Friday, December 3, 2010

Review: Pac-Man Party

Platform: Nintendo Wii

Developer: Namco Bandai

Publisher: Namco Bandai

# of Players: 1 - 4

ESRB Rating: E 10+ (Everyone 10+)

Official Site

Score: B+

30 years and counting on the video game scene still shows that Pac-Man's got legs (pun intended) and can stand up to pretty much whatever genre he's added to. Namco Bandai's latest Wii game featuring the character and his cohorts is a fun party game that's part Mario Party, part Dokapon Kingdom and all Pac-Man, offering up over 50 mini-games and a few arcade classics in a well-rounded package. Granted, this is a game that's very strictly geared toward the casual family market, so hardcore gamers "expecting" something resembling an actual challenge can slap their cranky sourpuss caps on as they bypass this in favor of the latest arcade shooter or ultra-violent action game. If you're in the mood for a consistently and intentionally silly game where actual gameplay is secondary and a pure sense of fun soaks the atmosphere, read on.

There's a light and airy semblance of a story here, but it's not important unless you've got kids under 10 who just NEED to read it as things progress. Or you're an otherwise rational adult who'd like to have some justifiable reason for playing through a bunch of Wii Remote-shaking mini-games when someone walks in on you and wonders why you're grinning wildly while waving a controller around like a crazed orchestra conductor. That would be me, by the way - Heck, I'll play anything more than an hour if I get a cheap laugh or three within the first minute or so. Pac-Man Party provides many such laughs - not AT the game, mind you, but at the characters as they're put through the wringer in the assorted mini-games.

Gameplay is dirt simple, but again - that's exactly what makes the game appealing. move around the nicely sized game board, land on a space, compete in a mini-game, laugh, rinse and repeat. Nothing here is too difficulty at all - you just have to out shake, out wave or out whatever the other players/ If you go it solo, the AI isn't too tough, but you'd better not slack off thinking you'll breeze past everyone with a few weak Wiimote tilts. The games selection is comprised of the usual suspects: fishing, racing, quick puzzles, shaking soda pop bottles for amateur rocketry and the like. Even if you've been min-gamed to death, the whimsical art style and hilarious character reactions keep the game from being boring.

Two of the more interesting elements in the game are the cookie factor and castle building. You won't find the traditional yellow dots or power pellets in the game as collectibles. Part of the original design in Pac-Man was the character gobbling up food (which including cookies), but this element was dropped in favor of those dots and power pellets we all know and love. Cookies are the game's rewards and yes, you'll probably get hungry enough after playing few a through rounds to go bake or buy some real ones. Note: If you put n a few pounds from repeated play sessions, just go buy a copy of Active Life Explorer, Namco Bandai's other awesomely fun Wii title (and one of the nicer family game surprises on the console this year).

As for the castles, the game takes a page from Dokapon Kingdom and allows you to "own" territory in the form of castles you can use to rake in cookies as the game progresses. Land on your own castle and get cookies added to your total. If the AI or a live player lands on your castle, you get to battle it out in a mini-game to see who wins those cookies. Lose the game and you give up that castle and any cookie bonuses. Of course, having the most castles helps out a lot, so the fight for those open spaces will get pretty hectic as time passes. The game is fairly lengthy with 5 worlds (boards) to play, but a few of the mini-games use the same motions, so in some stretches you might get two or three games in a row that require the exact same Wii-shaking move to complete.

The game looks and sounds great for what it is. The reworked Pac-Man model as well as the other characters all look great and as mentioned, the reactions and animations are priceless (and a lot more lively than in Mario Party or Wii Party, I might add). Environments pop with color and some nice details despite the game not being a platformer or other more action-oriented title. Yes, it all screams "kid-friendly", but there's nothing wrong with that at all, since Pac-Man has that universal appeal going for him. The soundtrack is well implemented with lots of fast-paced tunes which tend to recycle a lot, but don't get grating on the ears during extended sessions.

In addition to Story and Multiplayer modes, Namco added in an Arcade mode that gives you three of its 80's classic arcade hits: Pac-Man (of course), Dig Dug and Galaga. Adults who grew up spending their allowances on these can introduce the kids to them and get that knowing chuckle on as their little ones find out these oldies are tougher than some of today's more visually advanced games. As for any caveats... well, nothing stands out here as "bad" at all. There's no online play (big deal!), the game doesn't break any new ground (and... so?) and can be beaten easily by anyone skilled enough with basic hand gestures. Such is the humble life of the E to E 10+ game, folks.

If I HAD to complain about something I'd say that the solo mode can get dull if you play for too long. That and you won't find Ms. Pac-Man or any other Pac-Relatives lurking around - the game's cast is based around On the other hand, you just may find yourself enjoying what's here so much that you can't put the game down and end up not doing more important stuff you needed to do. That's the mark of a good game for me, not whether it's got "innovation" plastered all over the box art and controls. If you find yourself in the same boat, have kids (or just want a totally goofy, totally fun chunk of game) and are looking for a great holiday gift, well... that's your cue.

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