is a very simple game into something that covers all the bases. It can be as calm or as crazy as you want it to be, as long as you enjoy rearranging coloured blocks.

Feeding Frenzy puts you in the shoes (fins?) of the smallest fish in the sea, and challenges you to take on the shark king through munching on other fish. It bends the laws of biology, with set numbers of fish granting you more girth, and subsequently the ability to eat progressively larger fish. This is a pretty little game, with an endearing quality that the others don’t have. Essentially, all you’re doing is identifying predators and prey, heading toward the latter and avoiding the former. It rarely gets more complex than that, but there are unique dangers the further up the food chain you go, such as depth charges, jellyfish and the like. Enjoyable, but not really the gem of the package.

Peggle

That accolade goes to Peggle. I’m somewhat ashamed to say that until recently, I was a Peggle virgin. With over 50 million downloads on PC alone, Peggle is responsible for a good deal of wasted time. It’s inspired by the Japanese equivalent of fruit machines: pachinko, and is every bit as addictive. You direct a set number of balls that bounce around a table scoring points and eliminating pages in an effort to generate the highest score. There are trick shots – such as bouncing the ball of the wall and bouncing from one side of the screen to the other – that reward you with score boosts, as well as level specific specials enabling you to maximise whatever table you’re playing. Get it right and you feel like a god. Get it wrong and you’re an ass, simple as that. Of course there’s a huge degree of luck involved, but not so much that it excludes the possibility of your skill coming into play. There are plenty of levels for you to work through and it even comes with Peggle Nights, which just adds more value to the pack. With up to four players competitively, this addictive monster can kill entire evenings, or weeks if you’re not careful. If you play none of the other games in this collection, make sure you have at least sampled Peggle. I’d rate it as the best contemporary casual game out there.

So, for the price, you’re getting four games (five if you include Peggle Nights), which will offer unprecedented value for money. Each is designed to be simple and addictive – a combination of traits that is hard to ignore. Peggle sticks out as the highlight, but none of the others are sub-standard versions of their particular genre. Definitely worth the fifteen quid you’re likely to spend on this package, as long as you don’t have too many of them already.

Score: 8/10 – Very Good

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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