Platform: Nintendo DS
Rating: E (Everyone)
Release Date: 04/26/2005
Namco’s yellow eating machine makes his first appearance on the DS with Pac-Pix. No, it’s not another port of the arcade Pac-Man. It’s not the latest installment of Pac-Man World. And it’s certainly not a sequel to that ghastly Pac-Man Fever. Believe it or not, Pac-Pix is…a drawing game?
Here’s the deal. There’s this nasty old wizard who was bored one day, so he invents this stuff called “Ghost Ink.” Anything written or painted with Ghost Ink automatically turns into ghosts, and the little specters begin wreaking havoc in books all over the world. Enter Pac-Man, who’s notorious for chowing down on ghosts who don’t behave. Armed with his Magic Pen (get your minds out of the gutter, you perverts), Pac-Man managed to seal all the ghosts away into a single book and negate the effect of the Ghost Ink. Before he can finish the job, though, the ghosts grab Pac-Man and trap him within the book as well! It falls to the player to help Pac-Man defeat the ghosts and escape, making the reading world safe for everyone once again.
Okay, so it’s not exactly award-winning material. What’s really important is that even though it’s simplistic, the story fits the game quite well. It’s a throwback to the arcade games of old, where the story wasn’t the driving force behind the game, but merely a stepping stone to get you into it.
The art in Pac-Pix is both good and bad. The good is the new art style developed for the game; all of the ghosts, items, and other objects have a hand-drawn/woodcut look to them. Backgrounds are non-existent on the lower screen, but that’s the point; you need room to draw. The upper screen has a water-colorish background that varies depending on the chapter, as well as occasional enemies and items appearing up there. Don’t expect to see any flashy 3D graphics here; there’s some on the title screen, but that’s about it. Everything else is crisp 2D, which should please older game fans.
The bad side of the graphics is entirely the fault of the player. The core gameplay element is drawing; therefore, if Pac-Man looks like a jumbled mess, then you have only yourself to blame. Still, this is hardly something you can fault the developers for. You just need to learn how to draw a pizza with a slice missing, doofus.
Classic Pac-Man sounds and music are back in Pac-Pix, and they’re often heavily remixed. Not that the original Pac-Man arcade game had a lot of music to begin with, but regardless, they’re here. Pac-Man’s trademark “wokka-wokka-wokka” noise is out in full force, both when moving around screens in the actual game, and when he dons his mortarboard to teach you how to draw various gestures during the tutorial sessions. Watching Pac-Man “talk” and hearing that classic noise is funny in and of itself. Sadly, this is really as far as the sound games. The music gets repetitive extremely quickly, and the developers really could’ve done more with the DS’ hardware. Even the GBA Pac-Man Collection had better remixes than this.
The stylus is used for 100% of the gameplay in Pac-Pix, something few DS games can boast. Your goal is simple: eat up all of the ghosts on your screen before the time runs out (or you run out of lives). To accomplish this, you literally draw Pac-Man on the touchscreen, and once the drawing is complete, he’ll start moving and chomping in whatever direction his mouth is facing. Since you don’t want him to fall off the edge (which results in you losing a life), you can draw lines to alter his course; he’ll turn and move off in the direction you drew the line.
There’s no power pellets anymore; if you touch a ghost, you’ll eat it. This is easier said than done, though, because some ghosts will dash away if you get to close. Other ghosts need to be eaten in a specific order, others can teleport, and some even have shields that’ll bounce Pac-Man in the opposite direction!
In later levels, you’ll gain access to more gestures, which naturally enable you to draw things other than Pac-Man and directional lines. The first new gesture you’ll get is the arrow. These can be used to hit switches, stun ghosts, and even knock down ghosts hiding on the top screen (where Pac-Man can’t go). Further in the game, you’ll receive the bomb gesture, which is handy for blasting ghosts out of bunkers as well as lighting candles (these trigger fire switches).
On the upper screen, you’ll see the Item Road. When “GO” symbols appear on the top of the touchscreen, Pac-Man can use them to traverse the Item Road and eat any items (or ghosts!) that may appear there. Sometimes, the Road is locked, and you’ll need to trigger a switch on the lower screen to unlock it. Most switches can be activated simply by moving over them, but others have different requirements, such as lighting a candle.
A chapter is comprised of five levels (1-1, 1-2, etc.). After finishing each chapter, you’ll receive a score rating, and possibly an unlockable freebie if you did well enough. You’re graded on your performance, on a D-C-B-A-S scale. Getting that coveted S-rank is no small feat indeed.
After a few chapters, you’ll be faced with boss fights. Each of these requires some novel use of the gestures you’ve learned up to that point, so be prepared for some quick thinking.
All in all, Pac-Pix makes the best use yet of the DS’ touchscreen. Watching your drawings immediately spring to life and eat things is an amazing concept, and Pac-Pix executes it quite well. Sometimes your gestures won’t be recognized and you’ll have to redraw them (this is especially apparent if you’re rushing), but it’s a very minor quirk. With patience and practice, you’ll have no trouble at all.
Speaking of which, if you want to practice your drawing skills outside of the normal game, there’s a Sketchpad mode that lets you test out all of the various gestures. In addition, there’s gestures that are only found in Sketchpad mode. These are just there for fun, and have no bearing on the rest of the game whatsoever.
There’s sixty chapters in the entire game (five books, with twelve chapters each), so Pac-Pix will keep you busy for a while. Achieving higher rankings unlocks cards for you to look at in the Gallery; plus, there’s that old-school feeling of wanting to get the highest score possible. After you grab all the cards, though, there’s not a whole lot else to do. The main story is the only game mode in Pac-Pix.
Pac-Pix starts out incredibly easy. By the last few books, though, you’ll really have to think (and draw!) quickly to survive. You’ll end up with less lives, less time, and a hell of a lot more ghosts to chow down on, with numerous obstacles and annoyances to confound you. This prevents you from beating the game too quickly, which is always a good thing.
The DS was always meant to be a vehicle for “innovation,” and Pac-Pix doesn’t disappoint in that regard. While there’s been games with drawing elements in the past (Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color springs to mind), none of them played like this. Using a beloved gaming character that spans generations to push these gameplay elements was an even smarter move.
Time can go by rather quickly when you’re playing Pac-Pix, but it’s not a game you’ll lose yourself in for hours on end. Pac-Pix is a game best played in brief increments, spread out over a larger period of time. Completing the later chapters can be rough, but you’ll want to press on to finish them. It’s the levels you’ve already beaten that pose a problem; even though you can revisit them to try and boost your ranking, that can get old really fast. And once you do achieve your desired ranking, there’s really no impetus for you to play through them anymore, unless you’re in the midst of a high score challenge with friends.
With the dearth of DS releases (compared to other consoles), many DS owners are going to snap Pac-Pix up like heroin addicts looking for a fix. It’s ironically a good marketing scheme. The downside is that since the game involves Pac-Man and not Lara Croft or Tommy Vercetti, the so-called “mature” gamers may pass this one off as “kiddie,” which it clearly is not. Don’t knock it until you try it.
In yet another case of Japanese gamers getting the cool stuff while US gamers get the shaft, Pac-Pix in Japan included a custom stylus. While this may not seem like too big of a deal, that custom stylus was actually the very same Magic Pen that Pac-Man uses in the game. There’s really no reason why such a cool collectible couldn’t have been included with the US release.
In addition, the Sketchpad mode on the Japanese version features more hidden gestures. Granted, this is hardly a gameplay hindrance (especially since these gestures involved toilet humor), but was it really necessary to “edit” the game before it hit the States?
The same thing happened with last fall’s Mr. Driller Drill Spirits. The Japanese got more gameplay modes, as well as a custom DS carrying bag. It makes absolutely no sense as to why this keeps happening; it’s inexcusable, not to mention insulting to fans in North America.
Overall Score: 68/100
FINAL SCORE: 7.0 (GOOD!)