Overall Score 70%
Iíll save you a bit of time Googling the word Caelum. Turns out, itís Latin for ďthe heavensĒ and also ďthe chiselĒ (as per the constellation of the same name). Interestingly, either of these meanings could be aptly applied to the look and feel of the game or the actual gameplay mechanics. Iím not sure which the developers had in mind when they named the game. Either way, itís a good, if somewhat unorthodox choice. The game is indeed set in deep space, and the object of the game is to chip away at a field of orbs using a ball that is fired from the top of the screen. If youíre wondering where youíve seen this kind of gameplay before, itís pretty much a Peggle clone. Yep, itís Peggle in space.
The player controls a robot that has been sent into deep space to collect valuable red orbs. These orbs are manifestations of pure energy, and needed on earth to satiate mankindís desire for more and more of the stuff. Apparently though, only the red orbs will do, and the orb fields are filled with pesky blue orbs that get in the way of efficient collection techniques. Green orbs may be collected as well. There are 2 green orbs on every level and these can bestow special powers on the next ball shot from the robotís cannon. On some levels the player might also find pink balls, which can be shifted around the level and can convey momentum to other orbs, as well as square shaped bricks of various colours that simply act as their like-coloured round counterparts.
Actually the game really doesnít try to differentiate itself from Peggle very much at all. The player has a set amount of balls that can be fired from a cannon at the top of the screen. The object is to clear all of the red orbs from a level. As the ball bounces down through the field of coloured orbs, those that are touched are marked, and when the ball disappears from the bottom of the playfield, the marked orbs are removed from play. Instead of Peggleís giant bucket, Caelum has a paddle at the bottom of the screen that moves back and forth. If you hit the paddle with the ball (note that under normal circumstances you can never directly control the paddle) then gravity is reversed and the ball bounces back up the screen before hitting the top of the playfield and making one more pass in a downwards direction through the field of orbs. I actually like the paddle concept better than Peggleís bucket, but just wish that it could be used more than once per shot. If the ball hits the paddle a second time, then itís just treated as a normal bumper. Of course, if you run out of balls before all red orbs have been collected, then itís game over.
The powerups are equally useful in different situations. As the player only receives 2 per level, thereís a fair amount of strategy involved in planning when and where to use them. One allows control of the paddle for a short period of time, one gives access to a ball that can explode and claim any orbs in its area of splash damage, and the third powerup grants a ball that can claim and pass through any of the orbs on the field. The success of the first few balls on any level tends to be more dependent on luck than anything else, but as the orb field thins out, a surprising amount of skill and judgement is required to perform carom shots and deflections off bumpers and walls. The playfield and orbs donít have that springy, rubbery quality that the levels in Peggle did, and this leads to a less manic and more predictable ball path through the playfield. You can also nudge the orbs very slightly to the left or right to turn those Peggle near misses into Caelum hits.
Given that the nature of games like this are heavily dependent on luck as well as player skill, the levels need to be balanced to ensure that they are not ridiculously difficult, or so easy that the game becomes a cakewalk. The level design accomplishes a good, steady difficulty throughout the story mode, though a side effect of this is that repetition tends to creep in. Levels never play out exactly the same way twice, since orb colours are randomised each time, yet there isnít a great deal that differentiates one level from the next in many cases. I would have liked to have seen a few more elements like bumpers or vacuums, which could quite easily have fitted into the theme of the game as asteroids or black holes etc.
The journal entries from the robot protagonist provide a break and some light humour in between levels. They are quite well written and will provide a bit of a chuckle as well as affording a personal quality to the story that helps to drive the player through the 50 campaign levels. If you can manage to get through them, they are unlocked in a hard mode as well as a good few challenge levels. These make the player clear fields with proportionally higher counts of red orbs, afford less balls, or forbid the use of powerups - some of them are quite tricky. Iíve cleared the story mode and all the challenge levels over the course of a couple of hours. The hard mode is progressing a little more slowly, but itís certainly not impossible. To its credit, the game remains fun to play right through, and for those who like unlocking in-game achievements, there are lots of trophies to collect along the way too!
The graphical style of the game is perhaps intentionally simple and subdued. The ambient tunes and sound effects fit the presentation nicely; in fact, I think I prefer the simple presentation to the colour, noise and mayhem of Peggleís levels. Thatís definitely a matter of personal choice though, and some Peggle veterans might find it all a little bland.
Caelum is a good Peggle remake that offers very little in the way of innovation. Itís got very low system specifications and that assures that it would run on almost any PC out there. The entirely mouse driven controls give it a real casual flavour and itís happy to be played in small chunks since the playerís progress is conveniently auto-saved each time they leave the game. If you enjoyed Peggle, and want to try the same gameplay with a space twist, then Caelum has you covered.
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