From the traditional to the obscure, any genre that achieved some presence, if not success, on the DS is getting the chance to come back in the third dimension on the Nintendo 3DS. One of the last to make the leap to the new system is the party minigame genre, which has periodically shown up over the years but is best remembered in the form of Mario Party DS. Like so many games this year, the genre debut on the new portable console isn't being handled by Nintendo but by a major third-party publisher. In this case, Namco Bandai Games is taking on the task of putting out the first 3-D party minigame collection. While the original Wii version was considered pretty decent, Pac-Man Party 3D can't seem to live up to that title.
The game is a port of the Wii version released last year, so those who are familiar with that will know how this game plays out. Players start out on one of three boards (missing two from the Wii release) and are given a target goal of cookies. Once that is set, players move around the board, as determined by various microgames, like throwing darts at balloons or hitting the stop button on a slot machine, eating smaller cookies along the way while landing on blank spaces. Landing on a blank space gives the player the chance to build a castle, while landing on adjacent spaces after a castle has been built allows the dwelling to increase in size. Ending your turn at any part of someone else's castle initiates a minigame battle, where the attacker tries to get the castle from the defender. If the attacker wins, the castle is taken, but if the attacker loses, the defender wins some of the opponent's cookies for his efforts. The other two players, while having no stake in the outcome, can still participate to get a few cookies for themselves. Once a player reaches the start point, bonus cookies are given for only landing there and for the amount of castles owned and their various sizes. A winner is determined when one player reaches the board's cookie quota and makes it to the starting point.
There are three single-player modes. Story mode actually puts together a plot for all of the boards. In Pac-land, someone is trying to steal the recipe to the world's most delicious cookie. To prevent that from happening, the land's best baker has sent the recipe to Pac-Man for safe keeping. However, before he has a chance to secure it, a gang of ghosts swipes it from him and tries to run off with it. As the titular hero, your job is to travel through the land and challenge the ghosts to a series of games. The winner gets to possess the secret recipe.
Going through this mode will uncover many of the issues one has with the game. The first is that despite everyone moving at the same time, the game moves at the slow pace of most board games. In between every turn, you'll spend time seeing castles transform, castles being built, cookies being earned, and first-place crowns change hands. Each one of those actions is played out in separate scenes, and the amount of time taken for each one only multiplies as you have more people playing. It gets worse when someone loses more cookies than he has, as the game forces you to view the same losing animation twice before foreclosing on castles to help pay the difference. The fact that they can't be skipped only leads to more frustration as you sit and wait for each result to calculate before the next move can be performed. This is further compounded by the fact that the game always initiates a saving screen between moves, making the wait times even longer than the Wii version.
The other issue comes with the minigames themselves, which are exactly the same as the ones featured on the Wii. It's clear that these games were built with the motion controls in mind, but some of them don't play out so badly when replaced with touch controls. Others, like the various shooters, go for analog controls instead, making them feel slower while some, like the fruit slicing one, doesn't feel as responsive. The bad controls ruin some of the games so that their mediocrity comes to the forefront, degrading the overall experience.
Party mode lets you play through the boards in Story mode without the story elements. You get to choose any character and play with up to three computer-controlled players of any difficulty level. All of the boards are unlocked for play, and the boss fights are thrown in as well, should you be able to hit the necessary triggers to activate them.
Minigames mode lets you play through the 50 different minigames in the game in any order and with any number of players. Since there's no board to help determine the overall winner, a racing-like scoreboard is used instead, where points are given to players depending on their placement in each game. The winner is the one who scored the highest number of points overall. Like Party mode, all of the minigames are open, so everyone can go straight to this without worrying about Story mode first. This features some multiplayer in the form of alternating play on one system, but the feature is very limiting. There are only three games to choose from, each on one round segments, making it an experience worth skipping instead of trying.
To sweeten up things, the game includes three classic Namco games: Dig Dug, Galaga and Pac-Man. The games are still great classics, but the developers seem to have dropped the ball on this one. All three games are presented solely on the top screen in its original vertical format. While this ensures that they're arcade perfect, the screen size of the system makes them feel smaller than usual. The 3-D effect is also turned off for these games. While that isn't a big deal, consider how many times these three games have been re-released in the past few years alone. Putting in the extra effort to make these games similar to the release of the recent 3D Classics: Xevious would have made the package appealing to a broader audience. As it stands, the inclusion of these three games is more detrimental than helpful to the package.
As always, multiplayer can make a party game better, and it's here that the game does something worthwhile. Multiplayer can be done with up to four different 3DS systems and played with only one cart. The experience doesn't seem to be crippled in any way as every character, board and game are selectable by the host, and there doesn't seem to be an option to do multiplayer play with multiple carts. As good as this is, there's no option for online play, so you have to hope that there are always people around with their 3DS systems if you want to engage in some multiplayer.
The graphics have been toned down from the original Wii release, but no one would have expected the team to tone it down this drastically. The characters look the same and are rendered decently despite the questionable new looks, but there's no change to their facial expressions. Everyone is still smiling whether they win or lose, making their losing animations unremarkable. Animations are also decent, so character movement looks the same. The environments take a bigger hit, though, as they no longer have any moving elements to liven them up. The colors are still bright, but the textures look muddy, especially on a good number of the minigames. Worse yet, there's plenty of pop-up on the game board when any character moves through. Seeing castles constantly pop in and out as a character approaches is pretty bad, and one would have expected better from such a veteran team working on the port.
Like most of the 3-D efforts so far, this one doesn't benefit much from having it enabled. The amount of depth added to the game board isn't that noticeable, and some of the minigames don't need the effect to be playable. Other games that could have used it, though, don't seem to take advantage of it, as they don't scale objects properly when they're either close or far from the screen. The only positive is that turning on 3-D doesn't hurt the game's performance, but with such questionable implementation, you'll most likely opt for it being off.
The diminutive nature of the system doesn't hurt the sound at all. The music is lighthearted fare, though snippets of it pay homage to the character's arcade roots. The sound effects work. They won't exactly blow your speakers, but they don't sound tinny, either. The voices become the lone bad spot for the sound department, as characters are restricted to speaking gibberish instead of full words and phrases. This is fine, but the chosen pitch for each character is much higher than expected. The new characters sound decent, but the ghosts don't sound menacing enough, and Pac-Man's voice is much higher than one would imagine.
Pac-Man Party was better as a Wii game, though one has to applaud Pac-Man Party 3D for trying to replicate the experience on the portable scene. Throwing in single-cart multiplayer was another gutsy move. However, you won't be able to shake the feeling that this game was built specifically for the Wii and was ported halfheartedly, with some boards removed and some games being poor choices for the portable environment. Combined with a severe graphical downgrade that isn't helped by the use of 3-D, and you have a disappointing port. Some really good games are starting to hit the system now, so there isn't much of a reason to get this one unless you're really craving a portable party-style game and have grown tired of Mario Party DS.
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