One of the many games based on Namco's yellow-dot-munching video game icons is the upcoming Pac 'n Roll, an original action game for the Nintendo DS. The game puts a new twist on the standard action platformer, thanks to unique gameplay that takes advantage of the Nintendo DS's touch screen. We had the chance to try out a few levels to get a feel for the unique game.
The game's premise is simple enough. The evil Golvis has taken Pac-land by storm (not in a good way) and turned all the residents into spheres. But while the bold move seriously reduces any opposition to his evil plans, it doesn't wipe it out altogether. The mighty Pac-Man isn't one to be rendered helpless so easily, and so he rolls off to stop Golvis and his ghostly henchmen.
The game has a linear, mission-based structure, and you must navigate through a series of levels that offer a variety of platformer-style challenges. We got a rough sampling of the tests you'll face in three playable levels on display at a press event where Namco showed off its upcoming E3 wares. Your basic goal is to make it to the end of a series of levels by rolling through a variety of challenges designed to impede your progress. The mechanics make smart use of the DS's touch screen by having you use the image of Pac-Man that appears on the lower touch screen as a trackball. You'll run the stylus of the circular hero in the direction you want him to move, and he'll do just that in the upper DS screen where the action plays out. This ends up giving the game a feel that's somewhere between Marble Madness, Super Monkey Ball, and a bowling game.
There were three playable levels in the demo at the event--Castle Pac, Sweet Land, and Flaming Fortress--which offered a good sampling of what to expect from the game. Castle Pac has you navigating through a floating castle, complete with endless drops you'll want to avoid. The level does a good job of showing how the rolling mechanic is fleshed out with the inclusion of power-ups that temporarily bestow different abilities on the golden hero. Suits of armor will keep winds from buffeting you off the edge of platforms. Feather hats will make you light enough to speed over small gaps. You'll also find panels on the ground that will increase your speed.
Of course, not everything you encounter will be helpful. Besides the expected assortment of ghostly foes, you'll have to contend with spikes, obstacles designed to push you off your path, and moving platforms, to name just a few. The castle level showed one way levels can play out. In it you have to make your way to gates that serve as checkpoints with a set number of coins. Collecting the coins adds a level of challenge since you'll have to do some exploration in the level. The Sweet Land level was similar in feel to the castle level, with a different layout and some new challenges, such as wind, to contend with, and it featured a candy theme. The Flaming Fortress level had more of a racing feel to it. You simply have to make it to the end of the level as you speed down a narrow and twisting path fraught with boxes and spinners that can fling you off into the molten lava on either side of the course.
The game controls well, with the trackball mechanic working out fine. There's a bit more to it than simply rubbing in the direction you want to go, as you'll be able to perform speed boosts and jumps that become essential to navigating the many hazards you'll encounter. You'll also be able to stop Pac-Man and hold position while on moving platforms or if you're about to sail off the edge of a path. The catch is that the little guy can pick up some wicked momentum, so you'll have to be careful.
The visuals in the game are modest, but they get the job done. The enormous Pac-Man on the lower screen is animated well and has an expressive face. You'll notice that his appearance will change as you collect power-ups, such as a jaunty feather hat or armor.
Though the demo was just part of the larger adventure you'll take as Pac-Man, Pac 'n Roll appears to be one of the more engaging titles on the horizon for the DS. The unique gameplay, which gets a lot of mileage out of the rolling mechanic, is well thought out and works nicely for a platformer. In addition to what we saw, the game is set to include a two-player mode, as well as the original Pac-Man for a retro flashback. Pac 'n Roll is currently slated to ship this fall for the Nintendo DS. Look for more on the game soon.