Review by Retro
Reviewed: 04/25/01 | Updated: 05/02/03
I'll never forget that particular trip to Toys R Us back in either 1988 or 1989. My parents drove me to the store, which was an hour away, so I could run to the video game aisle like I always did and take in the views (in my eyes, there were no other sections inside the store), and possibly make a purchase. But this time was different. We actually went to Birmingham just to eat out at Red Lobster, but since Toys R Us was right across the street, they subsided to my complaints to simply go there and look around. For once, I didn't have enough of my allowance saved up to actually buy a game.
Being a minor fan of Pac-Man and a major fan of Ms. Pac-Man for the system, when I saw Jr. Pac-Man for the Atari 2600 on sale for the first time, I stared at the game and did a sarcastic whining sound while begging for one of the two parents to lend me about $15 so I could get the game and then pay them back later. My ingenious tactics didn't work; I had to wait two or three grueling weeks before I could finally get it with my own cash.
Like father, like son. Jr. Pac-Man is the third game in the classic series. Just like his daddy had been doing for years, Jr. Pac-Man simply goes around clearing mazes by eating every single dot that he can find. A flashing power pellet that is larger than your everyday dot resides in each of the four corners of the maze. Jr. Pac-Man can eat any of these and instantly turn all four of the ghosts from relentless beings to scaredy-ghosts. He can then eat them as a tiny snack and send their eyes back to their hideout in the center of the maze before they once again chase him through the maze.
Yeah, it's just more of the same, for the most part. But Jr. Pac-Man is different. There are a few things about it that are different, which are the things that make it the best Pac-Man game for the Atari 2600 by a long shot. For one, the mazes are huge! Whether that goes to show that Jr. Pac-Man has an even bigger appetite than his parents ever did, or what, these larger mazes are a welcome sight, even for somebody who doesn't suffer one bit from claustrophobia. They're so big that none of them can fit onto one screen! Each maze is constantly scrolling along with Jr. Pac-Man's every move. Scrolling mazes may sound like a hassle, but they're really not that bad. You can't always see all of the ghosts at the same time, and when you only have one or two elusive dots left in the maze, you have to 'search' for them, but both of these things can be gotten used to in a flash.
Maybe Jr. Pac-Man idolizes his mother more than his dad. Just like they did in the mom's self-titled game, the mazes change and get progressively more difficult in Jr. Pac-Man. Because of this, there are more flashing power pellets than the four corner-living ones we've gotten used to over the years. Each of the mazes in Jr. Pac-Man has two or three extra ones scattered about somewhere in the vast playing area.
I believe in saving the best for last. The last major difference in Jr. Pac-Man when compared to the two previous parent hits is its items. You know that most kids don't like eating fruits, except for occasionally. Jr. Pac-Man is in with the majority. While his parents either had stationary fruits appear out of nowhere right under the ghosts' hideout or had them bouncing around through the mazes' surroundings, Jr. Pac-Man prefers things such as balloons, tricycles, and root beers. A few times each level, one of these various items bounce ever so slowly around the maze.
These items are different from any other toy trains, kites, drums, etc., that you've ever seen. They have a certain power of their own to them. As they make their way through every twist and turn of the mazes' environments, each dot that they touch will triple in size. If any of them happen to run into a flashing power pellet (their ultimate goal), that pellet will literally explode like a firecracker, decreasing Jr. Pac-Man's defense against the ghosts a good deal. Personally, I wouldn't want to eat any of the items apart from the root beers, but Jr. Pac-Man is different. He can eat any of them, even a tricycle (that's gotta hurt going down) at any time. He can also devour the enlarged dots, but since they're so bloated, they'll take just a bit longer to eat, and they're worth more points.
Back when my parents were actually married, me and my mom would go ride bikes pretty often down the same straight as an arrow road that stretched for more than 2½ miles. I could never ride parallel to my mom the whole time; I was too much of a speed demon. Jr. Pac-Man and I seem to have that in common. He is way faster than either one of his parents from start to finish. But so are the ghosts.
While slower than their one and only son, Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man had an ability that Junior doesn't yet have. They could always go through holes around the edges of their mazes and immediately be warped to the other side. There are not any holes in the mazes of this game, surprisingly. I guess Junior hasn't learned the famous disappearing act yet.
Jr. Pac-Man does his eating in a place that looks very good, if not unbelievable, for an Atari 2600 cart. Of the three Pac-Man titles for the system, Jr. Pac-Man has the best graphics by a loooooooong shot. Jr. Pac-Man, the ghosts, and the bouncing items are all greatly detailed. It doesn't take two looks or X-ray vision to tell what any of the items are. The root beer is foaming at the top of the mug it sits in; kites are a perfect trapezoid shape, with a long string to make it appear realistic. Jr. Pac-Man and the ghosts are also standouts with their superb animation. Jr. Pac-Man's beanie is constantly spinning on top of his head as his mouth opens wide and closes with speedy chomps. My favorite thing about the graphics is the eyes of the ghosts after Jr. Pac-Man engulfs them. The eyes become perfectly round with a black spot inside each one that makes them look like goofy cartoon eyes.
Do the graphics sound good? Well, Jr. Pac-Man sounds good too. There is the distant background beat that stays true to the series, a louder than ever chomping sound, and other nice sound effects, such as the loud bang an item makes when it finds one of your flashing power pellets. Between mazes, there is some awesome music to be heard. So what, you ask? That's a major plus, believe it or not, because very few Atari 2600 games have a bit of music to be heard. Let alone several musical tracks that are loud and that last several seconds, which is what Jr. Pac-Man has.
I don't know of a such thing as a perfect video game. I can even find a minor flaw or two in my absolute favorites, such as Super Metroid, Mega Man 2, and Toe Jam & Earl. If there's a noticeable flaw about Jr. Pac-Man, it's the challenge. It is way harder than any other Pac-Man game that I've played for any system. If you pass any of the mazes with four ghosts scurrying around, then you know you're a great player. Fortunately, there is an antidote. Before beginning a game, you can select which maze you want to start on, and choose how many ghosts there will be for the entire game (anywhere from one ghost to all four). This is a lifesaver, and it keeps Jr. Pac-Man worthy of the perfect score I'm giving it.
It's unfortunate that Jr. Pac-Man seems to be the least played and known of the series, because it is easily the very best. It has more mazes, faster gameplay, innovative new items to replace the tainted fruits, better graphics, excellent sounds, music, and more. All of this makes Jr. Pac-Man shine even brighter than his parents.
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