Review by Rottenwood

Reviewed: 07/28/04

Golden Oldie

I've always loved Pac-Man, but I didn't truly appreciate it until recently, when I began spending a lot of time at the local arcade. Spending a dollar to receive a couple of 10-second ass-kickings in SoulCalibur 2 didn't seem like much fun, so I decided to spend my time in the old-school corner of the arcade instead. I can make a quarter stretch pretty far at the Pac-Man or Galaga cabinets.

I spend most of my time with Pac-Man these days, although I adore Dig-Dug and Galaga immensely. Pac-Man has that magical blend of challenge and replayability that many modern games lack. Don't get me wrong: we are all spoiled to be gamers in this era, with a handful of powerful home consoles pumping out tons of great games. But most new titles aren't very replayable: you play them through, watch the ending, and there's no real reason or desire to play it through again. Pac-Man, on the other hand, has kept me entertained for over a decade. I play it now more than I did when it was relatively new.

I doubt there's anyone out there who is unfamiliar with how Pac-Man plays, but just in case, here's a summary. You control Pac-Man, a yellow circle with a wedge-shaped mouth. (Imagine a yellow pizza with a slice missing - which is an apt image, since that's how the designer got the idea for Pac-Man in the first place.) You're stuck in a maze filled with little dots called pellets, which you must gobble up to finish the round. Making this job difficult are the four ghosts who relentlessly chase you - each with their own color and 'personality.' If one of the ghosts catches you, you're a goner - and you've only got three lives, so make them count.

Pac-Man isn't completely defenseless, of course. There are four 'power' pellets, one in each corner of the maze. When you eat one, the ghosts turn blue and become powerless, and during this little window of time, you can eat THEM for a change. Not only is this very satisfying, but it can be quite profitable as well, score-wise. Eating one ghost nets you just 200 points, but if you get more before the 'power' wears off, you'll score 400, 800, and 1600 points respectively for all four. This is the best way to score points in the early rounds. As the game progresses, however, the time duration of the 'power' pellet effect wanes, until it's practically nonexistent. At that point, your only real source of extra points are the bonus fruits.

What are bonus fruits, you ask? They're cute little items that give you extra points when you eat them, of course. A bonus fruit appears twice per stage, when you've consumed a certain portion of the pellets. As the game progresses, the bonus fruits become more and more valuable. Of course, they're not even fruit after a while - you get bells and keys and such. Speaking personally, I'd much rather eat a strawberry than a bell, but Pac-Man can digest anything, I guess. Once you're far enough into the game to have the 5,000-point keys as your bonus 'fruit,' your main strategy will be to collect both keys per level, despite the risk. Who can resist the lure of 10,000 points when a high score is at stake?

Speaking of high scores, I hope you like them, because Pac-Man has no real story to speak of. Nor does it have an ending. This is old-school gaming: points are what count. You do get little scenes once in a while between levels, featuring Pac-Man's antics. But these are hardly examples of gripping storytelling. Got to love that music, though.

One of the neat little aspects of Pac-Man is something that not many people are aware of: each ghost acts in their own unique way. (The ghosts have cute little names, but I'll refer to them by color, since it's the only useful way to describe them.) The red ghost chases directly behind you, while the pink one will try to cut you off - making the two a deadly pair if they're near you at the same time. The blue ghost is unpredictable - he might chase you, he might not - and the orange one is pretty much a dumbass, although he can get you during his rare moments of clarity. Learning the personality of the ghosts can make their movements easier to predict, which can save you many lives when you have to make a quick decision on which way to turn.

Pac-Man is a tough game, though, even if you DO have a doctorate in Ghost Behavior. Most people will never get past level 20 or so, and very few will make it into the triple digits. This is one of the many joys of Pac-Man - that thrill you get when you make it farther than you've ever been before, dodging ghosts like an expert and gobbling up fruit by the bushel. Since there's no pre-determined ending to Pac-Man, you never feel like you've conquered the game and are done with it. The lure of setting a new high score will keep you coming back for years.

I normally comment on a game's graphics and sound package, but it seems irrelevant in this case. Pac-Man is a visually pleasing game, to be sure, with the colorful hero and ghosts being a nice contrast to the dark maze and glowing pellets. But at the end of the day, it's plain ol' Pac-Man. Love it or leave it.

I love Pac-Man and I consider it to be one of the greatest games ever made, but I will say this: don't let some nostalgic snob insist that you MUST love this game. Don't feel like you have to play it because it's a classic; play it because it's freaking FUN, and it's one of the few arcade games the common man can afford these days. *Sarcastic grin.* Pac-Man has been put into tons of compilations and repackagings, so you can probably find it for just about any major format. (Although nothing beats sitting down at an old arcade cabinet, in my opinion. It just has that 'feel' to it.) Perfect for 15 spare minutes or an afternoon of high score-chasing, Pac-Man is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece of video gaming.

Rating: 10

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