The Nintendo DS is supposed to usher in new forms of gameplay. Taking a look at the current crop of games, it’s kind of hard to see this trend. Most titles seem like touch-screen twists of already defined genres. Pac-Pix (available from our import partners Lik-Sang), from Namco, is a game that is totally unique, and would not even be remotely possible on any platform other than the DS. Here’s our review of the import version.
Although the title is a twist on the classic Pac-Man, the two share very little in common. In Pac-Man, the protagonist is constantly under the threat of being destroyed by the ghosts, and can only defeat his foes with the help of a power pellet. In Pac-Pix, the tables have turned, and Pac-Man needs no special power up to best his foes.
As the game’s title and box art imply, Pac-Pix is about drawing. To be precise, it’s about drawing Pac-Man. After drawing a picture of Pac-Man, it will magically come to life and start chomping around the screen, hungry for ghosts. Pac-Man only heads in one direction, but walls can be drawn to shift his course. The concept is deceptively simple, and the game’s difficulty cranks up fairly quickly. New elements are added almost every page (the game’s term of levels, five of which make up a chapter). There are also new abilities gained every few chapters.
A wealth of enemies are out there to be devoured. The mix of bad guys keeps things interesting and frantic. The simplest is a small ghost that wanders the screen. As things get more difficult, newer enemy types will run away from Pac-Man and even teleport across the playing area. Other bad guys do things such as dropping ink on the field, making it so the touch-screen will not respond on those spots. Bosses in Pac-Pix are no wimps either. They often take up an entire screen and put up quite a fight. They’re pretty standard battles, in that the way to beat them is always by using the last ability Pac-Man has acquired.
In addition to Pac-Man and walls, other objects can be drawn to affect the playing area. After beating certain bosses, these abilities will be unlocked. The first one is the arrow. Drawing an arrow will spring it to life and send it flying across the screen, or even up to the top screen. Arrows are necessary to hit switches and enemies that Pac-Man cannot reach himself. The other ability is the bomb. Drawing a bomb and connecting a fuse to a nearby candle will cause an explosion, useful for cracking the armor off of some foes. Both of these abilities can also be used to stun ghosts.
With all these abilities, Pac-Pix can get complicated. Thankfully they are layered on slowly, giving enough time to get used to one before another is added on top of it. Still, the game is no slouch. Once the arrows are available, the game gets markedly more difficult. Trying and failing is the only way to learn in Pac-Pix, and it can become frustrating until everything clicks. Most of the chapters will take at least two tries to get through, especially the ones with boss fights at the end of them.
Pac-Pix makes excellent use of the DS’s dual screens and touch screen. There are no controls outside of the touch screen, as the game is focused solely on drawing. Thankfully, you don’t need to be Monet to be good at Pac-Pix. Almost any drawing that looks even remotely like Pac-Man will be sufficient enough to become Pac-Man. It’s actually quite humorous to watch a Pac-Man with a massive overbite chomping around the screen, flattening everything in his path. At first, arrows seem incredibly difficult to draw, but upon realizing that the game’s recognition is very forgiving, it became evident that a simple circle with a line coming out of it will register as an arrow. Without the liberal drawing sensor, Pac-Pix would be incredibly difficult.
As for the upper screen, it’s also used. In addition to displaying how many Pac-Men are left in the player’s arsenal (only so many can be drawn before it’s game over), how much time is left in the page, and how many ghosts are remaining, it also contains a small path. Pac-Man can be sent up to this path in order to collect power-ups like extra Pac-Men and fruit. Enemies also sometimes lurk up here, hiding from Pac-Man’s wrath. Above the path is an area that would be best described as the sky. Some enemies float up in the sky, trapped in bubbles. They have to be shot down with arrows and sent to the lower screen before Pac-Man can ravage their souls. Switches sometimes also float up top and must be triggered with arrows.
It’s a pity that Pac-Pix consists on only 12 chapters and will probably be beaten in a few days by most players. There also doesn’t appear to be much reply value in the title. There’s no use in playing earlier levels when the later ones are both more challenging and more fun. However, Pac-Pix is an excellent example of a new form of gameplay unique to the DS. It’s pure fun and puts a smile on the face of anybody playing it.