Review: PopCap Hits!

March 17, 2011, Author: Phil Ubee

PopCap games are quite possibly one of the most recognised game publishers in the world and as such, I will challenge any gamer worth their salt who claims they haven’t played (and loved) at least one of PopCap’s back catalogue. From a quick fix at lunchtime via Facebook or on your Mobile Phone while sitting on the bus, to a late night Xbox live or PSN marathon, PopCap have a game for every mood.

With the release of PopCap Hits, the guys have bundled together four of their most popular classic titles on one disk for your amusement and what the collection may lack in graphical or musical prowess it tries to make up for in addictive fun and puzzling genius. Question is; do we have a Hit or a Miss? Read on to find out.

The first game on the disc is Astropop, originally released to XBLA way back in 2006 for 800MP. Astropop sees you take command of a space ship with the aim to clear bricks from the top of the screen in a game that mixes a touch of Space Invaders with Tetris and throws in an element of 80’s classic KLAX. There are four different pilots to choose from although only one is available initially and a massive 32 levels to progress through for each of them.

In order to clear the blocks you need to link four or more of the same colour together. To do this you grab blocks from the top of the screen with the A button and then move to the column you want them to go and release them with B. You can grab up to six blocks in any one go, collecting them from multiple columns should you desire with the only rule being they must be the same colour. In addition to the simple grab and release method each pilot has a Supa Weapon assigned to the Y button which, when charged, allows you to clear multiple blocks quickly. Your Supa Weapon starts off fairly weak but as you progress through the levels it will increase in power and efficiency.

To make life a little more tricky, additional rows of bricks will continue to push the wall down the screen at an increasing rate and besides the standard blocks you will find various special ones that can help and hinder your progress in equal measure. Also, in addition to the standard Classic Game there is a survival mode, which simply lets you go on as long as you can within the same arena. This is definitely where to go for a quick game as getting anywhere near the ten minute mark is something of a mission.

Beware the attacking colour blocks.

Feeding Frenzy
Next up we have Feeding Frenzy; this was also released on XBLA way back in 2006 at a bargain 400MP and sees you take control of a fish. The aim of the game is to eat as many fish as you can as quickly as possible. Sounds simple, right? The catch is (get it?), that you can only eat fish smaller than you and at the start of each level there is not much. Bigger fish patrol the ocean waiting to gobble you up so as you try and eat as many little-uns as you can you need to avoid the big boys.

The more you eat, the bigger you grow, thus allowing you to eat the bigger guys in due course, also as you munch away, you have a Frenzy meter that fills up. The quicker you eat, the quicker it fills and with each completion of the meter, you get a points multiplier for as long as you can keep the Frenzy going. As well as fish, various power ups float up from the ocean bed that improve your score or give you a little boost and if you make your way to the bottom, you may be lucky enough to find an Oyster offering up a pearl for a big points boost.

Played across five environments that each include eight levels, control of the fish is with the left stick and you can give yourself a little speed boost with the A button or suck (to try and grab any fish trying to escape) with RT. The further you go the longer it takes for you to grow, making it a tougher proposition to survive. As if this wasn’t enough, additional obstacles will start to appear, such as mines, that blow you up or you might find poisonous fish that reverse your controls.

As with Astropop there is an additional mode, this time it’s Time Attack which sets you a time limit for each level. Aside from this change it follows the same pattern as the main game. Time limits are pretty tight but one of the bonuses available is additional time. This mode certainly adds an extra level of challenge to what otherwise is a pretty easy, if enjoyable game.

Top of the food chain.

You can’t think of PopCap without thinking of Bejeweled, and PopCap Hits gives you Bejeweled 2 as its third title. It’s hard to imagine this was originally released on XBLA way back in 2005 and despite its age it has lost absolutely none of its appeal.

This version of the famous series includes four game modes; Classic is, as it suggests, the standard unlimited game that lets you go through level upon level of troublesome gems until you run out of possible moves. Action is a timed mode that plays much like classic, but the level meter starts at the halfway point and acts as the level timer; if it reaches the far left it’s game over. Endless mode is, well, endless. With no time limit and no risk of running out of moves you can literally keep going for hours on end. Finally, Puzzle has a single screen of Gems for you to clear to beat the puzzle and progress.

Anyone who does not know how to play or does not understand the idea of Bejewled should not be reading this article, but in the interests of aliens and insects, the idea is to clear Gems by linking three or more of the same colour. You can only move Gems to an adjacent square and only if it makes a chain. In true classic puzzle fashion, the genius of Bejewled is the pure simplicity and it is fair to say regardless of the game mode this is among the most addictive games I’ve ever played.

Precious stones are bad for your health

Finally we have the most recent of this collection, Peggle. Originally released to XBLA in 2007 for 800MP, the aim of the game is to bounce a ball down through a maze of different coloured pegs. Each peg you hit bounces the ball and then disappears. At the bottom of the screen a “bucket” moves from left to right and back again to catch your ball, and if you miss it; you lose the ball. The target is to clear all the Orange pegs with ten balls. When the last Orange Peg is hit you unlock “Fever” which enables extra points for each subsequent peg hit until the ball drops into one of the score buckets at the bottom  of the screen. Along the way there are various bonuses that unlock extra balls and points.

In the standard “Adventure” Mode, you play over eleven worlds with five levels apiece, which naturally get progressively harder and introduces you to the various bonus shots available to you in the other more challenging modes. Once a level has been completed it unlocks in Quick Play to allow you to go back and play your favourites over and over again. The third game mode is Master Duel which sees you take alternate goes as you try to out-score a computer controlled opponent over various difficulty levels.

The final game mode is Challenge and, personally, I think PopCap were a little generous with the title (“ridiculously addictive and incredibly challenging” would have been far better). Challenges range from simply clearing the Orange pegs to completely clearing so many levels in a row and include point challenges along the way. In all there are 45 challenges on offer that are immensely fun, challenging and rewarding in equal measure.

Now that's a party.

The sign of a good hit
Each of the four games has a similar overall graphical look with a charmingly polished feel. As you’d expect with the age and style of the titles on offer, none will make you sit up and shout ‘wow!’, but they are perfectly functional and suit the genre. Astropop is comfortably the weakest in terms of looks with a little roughness around the edges as the rest look crisp, if not spectacular.

Characters, where available are well drawn and animations are clean throughout. Bejewled has some beautiful backdrops (if you can tear your eyes away from those pesky gems) and each title is filled with bright colour from start to finish. Feeding Frenzy has the most on-screen action at any one time of the four on offer and there are never any issues with reaction time or glitches that could hamper your progress.

Pop goes the Weasel
The music is fairly varied depending on the title but is generally as you’d expect from Arcade and Puzzle titles. Bejewled has a fairly mellow background score which certainly relaxes you a little, while Astropop is a little more techno overall. Peggle blares out a rendition of Ode to Joy when you hit that final Orange Peg and start the Fever finale and Feeding Frenzy has a fairly serene score overall as you swim around the ocean eating your way to success.

Sound effects are most noticeable in Feeding Frenzy as you eat or get eaten, collect power-ups or give yourself a little speed boost. In the main during the other three games you get interactive noises with the environment. Blocks explode with a bang  and crash in Astropop, for example, but the effects, like the background music tend to be low key and un-intrusive overall.

Game on
The only title on the disk with any multiplayer is Peggle and this can take the form of a local or Xbox Live duel or a Peg Party. The Peg Party sees up to four participants battling it out to get the highest score. All the single player levels are available to choose from and you can set various things such as the number of balls and the shot clock. Each player takes their shot at the same time and you can view any of your opponents work by pressing the Y button and moving down the mini screens on the left of the screen.

It is worth noting that despite Peggle itself being some four years old, I have not had any problems finding a game and with Peg Party, a full four player game is also pretty easy to find. This is a really enjoyable way to spend a few hours of an evening and makes a refreshing change from your CoD’s or FIFA’s

Hit Parade
PopCap hits is a fantastic collection of some of the most enjoyable and addictive arcade titles available on XBOX Live Arcade and the disk is almost worth a look for Peggle alone, which is simply brilliant. However, due to the age of the titles on offer, it is fair to suggest that several people may have one or more of these titles already downloaded from the marketplace. If you are one of these people the decision on purchasing the disk is going to come down to value for money. For everyone else it is an easy decision. Go get it.


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