Review by Ryan Harrison
Reviewed: 11/09/12 | Updated: 07/01/13
Just eats your time away.
Seriously, who in this day and age has never before heard of Pac-Man? The round disc-shaped creature with the non-stop munching jaws and an unending appetite, Pac-Man Fever was driving you crazy (excuse the pun) if you were on the arcade scene as early as 1980. To this day, Pac-Man remains a firm favourite amongst fans of any generation, old and new, and despite the mere simplicity of the game, it still remains as perplexing, addictive and enjoyable as ever. The very first version of Pac-Man I can recall experiencing for myself was a home-console plug-and-play arcade simulator of some sort, going back perhaps a good twenty years ago now. It was just as much fun back then, as it is now, no matter what version of the game, or system I play it on.
The game is one of the defining classics from the golden arcade era that incorporated a simple concept, unique graphics, gameplay that could be grasped within seconds of playing, and increased increments of difficulty that only the best players could handle and master. It taught eye-hand co-ordination, mind-body co-ordination and the ability to "read" the game and mentally work out the mechanics (if you were a really skilled player). Such characteristics were typical of the classic arcade games from the early 1980s, such as Donkey Kong, Q*bert, Frogger and the quasi-sequel, Ms. Pac-Man.
Pac-Man is a game that does not really require much of a back story or plot to interest you or understand why Pac-Man does what he does. From the moment your money is in the machine and the joystick is firmly planted underneath the palm of your hand, you're swivelling your way through an overhead-view maze while using Pac-Man's non-stop munching mouth to snag all the Pac-pellets scattered everywhere and avoiding the four ghosts (Inky, Pinky, Blinky and Clyde, introduced to us in the game's Title Screen) who chase our yellow hero throughout the map to thwart him. That pretty much sums the whole plot up: eat everything, don't touch ghosts.
In terms of the game's looks, I love them. As I mentioned before, the graphics of the game are unique: they're the kind that anyone can recall and recognise instantly if they see a picture or image of them at any time. No-one could ever mistake a bright-yellow, circular disc with a 90-degree cut-out to resemble his mouth, small and large pink dots and four cookie-cutter ghosts of varying colours (or blue with fright when running away from a powered up Pac-Man) with big, bulky eyes. There's no mistaking the graphics of Pac-Man for anything else. For a game released over 30 years ago, anyone will know you're not going to see anything mind-blowing by today's standards, but back in the day, it never was the graphics that made the game as fun as it is - it was the gameplay.
All the characters, items, borders and backgrounds in the game are overall pretty simple, but there is a good variation of colour used to make the game nice and appealing to the eye. On a plain ace-of-spades black background, the outlines and borders of the map are etched in translucent blue, and the bright pink dots are laid out along all the paths on the map. You can also find bonus items such as cherries, strawberries, keys and the like underneath the ghost pen in the middle of the screen. Overall, the graphics in the game are very good.
In addition to the sound, Pac-Man also features some unmistakable music, too. However, there are only 2 tracks you hear in the game, and they are both incredibly short. There's the catchy opening theme upon starting a new board, and the cut-scene music heard occasionally between rounds. I don't really find this a problem, but it is an area I thought could have potentially been improved, maybe if there was just a few extra tunes for different cut-scenes, or some very quiet background music while you played the main game - as it stands there is none. If you're really that obsessed with some background music while you play in the arcade or the comfort of your own home, then look no further than downloading the awful song "Pac-Man Fever" by Buckner and Garcia to your iPod or MP3 player, and blasting it out on loudspeaker (to the annoyance of others nearby, you may find...).
There are also some classic and recognisable sound effects in this game, too. As Pac-Man munches his way through the Pac-pellets, a distinct "wabba-wabba-wabba" sound is made. Upon grabbing a Power Pellet to gain temporary powers that let you defeat your ghost foes, a strong beeping sound plays for a few seconds, denoting that you have Power Pellet power. Finally, there's the all-time unforgettable "eee-eeee-eee-eee-oooo-oooo-oooow-poink-poink" sound effect of death when Pac-Man finally gets caught and loses a life. All the sound effects are good in this game; you can instantly link them to this game if you ever heard them anywhere. They also sound quite easy on the ears and I don't find them at all distracting from the main game, although for others they may do, so depending on where your musical tastes lie in a game, whether you prefer absolute silence or a vast melody of themes and effects, your own opinion may be different to mine.
Now, as for the actual gameplay, I find this game to very fun and addicting, and almost perfect. Control-wise they don't come much simpler; the entire game is controlled simply with the use of the joystick. The only notable problem I have come across with control is that it is sometimes (not very common, but seems to happen at the worst possible times) unresponsive when you need Pac-Man to make a swerve around a corner or in the opposite direction to escape oncoming ghosts. Pac-Man is a game that requires split-second timing in movement in order to become an expert player, and on a few occasions I have tried to make him make 90-degree turns to adjacent paths to outmanoeuvre a ghost in the opposite direction, yet Pac-Man sometimes fails to make the turn when I press the joystick in the direction of the path I intend to go as he approaches it, and instead aimlessly marches straight ahead, and... eee-eeee-eee-eee-oooo-oooo-oooow-poink-poink.
The best way, I found, is holding the joystick hard and early just before reaching the turn you need to make works better. Otherwise, you don't need any buttons or commands of any kind to operate this game besides the main control stick, so for that, it's good and does the job. Simplicity, as they say, is bliss.
Another drawback, while very minor, but still obvious to some, is that there is only one map that composes the whole game. Rather than different layouts, map sizes, Pac-Man and ghost starting locations and whatnot, what you see is what you get. The only differences between levels is how much more difficult they get in terms of how quickly the ghosts move and their intelligence level - the further you get into the game, the more mental prowess is required to understand the mechanics of the ghosts' behaviour and how best to avoid being cornered when they gang up on you in numbers - something these guys are very good at. The power-up effect from grabbing Power Pellets also lasts shorter, too. It would have been nice to see different map layouts or themes to different levels; however Namco, the developers of this game, took heed of this little problem and rectified it in Ms. Pac-Man, another arcade classic that followed shortly after.
There is definitely a lot of challenge and replay value to be had from this game. It is the type of game that is easy to play, near-impossible to master. As I understand, only a handful of people have managed the "perfect Pac-Man score" of just over one-third-of-a-million points, and even getting a significant fraction of that amount is a challenge enough in itself. But, such a near-tantalising prospect can have you reaching for your money and trying and trying over and over again, because such is the fun factor of this game that it has an incredibly high replay value. I can find myself playing from minutes to hours on end, at times, trying to better my high score.
Altogether, this is an excellent arcade game that cannot be missed for devout gamers or those who take their video game appreciation very seriously. Whether you're lucky enough to find, or even own, an original Pac-Man arcade cabinet or play a home console adaptation, such as the Xbox 360 Live Arcade edition, I highly recommend this piece of gaming history to anyone. It's fun, challenging, addictive, enjoyable and very replayable. Now, let's get munching.
Product Release: Pac-Man (US, 10/31/80)
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