Namco's done some odd things over the years to their best known gaming mascot. Pac-Man may have started his life munching pills and ghosts in an 80's neon nightmare, but since then he's teamed up with faries, intermittently gone 3D, done his share of platforming and even indulged in a spot of puzzle-based action. Pac-Pix, however, shares a space all its own in the Pac-Man pantheon, as it's perhaps the oddest thing Namco's ever forced their yellow perpetually smiling mascot to endure.
The basic premise of Pac-Pix is that a mischevious magician has invented Ghost Ink, which transforms anything written or drawn with it into a ghost. Being the mortal enemy of ghosts - or perhaps just having the perpetual munchies - Pac-Man grabs his Magic Pen and sets about trapping all the ghosts in one book. Now, if Pac-Man was a smart yellow bubble, he would have indulged in a quick spot of book incineration, but he's instead tricked by the wily ghosts, and trapped on a sheet of paper. This is where the player comes in, as you're tasked with bringing all the naughty ghosts to task, and that involves drawing Pac-Man, or multiples of him, which the game's manual insists are called Pac-Mans, rather than Pac-Men, in order to chomp up the invading spectres as quickly as possible.
Once drawn, Pac-Man will move in the direction his mouth is facing until he either wanders off the screen or hits a user-drawn wall, at which point he'll travel in the direction that the line was drawn. The size of your Pac-Man determines his movement speed, with tiny chompers moving swiftly, while larger drawings having all the speed of a constipated snail. A larger Pac-Man, however, can eat over a larger area, but leaves you little maneuvering space to draw walls, so it's a constant balance between size and speed. Complicating matters are the ghosts and onscreen obstacles that can't be drawn over. Later levels even introduce ghosts who stain the screen, making it impossible to draw in stained spots. That's the basics of Pac-Pix's control scheme, and aside from learning how to draw arrows and bombs in later levels, it's pretty much the entire game in a nutshell.
It's safe to say that there's nothing that looks quite like Pac-Pix. Owing to the page motif of the core storyline, the backgrounds themselves are just a dull beige colour, with tonal highlights provided by the ghosts and the upper level - which is just a tunnel that Pac-Man often has to traverse to eat up additional ghosts and bonus items. Where Pac Pix takes on a life of its own is in the variations on the basic Pac-Man shape that you can bring to bear. You're taught how the game will accept drawn Pac-Man shapes, but there's a pretty wide area of acceptance within the basic "Pizza with a slice missing" shape. As such, and bearing in mind that few people can draw accurate lines on with a plastic stylus on a glass surface, you'll end up drawing some very odd looking Pac-creatures indeed, with notable overbites or missing chunks a specialty. Something that starts off initially as cute becomes a touch irritating later on in the game when time limits become more pressing and the game gets picky over what's a valid shape and what isn't. This is especially true when it comes to firing arrows, which are used to shoot ghosts and other targets on the upper screen.
There's no doubting that Pac-Pix is a cool concept. That, however doesn't automatically translate into an immediately playable game, and the worst strike against Pac-Pix is that the charm and shine wears off very quickly indeed. Rather like Yoshi Touch & Go, Pac-Pix only offers long-term challenge to gamers who like high score challenges, rather than something with narrative plot or particular game depth. That's not a cardinal sin for a portable title, though, and the fact that any unlocked "Page" of levels can be tackled on a whim does make it a good title for playing in short bursts.
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