Pacman has now made two appearances on the young DS. His first appearance, Pac Pix, seemed to be more a tech demo moulded into the form of a game rather than a fully fledged title in its own right and so when Pac and Roll appeared I was quite sceptical. Luckily this has had considerably more development time given to it and the time has been well invested as it has turned this DS release into one of the most solid platformers I have played in quite a while.
Pac and Roll is a cross between Sega’s Monkey Ball and Nintendo’s Mario. You control the spherical Pacman across a variety of levels in search of his kidnapped friends, avoiding hazards and fighting ghosts along the way.
The thing that makes the game unique, as with all DS games, is the way you control the lead character. Pacman has been cursed by a guitar-playing ogre and it is up to you to roll him (do you see how they got the title?) around the world with strokes from you stylus; the direction and speed of the stroke being the direction and speed you want to roll him.
Early levels operate as tutorials to get you used to the controls with walls to keep you on the straight and narrow but the path ahead soon opens up with a nasty amount of pitfalls to hamper our hero. I would say that the levels remind me of many a Mario game with basic gaps in the earlier levels giving way to collapsing walkways, rotating platforms and jump pads as the game progresses.
The feel of each level, and I don’t mean in terms of decoration, is quite unique; one may challenge you to negotiate a very classically shaped, Pacman grid of corridors while another may involve traversing past falling walls. Each set of obstacles comes at you for a sustained period of time and then relents for a level or so before possibly being combined with another item to prove a different challenge. This setup meant that Pac and Roll continually felt fresh throughout with some great, if a little frustrating, level design being found in the latter stages.
The penultimate world and its levels was my favourite; the stages were set in a castle environment where you had to dodge collapsing walls whilst rushing up a slope and simultaneously avoiding the rising lava. It made you exist in a controlled state of panic as you negotiated so many things at once, all the time maintaining control over Pacman – not to mention how it wore your hand out as your strokes battled against the gradient.
A criticism I would have to give is that the difficulty curve suddenly spiked. Out of the six worlds the first four were enjoyable but easy. As soon as you entered the fifth you knew that the designers had taken the kid gloves off and were prepared to make you suffer. At least a few audible outbursts happened during the more Monkey Ball-esque levels that involved taking your charge where no right minded person would ever dream of putting a spherical object. Having said that the challenge was welcome and really showed off what the game was all about, I just wished they had build up to it.
Pacman wouldn’t be Pacman without pills and ghosts somewhere in the game. The pills are this platformer’s coins/notes/bananas and you must collect enough of these to open up the next portion of the level. Standing in your way will be a series of ghosts which will attack you and steal energy until you can prod them away with your stylus. Of course Pacman has his Power Pills to fend off his supernatural foes but they are generally only common enough for you to have one shot at dispatching a group of ghosts. If you get your attack wrong or just run out of time you will find yourself skirting round the little blighters for the rest of the level.
The good thing is that the ghosts aren’t too prevalent. Again, sensible level design only places ghosts in line with the difficulty curve. In the early stages you will face them on the flat but as time progresses you will have to fight them in confined environment or mixed in with a tricky platforming section for extra spice. They are never overused and so when it does come to the fiendish areas where you have to concentrate solely on the environment you don’t have to worry about a ghost popping up to frustrate you yet further.
Where they can prove a pain in the backside is during the boss battle that tends to reside at the end of each world’s set of levels. You must face off against the ogre who cursed you and, according to video game lore, consume three Power Pills to take down one bar of his energy. You of course then have to do this three times to dispatch him completely.
Although the general outline of the boss battles is routine the levels he resides in are nothing if not varied with some clever designs awaiting you. One fight sees you on a sphere bobbing in lava whereas the final engagement takes place on an oversized pinball table. The environment shapes the strategies you need to take down your guitar wielding foe and on more than one occasion I was dispatched before I could get the measure of the level let alone the boss.
Pac and Roll is definitely worth a gamble for those with a few hours spare who enjoy the feel of classic platformers or puzzle games of the ilk of Monkey Ball. It features a very intuitive control scheme and some lovely set pieces involving swaying platforms and its own take on mine carts, but beware the difficulty spike. Many will find it a challenge however I can see some finding it frustrating.
It has a reasonable amount of replay value, too; once completed in story mode levels can then be played in time attack mode or with the challenge of collecting just the right amount of pills. Top that off with the chance to unlock some of Pacman’s more classic titles and you have yourself a very nice portable package.