For those that haven't bought into the innovation of the Nintendo DS, I can't say that I blame you. It isn't the sexiest piece of hardware – no glossy finish and huge screen – but what it does pack is a lot of innovation. I recently picked up the price-reduced DS and copies of Advance Wars and Meteos. Both games are fantastic, but the touch screen gameplay didn't seem too innovative to me. On the other hand, Pac ‘N Roll, Namco's latest spin on the now 25 year-old Pac-Man franchise, truly delivers an innovative experience that takes advantage of the DS touch screen capabilities.
Before digging into what makes the game truly a pleasure to play, let's roll through the painful parts. The weakest element of the game is its storyline. Here, our hero, the one and only Pac-Man, goes to visit the great ghost hunter known as Pac-Master. Pac-Man has a good ol' time spending his days training to fight ghosts and at night learning how to flirt with Pac-Girl. But then one night, he starts having bad dreams where a big bad ghost named Golvis haunts him. Soon enough, Golvis, who thinks he's a rock star, rocks our hero's world when he kidnaps all the different Pac-People (there's also Mrs. Pac-Master, Pac-Dog, and Pac-Baby). In the end, Pac-Man must go out and save his friends with the help of some Tinkerbell-esque fairy named Krystal.
On top of being an incredibly lame story, it unravels in a painfully slow storybook format that no kindergarten student would be entertained by. Thankfully, you can just start tapping to the touch screen to skip to the good part – the gameplay.
Action Pac'd Gameplay!
If you've seen footage or read about Pac ‘N Roll, the first game that comes to mind is the classic puzzle-platformer from the ‘80s, Marble Madness. For those who remember, the game required you precisely guide a marble through various puzzles with traps and bad guys all around. With Pac 'N Roll, this experience is Marble Madness in 3D, which in appearance is not too dissimilar to Super Mario 64. While the game really does feel like a hybrid of these titles, it also does a fantastic job of keeping the Pac-Man feel. You go through level after level collecting pellets and avoiding ghosts, and when you find a power pellet, you get that same amount of satisfaction eating up all the ghosts. To clear an area, you simply need to get the required amount of pellets to get through a Golvis-sealed door. And of course, all of this is done using a stylus on the touch screen – so the way you roll the cursor on the screen determines where Pac-Man moves. The only other controls used outside of the touch screen is the D-Pad to change the camera.
After a few levels of this concept, one would think Pac ‘N Roll would be a little too repetitive. Fortunately, the game has a steady difficulty curve, where by the end of the game, even the most experienced gamers will be truly tested. By the time you reach the fourth and fifth worlds (each with several sub-levels), the game seems nearly impossible at times. But while the difficulty level gets steep, the key to success is learning how to take advantage of the environments, effectively use Pac-Man's special suits, and become a master of the speed roll technique.