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Pac-Man (Atari 2600) artwork

Pac-Man (Atari 2600) review

"However, just because I had fun times with family while playing this game doesn't mean I can excuse its large list of faults. That period of time can best be described as good times with a bad game simply because we didn't know any better. "

Growing up with an Atari 2600, I was used to two things: Being able to play ports of virtually any arcade game of the time I desired AND being stuck with the worst possible port of said arcade games. The graphics often would stink compared to what Colecovision or, well, pretty much anything else would provide and entire stages would find themselves on the cutting room floor -- something that was very noticeable when you consider that game from this era tended to have three or four "stages" that each completely fit onto one screen.

Back then, I didn't have the highest expectations for games. If my parents bought me one that contained a decent percentage of the arcade version, didn't look like crap and was reasonably playable, I was cool. Not because I was super-easy to please, but because I really didn't know any better. I'd see pictures of superior ports in the occasional magazine, but for the most part, the 2600 was all I knew.

Even then, it was easy to have this sneaky little suspicion that things weren't all that great with Pac-Man. It's a poor port, even by the standards of poor ports. A year or two later, when my parents bought Ms. Pac-Man, that suspicion turned into disappointment, chagrin and other negative emotions, which led to me putting Pac-Man at the bottom of my box of Atari games, never to be played again.

Pac-Man on the Atari 2600 is less a port of that game than it is a lazy attempt to make a bunch of money off the name. Even by Atari standards, a ton of stuff was cut from the arcade original. There is only one maze design, all the ghosts are the same color and move the same speed and the many varieties of bonus-point fruit were replaced by ugly blobs known as "vitamins" (which were stationary, as opposed to the fruit, which moved around the maze). The sound effects stunk, too, meaning this port looked, sounded and played much worse than the original. Think about it: Pac-Man was one of the most famous and beloved games of all time and Atari, at the time, had a definite claim to being the kings of gaming…and yet it was Atari who released a port so shoddy that I'd think anyone would be embarrassed to have their name associated with it. Bizarre. In a way, I'm actually surprised they got the "control a guy as he runs around mazes eating dots while alternating between running from and chasing ghosts" part right. I mean, they did screw up everything else!

Any positives I could discuss about this game all can be filed under the "nostalgic memories" category. It was the first game I ever owned, so I feel a certain fondness for it. Atari did provide several different modes where Pac-Man and the ghosts moved at varying speeds, so both the unskilled and the gaming gods could find success. That helped make this a game I could play with both my parents, as it was simple to pick a level where the ghosts moved at a pace suitable for their skill. We spent a lot of time competing against each other and writing down our top scores. However, just because I had fun times with family while playing this game doesn't mean I can excuse its large list of faults. That period of time can best be described as good times with a bad game simply because we didn't know any better.

Until the release of Ms. Pac-Man, that is. The work put into that cartridge kind of made me look at it as Atari's apology to us gamers. It obviously wasn't a PERFECT port, but there were multiple colors of ghost; fruit was bouncing around the mazes ready to be gobbled for bonus points and every couple times you cleared a maze, the lay-out changed. Now that's how to make a worthy console version of a game!

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (June 21, 2012)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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