Pac-Man Museum – Review



Title   Pac-Man Museum
Developer  Namco Bandai
Publisher  Namco Bandai
Platform  Windows PC, Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3
Genre  Arcade
Release Date  February 26, 2014

When it comes to gaming mascots, Pac-Man is royalty, whether you’re a fan or not. The sort of character that comes to mind if you ask a non-gamer to name a videogame. Along with Space Invaders and maybe Mario, Pac-Man is synonomous with gaming itself. This is due to Pac-Man arriving early enough in arcade history to make a mark, thanks to his simple but iconic design and, of course, because for a game that will be 34 years old this year, Pac-Man‘s actually still pretty good.

Namco have rather whored the circular pill-popper out over the years though with one game after another (not to mention roughly a billion compilations) but when they revealed the contents of this package, fans had reason to be excited. Especially me when I saw that Pac-Land was going to be a part of it.

With nine games available, along with temporarily free DLC for another, Pac-Man Museum has the opportunity to not only put these games out to a new audience but also provide a definitive history of Namco’s favourite property.  Starting with the games themselves, you’ve got a pretty decent selection of titles in there.

Pac-Man (1980) – the game that started it all. Classic gameplay sees Pac chomping his way through dots in single-screen levels while being chased by four ghosts (each with different levels of aggression). Power pills in the corners of each maze gave you a chance to turn the tables on those spectral pricks though. Pac-Man still plays well after all these years and offers a pretty stiff challenge. It is, however, already on Xbox Live Arcade, and so most Pac-fans will already own it.

Super Pac-Man (1982) – this variation on the original theme sees Pac eating keys in order to unlock gates. It’s not as immediate or fun as the original though and feels a little bit awkward and thrown together.

Pac & Pal (1983) – despite Super Pac-Man not being very good, Pac & Pal feels remarkably similar, so someone must like them. This game introduces Miru, a weird flying fruit fairy or something, who runs around helping you to complete levels. It’s not great.

Pac-Land (1984) – it may just be the chirpy background music, but I’ve always loved Pac-Land and the chance to get back into it was the reason I most wanted to get my hands on this compilation. A simple, side-scrolling puzzler with a ton of charm, Pac-Land is very likeable but might be a bit too twee and basic for newcomers.

Pac-Mania (1987) – the ’80s was big on 3D but didn’t have the polygonal chops to do it, so forced isometric 3D was pretty popular and Pac-Mania is a fairly straightforward port of the original game but in that perspective. It looks great with its big and bold graphics but the viewpoint means that you have to scroll around levels. Pac-Man‘s ability to jump makes up for it though and makes this one of the better ’80s efforts on the compilation.

Pac-Attack (1993) – this slightly misguided attempt to rip off Tetris is playable enough but is kind of dull and a bit too tough when it speeds up. An interesting curio but pretty bad when compared to the best games in the brick-stacking genre.

Pac-Man Arrangement (1996) – a decent stab at updating Pac-Man for a newer generation, this game turned up as part of a compilation of Namco games back in the ’90s and gives Pac-Man a few graphical and gameplay tweaks. The faux-3D, shiny graphics can be a little off-putting but the gameplay is sound and has a bit more structure than the original. A worth successor for sure.

Pac-Man Championship Edition (2007) – as one of the finest games available on Xbox Live Arcade, Pac-Man Championship Edition is a worthy title but, as with the original Pac-Man, most Pac-fans will already own this. A neon-hued, score attack update of the usual Pac-formula, Championship Edition sees you going for points across five or ten minute modes and is easily the best game on the compilation.

Pac-Man Battle Royale (2011) – the last, and latest, title on the compilation, Battle Royale is a multiplayer Pac-’em’-up that sees up to four players vying for supremacy. Unfortunately the multiplayer thrills are online only and while this game has a good reputation I don’t really see the point of it. Aside from chomping other Pac-men or pushing them into ghosts, there’s not much to it and there’s no score mechanic to it at all which makes it joyless in single-player.

Ms. Pac-Man (1981) – not part of the original package, this DLC is initially free but will eventually cost money. It’s a 108KB download though which means you are just paying to unlock what is already there. It’s already on Xbox Live Arcade anyway so you might want to go for that version if you miss the early freebie.

So that’s the games and there’s bound to be something in there for most players and, while plenty of them aren’t that good, it’s nice to see the evolution in the series. However, Pac-Man Museum doesn’t really go far enough with this package.

For starters, there are plenty of missing games, including the Deluxe version of Championship Edition, which is a shame. Also, there’s no historical information about the games on offer. No behind the scenes footage, no text. Nothing. You just select and play. The number of options for each game is extremely limited too, mainly covering the number of lives on offer and a few other basic options.

One option that shockingly isn’t present is the option to resize the screen. Many of the games turn up in tiny windows and, in the case of things like Pac-Attack, some of them already didn’t give much screen real-estate over to the gameplay area so often a huge chunk of the screen isn’t used for any gameplay. A very poor decision.

Each game has a selection of eight in-game objectives that unlock stamps. These range from simple tasks such as beating the odd level to very difficult ones (I don’t see me getting 300,000 points on Pac-Man, thanks for asking). They do give some incentive to give each game proper attention though and should help focus you enough to play better and get more from each game. It’s a shame they are quite this difficult but it’s an incentive to get better I guess.

With more care and attention, a bit more content, Pac-Man Museum could have been pretty special but it feels cheaply put together which makes the £16 asking price a little bit unpalatable. That said, there are plenty of really good old games on here for you to test your skills against. This isn’t the complete history of Pac-Man that we might have liked, but there’s just about enough content here to keep you interested for a while.

Pros
  • A fine selection of games with some real gems in there.
  • In-game objectives encourage deeper play.
Cons
  • Not a complete collection. Plenty of missing games and no historical information about any of the titles.
  • £16 for a digital-only collection feels like too much and the demo only lets you play Pac-Man: Championship Edition (which is already available on Xbox Live Arcade).
  • Unlock code DLC on top of the high asking price seems like a pisstake.
  • Unnecessarily small game screens that can't be resized.
Summary

Pac-Man Museum may feel like a missed opportunity and the price may scare away a lot of potential customers but there's a good chunk of gaming goodness to be had here. The smarter choice might be to pick up the existing Xbox Live Arcade games that are available as they are either in this package or better. Or you could just wait for this compilation's inevitable price drop which should be just around the corner given how badly this package seems to be selling.


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One Comment

  1. Lorna says:

    Pac-Laaaaand! About fucking time! The local cafe had a Pac-Land arcade cab in a little storage area at the back of the shop, which I loved. I ended up snagging it for the Speccy but it was one of those nasty ‘flip the tape to keep loading’ deals and, typically, half the time the load failed.

    Shame about the missing games, lack of history, and small play windows though. If it drops in price I’ll pick it up for Pac-Land and the Championship Edition. Or I could just download a new Speccy emulator and play the original if I can get it.

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