Pac Puzzle Hands-On Impressions

We investigate Pac-Man's hidden maze-engineering talents at E3.

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After years of milking Pac-Man for brand extensions and derivative video games, Namco has finally created a new title worthy of being associated with Mr. Man. OK, Pac-Man VS. was worthy, but the other titles haven't been. Now, finally, there's a Pac-Man game that celebrates the glory of Pac-Man while extending the player's interaction with him beyond what was previously thought possible. I am referring, of course, to Pac Puzzle from Namco.

Gamers who download Pac Puzzle are confronted with 50 levels, the ubiquitous yellow glob, and several ghosts. But instead of launching right into the joystick-bending fury of the familiar Pac pursuits, you must position maze walls on the screen, in the tradition of The Incredible Machine. After the wall segments are placed, Pac launches off under his own power, eating everything in his path, turning only in response to a wall. The ghosts in each level are also autonomous, seeking Pac almost blindly. Each level is cleared when Pac has eaten all the dots while avoiding the ghosts. At first, this setup seems cute. When you guide Pac into a power-up and then a horde of fearful blue ghosts, your interest will be piqued. Around level 15, when the puzzles start to get tough, you'll be obsessed. Expensive dinners will be wagered over who can finish levels faster. You will find yourself pondering wall placement in the tub. Just like in the old days, you'll see ghosts and dots when you close your eyes.

Pac Puzzle is from Namco's Japanese office and is being ported to US phones by Pick Up and Play. It was about 90 percent done at E3, and we're very much looking forward to playing the final version.

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