Release Date: April 26, 2005
Buy 'PAC-PIX': NDS
Pac-Man has been around almost as long as video gaming itself. The torso-less yellow hero has made such an incredible number of appearances across almost all the consoles over the years that he isn't just a character in a video game. He's a gaming institution. It should come as no surprise that Namco has decided to bring Pac-Man onto Nintendo's latest handheld device. Pac-Pix is an action game that features the same ghost-gobbling action that is familiar to fans, but with a quirky new twist.
The story of Pac-Pix revolves around a wizard that creates something called "Ghost Ink," and anything that is written with this ink turns into a ghost. Of course, Pac-Man gets involved and eliminates all of the ghosts except the ones in one final book. Using his magic pen, he sets out to destroy the ghosts in the final book, but is captured and trapped in the pages with the ghosts, so it's now up to the player to wield the magic pen and rid this book of ghosts. It's a fairly simple plot, but it fits with the gameplay, so it works.
Wielding the magic pen (otherwise known as the stylus), the player takes the responsibility of drawing Pac-Man, who in turn comes to life and starts chomping away. Starting with the "V" shape of Pac-Man's mouth, you can draw him facing in any direction, and make him big or small. It's really quite entertaining to watch Pac-Man come alive in whatever misshapen form you draw. As long as you stick to the guideline of drawing his mouth first, it's pretty easy to get it down and form a Pac-Man on command.
Once Pac-Man is formed, he starts moving. The larger ones move slowly, while a small one moves quite quickly. To change his direction, you draw a line in front of him in the direction that you want him to move. If your Pac-Man is moving left to right, and you draw a line bottom to top, he'll turn upwards. If you drew the line top to bottom, he'd turn downwards. It's complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it it's easy. You can also grab Pac-Man and stop him for a brief instant. If he runs off the stage, he's lost forever, unless he's going on the path to the top screen. During the course of the game, you'll soon learn other gestures. An arrow and a bomb are among the items you can form using the stylus.
Each chapter is broken down into five pages, with a boss page at the end of certain chapters. There are 12 chapters in all, each one more challenging than the last. At the start of each page, you're informed how many Pac-Mans you can draw, how much time you have, and how many total ghosts there are. Each page is usually broken into two parts. First, you gobble up the initial ghosts that appear, and then more appear, and you finish them off to complete the page.
The game starts easily enough, requiring only a simple Pac-Man to be drawn to complete the stage. As you get to the final chapters, you'll be popping bubbles, blowing up bricks, and bouncing arrows across the screen using mirrors. The bottom screen is where most of the action takes place, since this is where you draw Pac-Man, arrows, and bombs. The top screen has a small pathway that you can send Pac-Man on, but sometimes, it can be locked. You'll soon find that there are switches that have to be activated, either by a ghost or a moving block going over them, or toggled by Pac-Man or an arrow. These switches can unlock the top path, light a candle (used to ignite the fuse of a bomb), or remove an obstacle on the top screen that is preventing an arrow from reaching its target.
There are several different classes of ghost that haunt the books, requiring different strategies for dealing with them. Some, like the pink ghosts, are stupidly easy, barely attempting to avoid being gobbled up, while others, like the yellow ghosts, drip paint on the pages of the book, which can interrupt any lines that you try to draw on the touch screen. Then there are the boss ghosts, which are in a completely different league, requiring several different tactics to take down. Additionally, there are other variations to the ways the enemies are presented. As you progress in the game, you'll definitely have to make good use of all of the gestures that you learn. The final chapters especially require an insane amount of furious drawing, both to move Pac-Man around and to take care of all of the ghosts on the page.
The graphics are simple, but maintain the overall charm and style of the Pac-Man series. The ghosts are animated nicely, the sprite-work is detailed, and the game is really colorful. The only things that can be ugly in this game are the drawings you complete (some of the Pac-Mans I made were seriously deformed monstrosities). It's quite funny to see your drawings munching away on the screen, especially when they look ridiculous. The only problem is that sometimes it's hard to get the game to recognize the gestures you make; oftentimes, I'd find myself trying to draw an arrow three or four times before I'd get it right and it'd shoot upward. Other times, my Pac-Mans didn't form, or were thought to be the beginnings of a bomb. As long as you concentrate and follow the proper style, you'll have no problems with your gesture. Unfortunately, it's hard to get it right when you've got to do it quickly.
Pac-Pix also retains the auditory tradition of its predecessors. Your Pac-Mans still make the familiar "wakka" sound when they move around, and the good old musical themes from the past games also make a return. Everything about the sound just screams Pac-Man. The only thing that's a bit annoying are the cut scenes where Pac-Man talks to you because the "wakka" sound is going on while he speaks, and it gets a bit grating. Other than that, the sound is excellent.
Since there are only 12 chapters in the game, it doesn't last all that long. Once the game is completed, a second book opens, but it has the same chapters as the first, with the only difference being that things move faster and it's a bit more difficult. Apart from that, the replay value is dependent upon getting the high scores, a better chapter rank, and unlocking special cards that display the different characters and items from the game. It's yet another holdover from the arcade days, when high scores were all that mattered. These days, games like that don't do very well, but Pac-Pix maintains its old school roots, and the high score aspect doesn't diminish the fun that can be found in this title.
Pac-Pix is a charming game, something new and exciting that hints at the possibilities of the Nintendo DS. The first time you see your Pac-Man come to life on the screen, the one that you have drawn, it's impossible not to smile. The rest of the game is challenging enough to keep you busy for a little while, but the fun factor is what will keep you coming back to beat your old high scores. While not deep, Pac-Pix is an innovative and rewarding experience.