In the DS retrospective I helped coordinate for USgamer last week, a lot of people cited Kirby: Canvas Curse as the game that finally turned them on to the system. That is not a wrong or bad response! However, it does make me a little sad, because it means poor Pac-Pix gets short shrift. Just like it did back then.
I suppose that treatment isn’t entirely unwarranted. Pac-Pix was a neat little game, but it lacked rather significantly in terms of actual substance. Like Yoshi Touch & Go, it felt an awful lot like a brilliant idea that hadn’t been properly baked — like it should have been a minigame in a more proper release. There was a real sense of “tech demo” about early DS games such as this, the sensation that the R&D team goofed around for a while until they came up with something they wanted to flesh into a full game experience only to have a manager come along and growl, “Ship it!” to hit those early release deadlines and make it onto shelves in those barren early days of the platform.
OK, but let’s look at the game itself. That’s a pretty weird looking Pac-Man in the screen shot, right? Yeah. That’s because Pac-Man only exists in this game when you draw him, so he looks all lumpy and misshapen even in the best artist’s hands because the DS stylus is not exactly a precision instrument… and, also, because you’re doodling him quickly under pressure, trying to avoid ghostly hazards.
It’s a weird concept, but it was novel. I mean, there had been Magic Pengel for PS2 a couple of years prior, so the idea of drawing something and it coming to life (a concept later to become the rather on-the-nose title of a game, Drawn to Life) wasn’t entirely unheard of. But Pac-Pix applied that idea in a way that made intuitive sense; of course you could draw on a touch screen. Of course it would cause your illustration to take on a life of its own, however hideously malformed you happened to draw poor Pac-Man.
Pac-Pix sits squarely in the same territory as Treasure’s Stretch Panic or any number of Wii early waggle games: A sharp idea that didn’t quite clear the barrier between “demo” and “full game.” But it had enough charm, and offered enough of an epiphany, that you can almost forgive it for its lack of substance.