Caelum is the debut release by indie outfit APGames which involves a mix of gravity, balls and coloured orbs. Like Peggle. Drop a ball, try to hit as many orbs as possible and clear all the red ones to complete the level and move onto the next. Like Peggle.
I tried my hardest to look at it objectively, avoiding comparisons to that eponymous crack-pot bagatelle joy, but I couldn’t manage it and I doubt you could either. It’s hard to make a bagatelle game that doesn’t look or feel like Peggle, so devs really must strain their guts to squeeze the joy that PopCap generates from such a simplistic idea.
And Caelum doesn’t. It’s set in the cold of space with no bright colours or interesting quirks; unicorns, ode to joy etc. The only similarity to PopCap’s playful style is the diary entries of ROB, the robot who’s doing the orb hitting to generate energy or some such macguffin. It is cute and unpredictable with a highlight in which ROB hits a button and turns Scottish. Note: “a highlight“, the problem being that it’s the only highlight.
As in Peggle there are the obligatory power-ups to collect by hitting a green orb, and then activate before dropping the next ball. They include a fireball (oh look, it goes through the orbs!), an explosive shot (hit a red orb first and things explode!) and, slightly more interestingly, control of the board at the bottom of the screen.
This board is one of the two unique ideas that Caelum has. If a ball hits the board on its initial descent, gravity inverts and the ball starts to make its way back up the screen, hitting more orbs. It then hits the top and moves back down. The brilliance of this means it is (slightly) less a game of luck and there is some sense of achievement to be gained in the planning and execution of your own micro-strategy.
Sadly, half the time you’ll forget the power ups altogether; although they offer some sense of tactical nuance as you must actually select which power-up to use (as opposed to having one foisted upon you at random), it was something I often didn’t bother with. The ten balls I started with (plus the two extra balls I kept getting for some untold reason) were enough to complete a level with several left over. The power-ups simply served to occasionally make it even easier.
Unique Idea Number Two is that some balls aren’t fixed in position. Instead these orbs are on strings and can be knocked into others like a kind of Newton’s Cradle. Oh, and you can also make all the orbs wobble, but only about three pixels in either direction. Which is useless.
And speaking of uselessness, the scoring feature didn’t make me think ‘George got a much higher score than me. I need to do it again and beat him’. In something with precious little narrative motivation to play through, a scoreboard that you can see and compete upon would add to the longevity and there isn’t one here at all.
Everything that Caelum does, Peggle does better. The writing, the style and the depth of gaming experience doesn’t stand up to PopCap’s addictive digidrug. When you can get a copy of Peggle Nights for free via the PopCap passport, you’d be stupid to spend £8 on this.