Pac 'n Roll (DS) review
"When you swipe the stylus across the screen, his counterpart in the top screen will move a bit. If you repeatedly make quick but short strokes, heíll sort of wander about as desired. Swift and longer brushes, particularly those executed in a gattling-gun sort of sense, will send him flying along the various ledges and hills and whatever else is in sight. Thatís almost all there is to controlling Pac-Man. Almost."
With a cheerful wink and a tongue shaped like a dodgeball, Pac-Man rolls onto the DS with style to spare. The name of the game is Pac ĎN Roll, a title that tries perhaps to be too clever when all you really need to know is that Pac-Man has lost his superfluous arms and legs and now must roll through six dangerous worlds to rescue his friends, who have been kidnapped by a mysterious ghost.
Now, this ghost isnít of the Inky-Blinky-Pinky variety. He is, in fact, a being the afore-mentioned baddies once confined to the outer reaches of space. But when the Pac Festival was about to occur, they grew concerned by the gathering of power pellets and decided to call their old cohort back into action. Thus it is that, although youíll certainly face the usual motley crew of colored ghosts, youíll also face the terrible being known asÖ Golvis.
Facing him will mean rolling through numerous stages within a themed world, before you finally get to match wits at the end. These battles are going to vary from one stage to the next, so youíll want to hone your skills by passing the challenges that precede each encounter. Fortunately, the stages are tailor-made for this very purpose. Thereís not a lot in the way of play mechanics to master, either. This is both the gameís blessing and its curse.
Pac ĎN Roll is simple in its execution. The 3D worlds start out as a cakewalk, then gradually progress from there until suddenly youíre in the fifth world and instant deaths have you cursing and grating your teeth. Well, they had that effect on me, anyway. Until that point, there are only occasional dangerous jumps. They should hardly tax your abilities at all. Enemy encounters are also infrequent, and you can pretty much figure that if you see ghosts wandering about with malicious intent, thereís a power pellet nearby that you can use to turn them vulnerable. Then you can eat them and theyíre gone from the stage for good unless you lose your last life and have to restart.
So, Iíve danced around it long enough and now itís time to get down to the nitty-gritty: play control. Pac-Man is controlled here with the stylus. He appears on your bottom screen, a cheerful little ball ready for adventure. When you swipe the stylus across the screen, his counterpart in the top screen will move a bit. If you repeatedly make quick but short strokes, heíll sort of wander about as desired. Swift and longer brushes, particularly those executed in a gattling-gun sort of sense, will send him flying along the various ledges and hills and whatever else is in sight. Thatís almost all there is to controlling Pac-Man. Almost.
One other tweak to the controls comes a few levels in, and I have to say that I could just as easily do without it. Along the outer edge of the lower screen, thereís a red frame. If you make a long swipe that ends with the stylus positioned over that border, Pac-Man will get an extra burst of speed that can carry him up the side of steep inclines or even break crates. The concept is solid, but in practice, this mechanic only works to add frustration to what otherwise is a delightful romp through Pac-Land.
Letís say youíre rushing along a series of floating ledges. Falling from them isnít necessarily fatal. Maybe youíll just have to circle back and make another attempt. So youíre about to the end of the series of ledges and, quite accidentally, you make a quick stroke and watch as a super-charged Pac-Man overshoots his target. Time to circle back and try again.
A more frustrating example is one boss encounter, where you must specifically charge your rolls while under the effects of a power pellet, in order to blast enemies that will disappear if you donít act quickly enough. So youíre working through a series of combos, anxious to get rid of the ghosts, and Pac-Man refuses to power charge. Now, this isnít necessarily the gameís fault. If you really stop and think, you can make him do his charged shot almost every time. Itís just that you have to slow things down, while your enemies drop bombs and themselves all around you and your life meter plummets.
This highlights the gameís other problem. I mentioned that a power pellet is usually near any ghosts you encounter. When you reach the fourth world, though, they often are difficult to snag in time, particularly if you bounce off springs or tombstones or whatever. If you do hit a ghost, youíll have to watch the bottom screen and tap at the fiend as it circles you rapidly on that display. Fail to act quickly and you lose one of your bars from your life meter. Itís a great use for the bottom screen, and Namco should be praised for the idea. Unfortunately, later stages often find you escaping the grasp of one ghost just in time to fend off the attacks of anotherÖ and another. They really swarm you near the end, which is frustrating no matter how patient you are.
Even so, Pac ĎN Roll is a good game. Iíve harped on its flaws, but thatís because everything else works quite well. The camera is easily moved with the Ďdí pad, and it only becomes snagged once in awhile. Usually, you can see what you need to see without even any adjustments. Those tweaks you do have to make come quite naturally.
At the end of the day, Pac ĎN Roll isnít going to persuade you that Namco is aiming this title at anyone but the younger crowd. Even so, a polished package with some incredible game-end challenge means that if you have a DS and youíre looking for the next great platformer, youíve just found it. Maybe you can even help Pac-Man regain his legs! One can only hope.
Staff review by Jason Venter (August 26, 2005)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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