Peglin official artwork and logo

Unlike most rogue-likes that have you personally fight your way through hordes of baddies, in Peglin you get to passive-aggressively stare at your enemies while you throw orbs into a pit in order to see what kind of smackdown fate has decreed for them. It's a ridiculous premise, but after playing way too much Peglin over the past week, I must admit it's also quite an addictive one!

So if you're curious how Peglin manages to turn Peggle-inspired gameplay into a nerve-wracking rogue-like, as well as how it compares to the rest of the genre, allow me to share my thoughts after quite a few hours with the demo.

Video version of this preview (~9 minutes)

The basics

For those of you unfamiliar with Peggle, the way combat works in Peglin is that you throw orbs onto a variety of themed boards in an effort to hit as many pegs as possible. The more pegs you hit, the more damage you'll do. While the concept does get more complicated over time, it all boils down to trying to aim your orbs as best as possible, and then hoping lady luck favors you as they bounce around somewhat unpredictably.

Aside from that little oddity, Peglin follows the same sort of formula as most rogue-like games. It's all about beating enemy encounters while losing the least amount of health possible, choosing upgrades and artifacts that complement your build, and doing whatever you can to handle each curveball the randomly generated levels throw at you.

However, despite all of this being about as simple as it gets, Peglin manages to keep things interesting by presenting you with some surprisingly difficult challenges, even in the very first world you can explore. Each time I went through it I felt like there were multiple occasions where everything could've gone really badly, really quickly if I had made a mistake or two too many. 

While I was initially taken aback by how much damage I was soaking in, I must admit I came to appreciate the level of challenge as I went along. It forced me to think about strategy and plan my turns ahead of time rather than simply throw orbs around and hope for the best, which consequently made scoring those gigantic combos all the more exciting!

Peglin screenshot of the boss mole

A boss breathing down your neck is a good motivator as well

Pondering orbs

Each orb you posses is randomly shuffled and placed in a queue at the start of the battle, and since each one benefits from different things and strikes at enemies in a different way, your survival greatly depends on how and when you utilize each of these orbs. For example, the dagger-orb does essentially no damage unless you hit the critical hit (!) peg, while the bomb-orb wants you to hit as many inconsequential pegs as possible in order to spawn a bunch of highly useful bombs onto the board.

You can even skip an orb by passing your turn if you so wish, though this is obviously risky as it lets the enemies advance towards you while you sit around pondering your orbs. Similarly, once you empty out all of your orbs you're forced to pass a turn in order to reload them, which again gives the enemies some breathing room to get up close and personal. As such, it's important to strike a good balance between efficiency and urgency as you very rarely have a lot of wiggle room to work with.

Peglin screenshot of the minotaur

Passing is highly useful, but try not to overdo it

Regardless of what sort of orbs you have at your disposal, you'll almost always want to aim for one of the special pegs found on the various boards. One of my favorites is definitely the bomb peg as it deals a massive 50 damage to all enemies on screen, which in Peglin's case can be quite a lot!

This is easier said than done, however, as these bomb pegs not only require two hits to trigger, but they're usually positioned in awkward locations that require a bit of effort to get to. Figuring out when to take the risk and when to simply play it safe and go for the maximum amount of damage is quite tricky, but it's also one of the main reasons why I found Peglin's very simple gameplay loop to be so engaging.

Additionally, once you do manage to nail one of these special pegs your orb will shoot out in a seemingly random direction at great speed, thus giving you even more chances to keep the chain going or simply rack up extra damage. This is a fairly random process since you can't really control the direction your orb will be ejected to, but since it's pretty much always in your favor it's less of an annoyance and more of a spectacle to enjoy.

Peglin screenshot of a big boom coming up

Now that's going to be a big boom!

Difficulty curve

The only aspect of Peglin's combat that did annoy me were some of the incredibly difficult encounters you could run into without having access to much of anything in terms of upgrades. Even though it's entirely possible to triumph in these battles, it often comes at such a great cost that you're better off just restarting the run instead of scrapping your upgrades to recover a small bit of health.

Once you have a relic or two under your belt, and ideally an upgraded orb that serves as your main damage source, all of those problems thankfully go away and the fights start to feel fair and balanced. The same applies to the bosses as well. Despite them having an immense amount of health and highly damaging attacks, I never found them to be irritating to go against. Even when I lost I always felt I could've done something better, which is definitely a good sign for a rogue-like.

So as long as the full version can limit the first few tiles on the world map to a pool of easy encounters, I think Peglin will be a pretty relaxed experience despite the somewhat steep difficulty curve.

Peglin screenshot of a bunch of enemies attacking the player

You can get a ton of enemies as early as room 2 or 3 


Speaking of relaxing, it's worth mentioning that Peglin's presentation is straight up adorable. The music is nice and upbeat, your character looks like a plush goblin, while the enemies you have to fight against are some of the most vicious creatures around like slimes wielding tiny swords or cute little bats slowly flapping up and down.

I especially love how the board you throw your orbs onto is often themed around the encounter itself. So if you're fighting a minotaur mini-boss the pegs will be in the shape of a bull's horns, and if you're fighting a horde of bats then they will look like a bat.

Besides offering a nice bit of visual diversity, this also changes up the gameplay in a significant way since different shapes require different strategies. After all, if you just throw your orbs into the center of a spider's web, all you're going to achieve is create a hole that will funnel all of your subsequent orbs straight into the pit of sadness.

After a couple of runs, however, I did start to notice that some of the boards and shapes repeat a bit too frequently. Now this could be because I played a demo that doesn't have all of the content from the full version, and I certainly hope that's the case as we're going to be seeing these same fights over and over again with each new run.

Peglin screenshot of a swarm of bats

It's a swarm of bats!

Another fun little bit of visual flair that has a surprising amount of gameplay impact is the way you choose where to go next on the world map. Instead of simply selecting a path and going on your merry way, you have to throw an orb into one of the two available routes, all the while avoiding the flaming center that will damage you each time you land there.

Sometimes these map selection boards are pre-made and it's fairly easy to choose where you want to go, and sometimes you'll have to make your choice on the same board you just did battle on. So if you've hit the reset peg towards the end of the encounter in order to make the fight easier, choosing your preferred destination is going to be rather tricky. Conversely, if you've finished the battle with a nearly empty board you'll then be able to simply launch yourself into the next level without even breaking a sweat.

A silly little addition in the grand scheme of things, but quite an entertaining one as nothing spices up a run better than having the hand of fate suddenly thrust you into the loving embrace of a mini-boss while you were just trying to cruise through some easy encounters!

Peglin screenshot of the firey pits that serve as the level select 'bosses'

Closing Thoughts

While simple at the outset, I found Peglin to be a surprisingly interesting and addictive little rogue-like. Even with the demo's limited amount of encounters and enemies there were still plenty of different strategies try out, so if the full version can expand upon the whole system without messing up the current difficulty curve, I have a feeling Peglin will be a pretty good time.

Whether I'm correct in my assumption, I suppose we'll find out soon enough as Peglin will be launching into Early Access on April 25th, 2022. You can check it out, as well as give the demo a try yourself, by bouncing over to Steam. Have fun!