Review by SneakTheSnake

Reviewed: 07/18/11

Let's look in this Pac-ture book.

Pac-Man is just about as versatile a character as Mario. The little dot-muncher gets in a kart sometimes to ride around, solves a puzzle or two, hops and bops his way like a platforming champ and, on multiple occasions, he’s even traveled back in time. He’s most famous, though, for chomping up dots and eating up those pesky ghosts, and it’s his voracious hunger that serves as the main objective in Pac-Pix.

Pac-Pix may come off as a crude tech demo at first (and I believe it was at one time), but there’s a bit more to it than meets the eye. The main gimmick of the game is that players draw Pac-Man on the screen with the stylus and get him to eat up all ghosts on screen. It gets a bit more complicated than this, and the game becomes too convoluted for its own good. With control and stylus issues rampant in the later levels, Pac-Pix becomes an exercise in frustration.

It seems poor Pac has been trapped in a magic storybook. In order to get himself out of the book, he enlists the player’s help; players must use their “magic” DS stylus to draw a series of symbols to help Pac-Man out of his jam. Pac-Man acts as both player avatar and Navi, appearing in cutscenes to explain the plot or new gameplay elements as they come along.

Gameplay starts off simple. Players draw a pizza with a slice missing - the infamous Pac-Man shape. The drawing then comes to life on screen; the Pac-Man you just drew will begin munching forward in whatever direction he was drawn in, eating up any ghosts in his path. The bigger you draw Pac-Man, the slower he’ll move, so small Pacs will move like little bursts of lightning. Players can direct Pac-Man where to go by drawing walls (since the stages don’t have any) in the direction they want him to travel. Try to keep the same Pac-Man on screen as long as you can, though, because players have a limited amount of lives, i.e. times Pac-Man can be drawn in one stage. Eliminate all the ghosts and the stage is over.

It all starts off rather nicely. If it sounds oversimplistic, I have two points; first, even if the game were to stay exactly this same way, unaltered, that’s fine. I agree that the game is very, very simple. However, it’s in the spirit of the original Pac-Man arcade classic; any player can pick up and play Pac-Pix, as it requires very little instruction and (at least in the first few chapters) has practically no learning cure. It’s endearing, it works well on the DS and I for one had a great time playing it. It’s simple because the original game was simple - and I mean that in a positive light.

Second, the game does gradually get more complicated and difficult as it goes on. Players must not only draw Pac-Man, but also several objects to help him get by. Players can shoot off arrows to free ghosts who are trapped in the top screen or to activate faraway switches. Players must also draw bombs to blow up certain barriers and stun ghosts. Pac must also collect keys from time to time or eat some ghosts in numerical order. This all sounds fine, but there are many gameplay and control restrictions preventing players from embracing this game.

Not only are there time limits in Pac-Pix, but there are limits to how many times players can draw Pac-Man. Run out of time or Pac-Men, and players start the whole chapter over again - this could mean replaying several stages in a row. Also, the stylus controls don’t always work as they should for bombs and arrows; the game can be incredibly finicky with drawings, and it might take several redraws before a bomb finally works. The game tells players to draw bombs in a certain way, but the way I got them to work was not the way the game advised me to draw them.

The game becomes a victim of its own control scheme. Developers were just starting to work with the DS - learning its strengthts and weaknesses, as well as how players could interact with their games vis-a-vis the stylus. As such, Pac-Pix is an ambitious product, one among the many stylus-heavy launch titles for the DS which try to use the stylus not only for creative tasks, but also as a necessity - an asset - for control. However, the game asks too much of the player and requires him to be more accurate than the game actually allow; players can’t be sharp-shooters, bomb experts and locksmiths and expect to keep a Pac-Man on screen at the same time. For a game with a childlike atmosphere, clearly aimed at younger players, the game can sure get complicated.

As such, Pac-Pix is a delight to play for the first few chapters and then becomes an exercise in tedium. However, on the upside, the game looks and sounds good. Pac-Pix shows off a unique graphical style, giving off the feeling of a children’s picture book - not entirely unlike Yoshi’s Island. The characters and backgrounds look like aged crayon etchings, and the game, upon start-up, invites players in by showing the opening up of a book, inviting players into this unique tale. It might come off to some as amateurish, but I feel it complements the idea that, well, we’re drawing the main character in the game. Few can draw straight lines and perfect circles on the spot, so our squiggly lines and lumpy circles fit in well with theirs. The music mostly consists of some nicely-recorded piano tunes, which fit in well with the light-hearted atmosphere of the game.

Pac-Pix is a game a person will want to like. It’s a fun game for children and seasoned players to mess around with, and it’s a very interesting interpretation of the old Pac-Man model (heck, at least it’s more sensible than Pac-in-Time or Pac-Man World Rally), The dent in the armor is that, despite the game’s apparent promise of dozens of levels, the game’s unnecessary gameplay restrictions and tough-to-master control scheme will almost guarantee that players won’t get to make it through to the end of it.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Product Release: Pac-Pix (US, 04/26/05)

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