Packaging Man (PC) review
"While Pac-Man is an endearing classic because of the constant challenge and addictive gameplay it provides, though, Dogwood Alliance's effort lacks the substance it needed to exist as more than a fleeting memory. It's over almost before it begins, it's ugly and there's not much value in the long term. Sort of like deforestation, I can almost imagine someone from the company quipping, and maybe he'd be right."
Until today I'd never heard of Dogwood Alliance, an environmental non-profit organization (ENGO) and, in more general terms, a watchdog. The thing it has assigned itself to protect is actually a place: the beautiful forests of the southeastern United States. To hear representatives from the group talk, the word "beautiful" won't apply for much longer unless we do something to stop the shameless harvesting of our precious resources. To help get the message across, the plucky little activist group has gone about it the American way and made a video game.
Perhaps I should say "the Japanese way" instead, though. Rather than develop something entertaining and informative from the ground up, Dogwood Alliance turned to a resource of a different sort. In this case, that resource is Namco Bandai's endearing arcade classic, Pac-Man. This new release is a transparent clone of that retro favorite, right down to the level layouts and the sound effects that accompany the eating of dots and ghosts.
Did I say “ghosts” just now? I meant evil businessmen. Your adversaries in Package Man are corporate executives from the big paper companies that supply corporations such as McDonald's, Wendy's, Long John Silver and others with the paper they need to wrap their meat... and fries... and soft drinks. Apparently, they're more dangerous than you knew and now they're chasing you around a forest and trying to put an end to your sappy, green-hued ideals.
Naturally, there are some differences in Packaging Man. The most obvious one of these is the background color. In keeping with the green message, the developers decided to implement a palette to match. Unfortunately, they chose a drab olive tone. We're supposed to save a forest that looks more like a swamp? Apparently so! Despite being ugly, though, the presentation is functional. You can easily make out every character on the screen and the contrast is nice. Everything looks about as good as can be expected with such a nausea-inducing starting point.
Another change is that you won't see cute little cinemas between key stages. In Pac-Man, you'd get to see part of the rotund hero's courtship routine. Here, you just get another little public service announcement that is clearly designed to make you feel outraged over deforestation. How can those fuzzy little bunnies lose their homes just so that we can enjoy a Big Mac? It should be criminal!
Speaking of said fuzzy creatures, you'll be 'saving' them throughout the course of your adventure. They appear on-screen where you'd otherwise expect to see fruit. Passing over them is all that it takes to get a nice boost to your score and to dash the plans of those scum-sucking gho--er, corporate deviants. The word 'Saved' will flash briefly on the screen to let you feel good about your actions. Not much later, another distressed friend of the forest will appear, if you need the boost to your score.
Theoretically that's good news because after scoring 10,000 points, you gain an extra life. This was always exciting in Pac-Man but here it doesn't even seem necessary. You can clear the whole game without losing so much as a single life--if your retro skills are elite--because of another key change to the popular formula: there are only three stages! When you reach the end of that final area, you simply get to look at another message that appeals to your conscience and includes a call to action.
That call to action entails sending an e-letter to the nefarious villains that lurk in the shadows behind this horrible situation (and the game's developers are quick to name topical corporations such as Activision and Electronic Arts, in addition to paper companies and fast food hangouts). You can fill out your name and address and send along a pre-written letter expressing your outrage. It's really quite simple, which is probably good for us lazy gamer types.
If somehow I've failed to make it clear, Packaging Man is really just an advertising campaign, albeit an interesting one thanks to the use of an interactive visual aid. While Pac-Man is an endearing classic because of the constant challenge and addictive gameplay it provides, though, Dogwood Alliance's effort lacks the substance it needed to exist as more than a fleeting memory. It's over almost before it begins, it's ugly and there's not much value in the long term. Sort of like deforestation, I can almost imagine someone from Dogwood Alliance quipping, and maybe he'd be right.
Staff review by Jason Venter (August 05, 2008)
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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