Review by chad9976

Reviewed: 08/22/08

This isn't your father's Pac-Man!

Fast pace; challenging; great graphics and sounds; high replay value.

Maybe a little too difficult.

The Bottom Line:
This game takes a simple concept and improves upon it immensely. That's really impressive.

The very concept of Pac-Man was so original and brilliant it’s nearly impossible to believe it could ever be improved upon. Then Ms. Pac-Man came along and did just that, so how could an upgrade be upgraded? Well, Jr. Pac-Man increases the challenge, has better graphics and sounds, and adds even more mazes for the best Pac-Man incarnation on the Atari 2600.


As is usually the case of video game sequels, Jr. Pac-Man follows the mold of its predecessors where the object is to guide a yellow character around a maze while gobbling up dots and avoiding ghosts. How could such a simple concept be made more challenging? By increasing the size of the maze, eliminating “emergency exits,” speeding up the tempo of the game, and adding even more mazes, of course.


Unlike the first two games where the field of play was limited to one screen, Jr. Pac-man’s maze is so large it actually scrolls vertically to encompass it all. Thankfully, the scrolling motions are smooth and Junior is far enough away form the edges that you have enough time to react to changes in the maze as well as incoming ghosts.

Additionally, there are SEVEN different mazes that make up this game and you have the option to start at any of them. However, the game is so challenging that simply starting at the first stage and making it to the third is quite an accomplishment. In fact, the only criticism I have of this game is that it’s way more difficult than it should be. The power pills do not last nearly as long as they did in the two previous games and the ghosts are a lot smarter this time around. They don’t just move around randomly, they actively hunt you down.

The other major difference is the game’s speed. Both Junior and the ghosts fly around the maze, making the game even more action-oriented and a test of reflexes than its predecessors. And yet the game still demands some strategy from the player. Because each maze has a different layout and each ghost has their own personality, you have to think fast to adapt to whatever situation in you’re in. Games that rely solely on dexterity can become monotonous, but Jr. Pac-Man is consistently fun and challenging.


Fast-paced games absolutely must have near-perfect controls, otherwise they’re virtually unplayable. I find the play control to Jr. Pac-Man to be spot-on. This game involves moving in all four directions constantly and the response is immediate.


Jr. Pac-Man is the same basic game as his old man’s, so graphics aren’t expected to be anything other than blocky, right? Surprisingly, this game is very easy on the eyes. Firstly, Junior himself is much bigger and better-rendered than his parents ever were as he actually wears a beanie with a propeller (just so you know he’s really a kid, not just a replica of his dad). Secondly, the ghosts are a little larger and are composed of four different vivid colors. Thirdly, the fact the game is made up of seven different mazes, is so fast-paced, and contains so many screen objects with next to no flicker really shows the capability of the Atari’s memory and processing power.


So far, every compliment about Jr. Pac-Man has been related to its ability to take a simple concept and improve upon it. This is true even of its sound palette. There actually isn’t much variety to the sound effects (just Junior eating dots, eating the ghosts and dying), but the quality is very impressive, sounding more like an 8-bit era game than the 4-bit era it actually belongs to.


Although the gameplay is technically repetitive, it never feels as such. You could play Jr. Pac-Man continuously and always feel truly challenged as well as entertained.


It’s a shame Jr. Pac-Man was released as late as it was since the Atari 2600 had been overshadowed by the Nintendo NES. But this is a cart that could truly compete with the earliest 8-bit games and is definitely one of the best in the VCS library.

Recommended: YES

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Jr. Pac-Man (US, 12/31/84)

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