Lord, I loves me that Peggle. In fact, I love it even more than I did a couple of weeks ago when I scored it 9/10. I increasingly wish I'd given it 10, if only because our resident misery John Walker would have become so angry about it that we'd have had to kill him.
So, seeing a new game from Popcap, the casual games publisher/developer responsible for Peggle, crop up on Steam excited that growing part of me that's obsessed with brightly-coloured cartoon puzzle games that don't make pensioners cower in fear. Venice Deluxe is its name (if there's one thing to love about Popcap, it's that it suffixes its every game with Deluxe, just because it can), and shooting shapes is its game.
Much of what makes Peggle work so well is there. Something's made me spend three or four hours firing hearts and harps and stars and rings into heart and harp and star and ring-shaped holes, anyway. It's that balance of genuine cleverness and playschool-level spatial awareness that Popcap does very well.
The trouble is that there's zero sense of humour to it. Peggle and its equally splendid stablemate Bookworm Adventures recognise the inherent ridiculousness of what they are. One is about shooting coloured pegs, the other is about spelling. Pegs! Spelling! Neither are exactly de rigeur elements of mainstream gaming, but these two games nevertheless adopt values seen in a po-faced fighting game or shooter - affectionate satire that pleases the smugness centres of a knowing gamer's brain as well as being funny in its own right. Witness Peggle's over-the-top approach to combos, and even a nod to Mortal Kombat's infamous 'toasty!', or the threats Bookworm and his foes dole out to each other, seemingly oblivious to the fact they're basically playing Scrabble.
While Venice might be a game that requires a little more actual thought and an awful lot less luck than Peggle - sometimes there's only one way to place certain pieces, so you'll need to calculate relatively precise geometry - it's doesn't make any big deal of accomplishment. Finish a level, find out your score, move on. It's functional, not celebratory.
Trouble is the dissatisfaction I feel at this mightn't be the game's fault. I think I'm spoilt. Peggle makes you feel so good about doing, well, anything that I'm worried I've hit the ceiling of achievable excitement. Venice is a perfectly well-realised casual puzzle game, but dammit, I want unicorns, fireworks and Beethoven. What if I can't enjoy Bioshock because there isn't slow motion and a drumroll just before I snap a Little Sister's neck?
I hope Popcap are aware that it was Peggle's character, not its mechanics, that makes it such an achievement, and that greater things are to come. Part of me fears that they can never match it.