Pac-Man (Tengen) (NES) review
"If the preceding statement is true, there's only one thing more I need to tell you about, the game's conversion. This is because while the NES saw its fare share of ports, most of them sucked, or at the very least paled in comparison to their arcade counterparts. Not so here. Pac-Man from the arcades makes the trip to the home console quite nicely. All that's missing is the joystick, and if you have the NES Advantage, even that's in place."
When reviewing a game, it is essential to provide a background story that no one cares about, then find some tenuous thread that connects that bit of fluff to an in-depth analysis of the game in question. In this case, the game happens to be Pac-Man for the NES.
My story you won't care about begins in the woods outside of White City, Oregon. My dad was a log truck driver, and the controversy with the spotted owl hadn't yet forced him to find other means of employment. It was summer, and that meant my mom, my sister and I were camping out in the woods. There was no electricity, just the camp trailers, the families of a few other log truck drivers, and the animals. That year, I believe an escaped convict was also in the area. It goes without saying that, considering my life revolved around video games at the time, I was going insane. For this reason, every trip we took to town was a blessing. The highlight of the trip was always the laundromat, where there was a shiny Pac-Man cabinet. I could usually persuade my mom to give me two quarters. While my sister used her funds to buy candy from the vending machine, I would hit the games.
My games would never last very long. Remember, I was a third grader. When that was over, I would head back to my mom, she would tell me I'd used up all my quarters, and then I would wander about, looking at the games and wishing quarters lasted longer. From time to time, I would talk to the lady that worked at the laundromat, too. She was always willing to talk games, but more specifically, she was always willing to talk about Pac-Man, to share her experiences, to tell me her tricks for success, to pass on the lore of how the ghosts were hardly affected by the super pellets at all in the later areas. And now it's time to justify this boring story for you by saying one thing: this person was an adult. Before Tetris proved to grandmothers that stacking blocks on a Game Boy screen could be fun, Pac-Man won some of them over with ghosts and pellets.
I'm not sure what adults relatively new to the whole idea of video games found so appealing about Pac-Man that they didn't find in other games of the time. Perhaps it was the simplicity. A game of Pac-Man appears on a single screen; you never scroll in any direction, never have trouble keeping an eye on everything at once. Pac-Man himself is a cute little circle, with a flickering, black triangle that is meant to be viewed as a mouth. His goal is to gobble up all the pellets on a map, at which point he advances to the next stage and does it all over again with faster ghosts and the odds further stacked against him. There's no 'jump' button, and the only power-ups are the power pellets in four corners of the maze that allow him to temporarily add his opponents to the menu.
Yet despite its simplicity (or more likely because of it), the classic formula has endured for years, and seen many variations. If you've never played Pac-Man, you're truly missing out on something special. However, you're presently reading a classic game review. This implies something I really need to address: you've probably played the crap out of this game in one form or another.
If the preceding statement is true, there's only one thing more I need to tell you about, the game's conversion. This is because while the NES saw its fare share of ports, most of them sucked, or at the very least paled in comparison to their arcade counterparts. Not so here. Pac-Man from the arcades makes the trip to the home console quite nicely. All that's missing is the joystick, and if you have the NES Advantage, even that's in place.
When I first stuck the cartridge into the system after not playing the game for quite awhile, I felt right at home. Pac-Man is a game you can't really forget. If you have a certain routine you follow, it will work just as well here as it did at the laundromat, the pizza parlor, the arcade, or the bowling alley. The timing feels the same, from how long it takes to reach the upper right corner to the patterns the ghosts follow, to the time that passes when you warp from one side of the playing field to the other. The sound is duplicated perfectly, too. There's not a single touch-up, but that's exactly how we want it. About the only complaint I have is that it feels at times like the controls aren't quite as responsive as they should be. It took me a life or two getting used to the fact that you need to press the button at just the right moment when you come to a turn, or Pac-Man may head right past that fork in the road and into the waiting arms of a ghost.
There's not a lot else to say really. You're either going to understand Pac-Man or you're not. As for me, there are still moments where I sit down in front of the television, look over at my growing collection of recent releases for the next-generation systems, and decide that the most fun I'll have is offered on that little black cartridge from Tengen. It's saying a lot when a game that would probably fit on a chip the size of a pea can entertain better than Square's latest multi-disc opus. I think the lady from the laundromat would agree with me.
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Staff review by Jason Venter (November 02, 2003)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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