Developer: Namco | Publisher: Namco | Release Date: 2005 | Genre: Puzzle / Arcade | Website: N/A | Purchase: Amazon
| Size: 128 Mbit
Pac-Man is one of those characters that, along with Mario and Sonic, have become synonymous with videogames. Not bad for a yellow circle with a wedge taken out. His fame has also led him to become the star of numerous spin-off titles, although few have come close to his original outing. The pill muncher popped up again in a tech demo that demonstrated the DS touch screen capabilities and, like Yoshi Touch & Go has also evolved into a full-fledged game now.
The plot for Pac-Pix seems to be aimed at kindergarten kids, but in case you are interested, it goes as follows: after creating something called a “ghost ink”, a mischievous wizard unleashes the resulting spirits into the world, where they cause havoc. Pac-Man rushes to the rescue and saves the day by using a magic pen to trap all the ghosts in a single book. Before he can vanquish them completely, they retaliate and trap him on a piece of paper. This is where you come in. By drawing Pac-Man using the magic pen, ahem, I mean stylus, he can gobble up the ghosts and save the day.
Goofy plot aside, the gameplay mechanics are quite novel and make good use of the new technology. Unfortunately, it is also a bit of a one trick pony, so once the novelty wears off, you are left with quite a shallow game. Its tech demo-roots are painfully obvious and while I salute Namco for attempting something new, I wish they found a way to make it a little less bland. Your goal is to clear each page of a set number of ghosts. This is done by drawing up to three Pac-Man (men?) at a time, which will move in the direction they are facing, devouring all in their way. If they roam off-screen, you lose them and since you have a limited amount on your page, you definitely want to avoid that by drawing walls to guide their movement. Enemies will try to escape, so you need to be deft with your drawings and guidance. You have control over the speed of Pac-Man by drawing him smaller so that he is more nimble or larger, which makes him slower but harder to dodge.
Clear all the ghosts and you complete the page. Clear five pages and you face a boss before ending the chapter. Finis all twelve chapters and the game is finished. Each page has a time limit to make it more challenging and if you run out of Pac-Men before the ghosts are cleared, it is back to the start of the chapter. Later levels also task you with drawing arrows and bombs for added interaction, but that is about it. Even the inclusion of some funny, but ultimately unchallenging boss levels, fails to elevate the gameplay much.
Visually the game looks very basic, and while the 2D sprites are very faithful to the original, times have moved on a lot since then. Since each stage is just a static blank page, it can make the game look pretty empty. Some levels allow you to guide Pac-Man to the top screen in order to collect pick-ups or chase down renegade ghosts, but it does not contribute much to the visuals. Since Pac-Man will look exactly as you draw him, you can imagine how warped he turns out if you scribble too hastily. I have drawn Pac-Men that looked like they fell into vats of toxic waste and were melting, but they kept soldiering on. The touch screen recognition is a bit wonky as your Pac-Man will only spring to life if you draw him in a very specific gesture. This can be a source of frustration in the middle of a heated level with the clock ticking down. I’ve also seen the yellow freak dart off in directions which were the polar opposite of where I meant for him to go, which is obviously not ideal. The same problems crop up with the bombs and arrows you have to draw in later stages.
I quite liked the audio, but that could just be because I am a sucker for nostalgia. If you are at all familiar with Pac-Man, you will catch a few familiar sound samples thrown in the mix. Those iconic sound effects also shine through. While I really wanted to like the game, it just failed to captivate me. Once it is over, there is very little reason to return, apart from the collectible cards showcasing characters and items from the Pac-Man world. The practice mode is also very limited and there is no multi-player at all. Even die-hard Pac-Man fans might struggle to find value for money here, which is a pity as there was definitely potential. One thing is for sure, this will not be the last time we see Pac-Man.
*Review originally published 2005.