Review by midwinter
Reviewed: 03/22/05 | Updated: 03/28/05
Pac This In Your Pipe And Smoke It
Here's an interesting piece of trivia for you: the name Pacman was derived from the Japanese term Paku, a sound our far eastern friends use to represent a swift biting motion. Paku, paku, paku, and thusly a legend was born... or was it? For if we were to be honest, the recent adventures of our pill popping, globular friend have been less than inspiring. Heck, you could probably even call them down-right forgettable. Pac-World? Pac-Fever? Please, they weren't ever a patch on the original. But with 2005 marking Namco's Golden anniversary, the Pac-meister has been dusted off in preparation for his inaugural journey into the world of touch screen gaming. Melding an old school design ethos with the unique high tech charms of Nintendo's latest handheld, Pac-Pix works by providing one of the most original, yet oddly familiar experiences the franchise has ever seen. Tough, compulsive, and almost frighteningly addictive, Nintendo's promise of a new portable future suddenly seems more plausible than ever. Occasional frustrations, taboo for the time being...
Once upon a time there lived a hero...
... yada, yada, yada, who are we kidding? Apparently though such things are worthwhile, and it's in a typical, why are we bothering kind of fashion that Pac-Pix begins with a story. Somewhere, sometime, perhaps not too long ago there lived a wizard. A mighty old man for sure, but as luck would have it he was also a tad mischievous to boot. You see, doing what wizards do isn't as exciting as one may think, and after a while even a magical wand begins to loose its spark. It was in the grip of tedium then that he set about blending a jar of Ghost Ink, a powerful formula capable of giving life to spirits wherever they're drawn. Now, this may not have been the smartest thing to do, and before he could say "who ya gonna call?" the situation got decidedly out of hand. Hello, Pacman Sir? We have a problem... those ghosts have taken up residence in a series of books, and no amount of pill popping is going to get them out. So what will you do?
When you're working for a wizard though nothing's impossible, particularly when it's his vocation that's currently on the line. Cue your recently empowered "magical pen" and together now, let's open a book in order to see exactly what it is you're in for. Using the dual screens to represent a two page spread, players must first focus their attention on the lower display where a neat instructional video will guide them in what it takes to draw a serviceable Pacman. Without lifting your pen from the page, a quick outline of our little yellow friend will yield results as he comes to life only to paku, paku, paku his way off the edge of the screen. Uh-huh, and now let's talk about control. By drawing a line in front of your recently animated Pacman, players can turn him through a 90 degree angle and thusly direct his movements. An upward stroke will illicit an upwards movement while moving your pen from left to right will have him chomping right-ways across the horizontal. And that as they say is that...
Like peeling back a head of lettuce, each subsequent stage reveals hidden depth as new variables are added to the equation. Whereby the first level simply has players chasing a number of ghosts around a single page, later stages redefine complexity with their almost puzzle-like design. Blocks serve to bounce Pacman back the way he came while ghosts protect themselves from head on encounters with a series of personal force fields. The top screen is then opened up, adding a further dimension to the action that already seems a tad too frantic. With both displays now in full effect, players will need to not only guide their Pacmen around the place, but still find the time to launch a volley of hand drawn arrows at the ghosts hanging menacingly above. It's fast and frantic action laced with a heady dose of brain twisting resource management, slightly marred by a big black blemish of fist shaking properties.
For it's this element of frustration that brings things down a notch, not because the action is cheap so much as the game design is unforgiving. A single Pac-Pix stage is comprised of between 5 to 6 rounds, and only by completing each of them in turn will progress ultimately be saved. Make a single mistake however and you'll be forced back to the beginning again, repeating what you've just learned in the hopes of finally getting it right. It's annoying to be sure, but oddly enough once Pac-Pix has you there's no turning back. Partly thanks to a nicely balanced learning curve, players will push on in order to reveal the hidden delights that later stages offer. There's technique to learn and sights to see, curiosity derived from abundant variety gives form to all the incentive you'll ever need. Push on through those niggles Gentlemen, the best is yet to come...
As if to demonstrate the player's growing ability, Pac-Pix features a series of "boss" encounters that demand not only perfect concentration, but the use of each and every technique they've picked up along the way. A giant sized ghost runs rampant across the screen while a purple blueberry monster hangs by a thread, and the only way you'll be able to conquer such annoyances is by using your old noggin and thinking things through. Draw an equally as large Pacman to eliminate the ghost then time a blast of arrows to dislodge the blueberry. Eat them up once they're vulnerable and it's paku, paku, paku, another one bites the dust. Complete the challenge within a set criteria however and you'll also receive an unlockable bonus that further compliments your budding sense of confidence. The longer you play, the more you'll unlock, the more you'll want to believe that Nintendo may have had a point after all.
If like me you enjoy a little originality with your gaming then you've probably already found yourself chomping at the proverbial bit. So let's make no bones about it, Pac-Pix is gameplay in its most pure of forms. A simple, expressive challenge that hides its hidden depth under a welcoming exterior of warm nostalgia and high tech cool. The graphics while simplistic are mostly a product of your own hand, a personal montage of Pac designs proving to be as endearing as any Namco might have produced. Overbites, underbites, Pacmen both big and small. The simple auditory hues further manage to inspire, thriving not only in the franchise's once proud heritage, but in its bright and shiny future as well. And while there's sure to be a certain level of frustration from time to time, the sense of reward and accomplishment at the end of the day soon dispels such negative vibes. Pac-Pix is Nintendo's promise given form, a wholly unique experience that can't be found anywhere else. DS owners and those with an eye for magic would do well to check it out...
* Unique, fresh, and very, very original
* Touch screen response is smooth and flawless
* A nicely graded learning curve will welcome you in
* There's a huge variety of stages on offer
* As players progress, the number of abilities they have at their disposal will begin to increase
* It's simple graphics prove endearing
* The soundtrack features a series of remixed Pac classics
* Though somewhat forgettable, the unlockables are always appreciated
* It actually makes Nintendo's promise of new trends in gaming seem possible
* The simplistic visuals may drive the more shallow of gamers away
* The story wasn't necessary
* Having to replay an entire stage upon making a single mistake can be frustrating
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
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