Pac-Pix is the game every child should show to his/her parents to convince them to buy a DS. The game, originally created as a tech demo to show off the DS, comes across as just that, and is best left as a demo of the Nintendo DS’ potential.
The concept of Pac-Pix is extremely unique, and makes fairly good use of the DS’ capabilities. Using the touch-screen, you create “gestures,” or basic drawings which, when drawn correctly, come to life or perform a certain action. Initially, you’re just creating Pac-Man drawings and lines to direct Pac-Man in an effort to chase down ghosts. As you progress through the game, other gestures such as arrows and bombs become available. Sometimes gestures don’t seem to register, but in general the system is pretty forgiving, allowing for some of the ugliest, most ridiculous Pac-Men ever seen to run amok.
The game progresses through twelve chapters of increasing difficulty (we’ll get back to this in a minute), with five levels each. Every other chapter also has a boss battle which forces you to put to use all of the gestures you’ve learned up to this point. While the boss battles can initially be frustrating, they’re one of the bright spots in the game, and sometimes require you to use gestures in interesting ways.
Advancing through levels requires you to clear a number of ghosts within a limited period of time and with limited Pac-Man gestures. If you run out of time or gestures, the game is over. As you make it through the game’s chapters, you’re rated on your score. High ratings will open up cards in the gallery, which give you a little tidbit of information on the Pac-Pix world. Scoring is done in the traditional “Billy Mitchell” style, where you’re given points for getting as many ghosts in a row with a single Pac-Man, bonuses for time and Pac-Men remaining. There’s also fruit, extra lives, and sometimes enemies, which sit on the item road in the top screen, which is sometimes a handy place to hide your Pac-Man so that you don’t lose him in the insanity.
While the story of the game itself is just fluff, the presentation in general is excellent and crisp. The tutorials that teach you each gesture are simple and helpful. The graphics are simple, 2D and sharp. It’s fun watching your drawings come to life. The sound and music get repetitive pretty quickly, but it’s the kind of fare you would expect from a Pac-Man game, right down to the “wakka-wakka” as he runs around.
Ultimately, advancing through Pac-Pix makes evident its biggest flaw. Pac-Pix is very enjoyable for the first couple of chapters, as it’s easy for anyone to grasp and play. But once you get past those levels, it seems like the designers ran out of ideas. Sure, they add a few items to make use of your newly acquired gestures, but for the most part they just threw more enemies on the screen and more objects to prevent you from drawing your gestures instead of adding more interesting gameplay elements. In one particular level, a wall was created so close to the edge of the screen that it was just a pain to draw the fuse for your bomb. When a game’s control makes the game difficult, it’s not a good thing.
By the time I made it through Pac-Pix, I was left with the feeling that the game was missing something. I felt like Pac-Pix would’ve been better as a pack-in demo, or maybe worked in with Namco’s upcoming Pac N’ Roll as an unlockable. It’s definitely a nice and interesting break from the usual routine, but there’s just not enough there to satisfy the hardcore, and it may just end up frustrating the casual.