Take a picture, it'll last longer.
Compared to his mustachioed kin over at Nintendo, Pac-Man is more a passive icon than an active mascot. The one-time dot addict has stuck pretty firmly to his drug of choice over the years, eschewing vices like golf, tennis and wild parties in favor of snorting power pills and eating ectoplasm. Though taken into the third dimension in the Pac-Man World series, the famous wheel of cheese never truly embraced the mascot art of branching out, and as such has become a fairly inconsequential player in today's game.
So it's somewhat surprising that Namco decided to toss him into a quirky, unique DS title. It's far less surprising, however, that Pac-Pix falls victim to the handheld's pathological aversion to depth and uncanny affinity for tech demos. While the yellow blob's latest makes great use of the DS touch screen, it makes terrible use of the twenty-five intervening years of game design since he munched his first quarter.
When most of us last partied with Pac-Man, he was stuck in a maze at the mercy of a gang of ghosts unless he managed to get his gaping maw around a power pill, at which point he would ceremoniously chase down the offending blue specters in what retrospect tells us was clearly some sort of digital "roid rage. Well, his days of pill-popping have passed - our hungry hero no longer relies on such over-the-counter solutions to his paranormal problems.
Instead, he just needs to be drawn well. Somehow, Pac-Man was warped into a book by an unnamed evil wizard with vague intentions and now he has to eat ghosts to save the World of Books from exploding or evaporating or something. I have no idea why, what or how.
This much, I know for certain: your task is to draw freakish outlines of Pac-Man on the DS touch screen and watch with glee as your bizarre Pac-Thing chomps on ghosts. You alter its path by drawing walls to send it gobbling in various directions, although you can't control it directly. The smaller the Pac-Thing, the faster it moves, so there's a modicum of strategy in deciding how big a freak to draw. You have a set number of lives per level and you lose one if your Pac-Thing gobbles its way off-screen. If you run out or don't eat the required number of ghosts on each page in a given time limit, the game ends. That's the gist of it.
As you plow through the game's meager twelve chapters (each broken down into four or five short levels), you'll also gain the ability to draw arrows, which can be fired up at the top screen to pop bubbles holding ghosts or to activate candles. These candles somehow power small camp-fires, which can be used to detonate bombs you draw on the screen, which in turn can destroy persnickety, armor-clad ghosts. Pac-Thing himself can occasionally enter the top screen to eat ghosts or fruit trapped in the classic Pac-Man "Item Road' roundabout.
Smash this all together and you get the entirety of the Pac-Pix experience, which really boils down to one thing: drawing crazy little Pac-Men and watching them go. The touch screen and stylus work perfectly here; the game recognizes even the lamest drawing of Pac-Man, arrows or bombs so long as you follow the correct stroke sequences. The later levels require pretty deft manipulation of all three devices and can get quite hectic, not to mention humorous. Watching your misshapen Pac-Gimp waka-waka-waka with a goofy overbite is undeniably fun.
Unfortunately, the game part of Pac-Pix isn't. Chapters must be completed in one fell swoop - if you lose all your lives on a boss fight, you have to start over at the beginning of the chapter itself rather than that page. This can be a real downer, especially when you finally beat a tough page only to lose on the next one. This setup inevitably leads to lots of repetition, and that's simply not cool.
Even less cool is the fact that a decent gamer will beat all twelve chapters in a day or two. With the main game out of the way there's very little to do other than stare at unlocked gallery pictures. There's no point in replaying the early levels since the game doles out the arrow and bomb abilities at the fourth and ninth chapters respectively, effectively rendering the first few chapters obsolete. Playing Chapter 3 over and over again to go for a new high score might have been fun in 1980, but then again, so was disco.
And let's face it: scribbling on a touch pad doesn't exactly lend itself to a deep experience. The gimmick of Pac-Pix wears thin after a couple hours because there's just not enough game here to keep you guessing. Once you've learned all three scribble moves, the game becomes little more than a flashy art tutor.
Pac-Pix does score a few smiles with its cute animation and sheer technical gimmickry. Your Pac-Thing smoothly chomps no matter how squiggly and retarded it looks, although it gets a little boring staring at plain white backgrounds. The audio is equally vanilla, with plenty of waka-waka-waka sound effects and lots of slightly annoying midi tunes.
You have to credit Pac-Pix for finally freeing Pac-Man from his dot-a-holic past, but this isn't the game DS fans were waiting for. Much like Yoshi Touch & Go, Pac-Pix's cool tech demo roots are supported by a frighteningly flimsy frame, resulting in just another misuse of Pac-Power.