Pop Cap puzzling
There is something to be said of the recreational puzzle game. Nintendo have populated there Wii software catalogue with glorified puzzlers in the hopes that they can re-capture their monopoly on addictive ‘fun’ gaming, after all, who in the entire universe hasn’t heard of or played some variation of Tetris?
Yet for all Nintendo’s attempts at re-capturing former glories, its another developer who has taken the crown of recreational gaming from under their noses- Pop Cap games. On first glance at Pop Cap’s software catalogue, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were smalltime, titles like Chuzzle, Dynomite! and Iggle Pop aren’t exactly an indication of a triple A games studio. Nonetheless, Pop Cap have stealthily inserted themselves into the mindset of the modern gamer with a few key titles. The games in this article have all spread out from there early days as browser based IP to become successful console ports and, more recently, hugely successful iPhone and Facbook conversions. Pop Cap’s modus operandi is addiction and how to induce it, the games that follow are prime examples of this, neo gaming addiction-Pop Cap style.
Bookworm (3 out of 5)
CONSOLE: 360, PS3
Essentially a word game, often disguised as an educational romp before revealing itself as a thinly veiled puzzler. Bookworm sees the player making words from the jumble on screen, make big words to earn more points. A game that can appeal to a vast demographic, Bookworm is user friendly and fiendishly diffucult in equal measure, with the dreaded burning tiles forming the stuff of nightmares.
It’s the games simplicity that has seen it become one of the earlier Pop Cap games to spread it’s wings to other formats. The cutesy aesthetic and forgiving learning curve made it perfect for the jump to iPhone.
Bejeweled 2 (4 out of 5)
CONSOLE: 360, PS3
Close in spirit to the puzzlers of old, the Bejeweled series is a natural successor to Tetris and its popularity reflects that titles own die hard following. Once again Pop Cap’s genius lies in the simplicity of it’s premise; match similar coloured jewels to further the multicoloured cascade, earn points, warp to new level, the results are varied and the possibilities are (literally in one mode) endless. Distinctly retro yet subtly contemporary, Bejeweled 2 builds on the foundations of its older brother, adding more modes and a glossy shine for the current generation. It’s as at home on consoles as it is on iPhone, a port which to date has sold over one million dollars worth of downloads and with even the Facebook app seeing a strong following, the ubiquity of this franchise can only continue.
Plants Vs. Zombies (5 out of 5)
CONSOLE: 360, PS3
Think about it, there’s a Zombie apocalypse, the undead are shambling up your garden hungry for brains, what do you do? You plant some peas of course!
While the real ability of the common pea to repel an undead army is negligible, it certainly works in Pop Cap’s homage to the living dead. A tower defence game in which mushrooms and sunflowers are employed to stay the advance of groaning ghouls, Plants Vs. Zombies is one of the developers quirkiest games and also one of its best. Starting of slow with a couple of plants, the player is soon tasked with taking out increasingly bizarre zombie derivations (Zombie bobsled team) with an increasing arsenal of flora weapons (explosive chile, three-way pea shooter, corn rockets). Pop Cap makes sure boredom never sets in by adding a surprising amount of variance to the single player adventure, water, fog and altitude are all employed to shake things up a bit. PVZ is also another massive success on iPhone, with app store sale beating even Bejeweled 2 and resting comfortably at the top of the download charts for some time. The popularity of Pop Cap IP on the iPhone platform is niether unprecedented nor surprising.
Peggle (5 out of 5)
CONSOLE: 360, PS3
The essence of Pop Caps modus operandi and the studios finest game, Peggle is ultimate gaming addiction. Encouraging players to perfect a style and strategy using the games simplistic environment, Peggle remains a benchmark in high concept gaming, it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Tetris.
Once again taking a simple premise and soaking it in garish colours and cartoonish art design, Pop Cap created a game that simply refuses to be put down. its often amazing wondering to one’s self how ten hours passed while you were aiming a little ball at some orange pegs, such is the hypnotic pull of Peggle.
The beauty is in the details, the bright colours, the characteristic sound design, the excellent music and the pin sharp physics all combine to make Peggle a work of unadulterated genius. Peggle also kickstarted the trend of Pop Cap IP migrating to other platforms. Peggle Nights, Peggle mobile, Half Life Peggle, Ultimate Peggle- there are so many conversions of Peggle now that you half expect it to replace the crossword in your morning paper.
Facebook and beyond
Perhaps Facebook, more than anything else has solidified the popularity of Pop Cap’s software catalogue. The success of games like Bejeweled Blitz harken back to a time when gaming was about high scores and showing them off to the world.
The iPhone conversions are also a great social lubricant, there’s nothing better in portable gaming at the moment than showing someone that killer Peggle replay or watching in horror as a Zombie slips past a friend’s peas.
Pop Cap games have a way of bringing people together in a fashion not seen in gaming for years. As time draws on and social gaming reaches it’s cultural zenith, it will be Pop Cap firmly placed at the forefront of praise.