Review - PopCap Hits! Vol. 1

This review was originally posted at criticalgamer, where you will find an abundance of video game news, reviews, previews and articles.

Chances are you familiar with, or perhaps even own, at least one of the puzzlers found on PopCap Hits. Offering four games of varying quality, it is a tidy reminder of PopCap’s impressive back-catalogue. However, it is a rather lazy collection and is thus difficult to recommend to the majority of gamers.

Volume one features two of PopCap’s finest – Peggle and Bejeweled 2 – along with two far more forgettable puzzlers in AstroPop and Feeding Frenzy. All four have been available separately on XBLA for some time, not to mention numerous other platforms.

Peggle couldn’t be simpler; fire a marble at a series of pegs, and then sit back and enjoy the illusion that you are in control of the ensuing chaos. Orange pegs are your primary target, but extra points can be earned by taking out other colours, culminating in a blast of Beethoven as you eradicate the final orange peg in dramatic slow-mo. There are a number of game modes including the Peggle Nights DLC, which all-in-all will keep any Peggle enthusiast content for hours on end.

Bejeweled 2 requires a little more thought, though it’s far from taxing. It’s a very simple process (are you noticing a theme?) of matching coloured gems without exhausting your options and forcing a “No More Moves” game-over. Endless mode and time and score attack are all worthwhile additions, contributing to a game that will keep you entertained far longer than many other bigger, more complex and polished puzzlers.

Unfortunately the other half of PopCap Hits is far less impressive. AstroPop offers little of interest and is unlikely to lure you away from another session of Bejeweled or Peggle. The objective is to match colour coded blocks by grabbing and then shooting them at similar shaded rectangles, working towards a target score to proceed to the next, virtually identical level.

Feeding Frenzy sticks out from the pack thanks to its unusual premise and because it allows more freedom of movement than the other three. As a ravenous fish you must gobble up as many small-fry as you can, ever wary not to become a snack for even larger fish. As you rack up the points your fish begins to expand, able to hunt the larger inhabitants of the ocean as predator becomes prey. Unfortunately it doesn’t really progress much beyond this and very quickly becomes stale, no matter how hard it tries to keep your attention with marine factoids. Did you know that to allow it to expand, the stomach of a Puffer Fish is pleated, like a Scottish kilt?

Bejeweled 2 and Peggle are prime examples of what has made PopCap an industry leader, offering a neat package of simplistic, addictive and highly entertaining puzzles, suitable for enjoyment in short bursts or insomnia inducing marathons. However, AstroPop and Feeding Frenzy are mild distractions at best, unlikely to keep you playing longer than the time it takes to get the hang of your objective.

PopCap Hits does the term vanilla disc a disservice, as there is zero content here that has not been made available elsewhere in the past. If you already own Bejeweled 2 or Peggle on XBLA or elsewhere then you may as well stop reading here and put the cash back in your pocket; that is unless you have an overwhelming desire to own a physical copy.

To add insult to injury, at the time of writing half of this bundle (AstroPop and Feeding Frenzy) may require some tedious fiddling down the back your TV, being that they are unplayable in Pal-60. Upon entering the main menu and highlighting either of these two, anyone playing with an HDMI cable or component set to HD will be informed that they must change to the 50Hz setting, impossible for anyone using an HDMI cable.

Your options are to either switch out your HDMI lead for the old component cable, or just ignore half the collection, which isn’t a bad option considering the underwhelming qualities of AstroPop and Feeding Frenzy;  but it will make the cost of the collection (£29.99 SRP) seem even less palatable.

In an age where we are constantly being reminded that we should be playing our current generation games in the crisp picture quality that HDMI provides, it seems incomprehensible to release a game that is incompatible with it. A forthcoming patch may yet provide a fix, but it won’t excuse the initial disappointment.

While it is hard to fault the mindless joys of Bejeweled 2 and Peggle, the same cannot be said for this disappointing collection as a whole, especially when you can get these two cheaper elsewhere as stand-alone titles. AstroPop and Feeding Frenzy, presuming that you have the required cables, are simply not worth the price of admission.


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