Monday, February 24, 2014

Pac 'n Roll (DS) Retro Review

Pac-Man is a character that has seen some mileage. While he's nowhere near as popular as in his arcade days, we at SuperPhillip Central still have fond memories of the old dot-muncher. We recently looked through our Nintendo DS archives and found this intriguing title featuring Namco's mascot, Pac 'n Roll. This might not be the most interesting or recent game out there, but for our sake, just roll with it.

Let the Good Times Roll

Within the first year of the Nintendo DS' launch, Namco had two unique Pac-Man titles for the system already released. The first was a proof of concept turned game in Pac-Pix, while the other, the subject of this review, was Pac 'n Roll, a game that fans of Super Monkey Ball or Marble Madness will find a lot to love about. As for everyone else, Pac 'n Roll will allow its players to have a ball.

The story of Pac 'n Roll has Pac-Man and his friends turned into spheres by a galactic ghost with a craving for rock 'n roll, Golvis. Capturing every Pac-Person besides Pac-Man, our hero is helped by a fairy that watches over Pac-Land to escape from Golvis' grip, allowing him to come with a plan to rescue his friends and make Golvis' plan end on a sour note.

Pac 'n Roll is pac-ked with intriguing level ideas and stage concepts. Pac-Man will be rolling down hills, navigating moving platforms, bouncing up with the help of jump pads, riding down chutes and passageways, negotiating hairpin turns, catching a ride on lifts, carefully adjusting Pac-Man's weight as he rolls along a seesaw-like platform, avoiding enemies and obstacles, and much more.

Each level tasks Pac-Man with gobbling up a certain number of dots. These dots open up gates that block the player's progress until they have gathered enough dots to pass through. Although it is not mandatory to nab all of the dots in a given level, doing so will reward the player with special challenge stages (some funner and less frustrating than others) as well as diamond gems to expand the replay value of the game. There's also hidden gems in each level to find, opening up more in the way of levels.

Challenge comes in the form of hazards, both environmental and from enemies. Obviously, falling off a level is a hazard onto itself, but there's also enemies to worry about, each taking off a sliver of Pac-Man's health when tangled up by them. These enemies are the tried and true ghosts that Pac-Man knows all too well. However, in Pac 'n Roll, once these ghosts have been eaten, through consuming a power pellet, they don't reappear until you leave the level. The only exception to that rule is with the game's boss battles, each having you take on Golvis in a different venue. These battles require Pac-Man to eat three power pellets to make Golvis vulnerable, allowing our hero to run into the boss and damage him. This takes three times for every battle save for the final encounter.

Pac-Man has the ability to change costumes through rolling over different varieties of chocolate, thus giving him some headgear to wear. For example, the knight helmet makes Pac strong and slow, making him sink in water like a brick and not be pushed around by strong winds. Conversely, the winged Pac-Man costume, having Pac don a Robin Hood-esque cap, allows Pac to move around levels much faster than normal, skim across water, and glide. However, strong winds blow Pac-Man around like a piece of paper in a tornado. Rolling over the right transformation chocolate depending on the upcoming dangers is paramount to progressing in Pac 'n Roll.

Pac 'n Roll features a unique control scheme that is not only creative but quite intuitive, too. The top screen displays the game world while the bottom shows a closeup version of Pac-Man. Through swipes of the touch screen over the enlarged ghost devour-er, you control which direction Pac-Man rolls through the game's levels. Faster swipes mean a faster Pac-Man. Sure, all of this could be done with a trackball, but what kind of handheld system these days would have such a device?

Sometimes Pac will need to get up steep inclines or bust through blocks. By holding the stylus on one edge of the touch screen and then quickly drawing a line to the opposite edge, Pac-Man will perform a speedy charged boost in the direction of the swipe. All this combined with the ability to manually rotate the camera with the directional pad, and moving Pac-Man around the game's levels is a usually simple task.

Physics play an important part in Pac 'n Roll, and thankfully the physics at work in Pac-Man's world are very much serviceable and work like one would expect them to. Slopes will push Pac-Man down them if he stays idle on them, ramps will allow Pac-Man to catch some air, and so forth. This makes for a game that is very enjoyable to play, offering quasi-realistic physics and hazards to keep things fresh.

The biggest issue with Pac 'n Roll is that the main story can be completed in less than three hours. That's going through all six worlds, but to be fair, the sixth is simply a series of encounters against Golvis. Collecting gems and dots on every level opens challenge levels to try to overcome, but nowadays a game so short would not pass in the retail space. Pac 'n Roll feels perfectly suited as a downloadable game rather than a full retail release.

Pac 'n Roll looks relatively nice as a first-year Nintendo DS release. The 3D engine used works wonderfully. The frame-rate is always locked at a steady 30 FPS, the camera is far enough away from the action that textures aren't viewed as heavily pixelated. As for sound, the music matches each world, but unfortunately, most of it is forgettable, even though all of a world's levels play the same tune. It would have been nice to have more variety. The gibberish heard in the still-frame scenes from characters is cute at first, but it eventually does get grating.

For those looking for a fun way to pass the time and those that enjoy titles like Super Monkey Ball, Marble Madness, or Kororinpa: Marble Mania, Pac 'n Roll seems like an obvious pick to add to one's DS collection. It works on Nintendo 3DS systems, after all. Whether you want to play in short bursts, which is possible as the game saves after every level, or long, extended gaming sessions, Pac 'n Roll is a great demo turned full game that makes great use of the Nintendo DS's unique hardware. The game runs (or is it rolls?) a bit on the short side, but the experience is entertaining enough to play through multiple times.

[SPC Says: 7.0/10]

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