The Game: Namco raids the archives once more, offering up arcade-perfect handheld adaptations of Pac-Man, Pac-Mania, one of the first-ever home versions of Pac-Man Arrangement, and the Tetris knock-off Pac-Attack. (Namco, 2001)
Memories: Namco has offered some dandy attempts at bringing Pac-Man home from the arcades. They tried with the premiere volume of the Namco Museum series for the Playstation, which suffered from having its display savagely reduced in size to include a lame bitmapped version of the original side art. They tried again with the Game Boy Color version of Pac-Man, and got damn close. Even their battery-powered 5-in-1 TV Game is close enough for government work. But I’ll be gobbled by a quartet of colorful blobs if this ain’t the closest thing this side of MAME to real live honest-to-God Pac-Man.
Pac-Man Collection is essentially a second volume of Namco Museum for the Game Boy Advance, earning a unique title because, well, every game on the cartridge involves Pac-Man. The original game is as perfect a Pac-Man adaptation as you’re going to get in a handheld format – it looks right (although once again the maze scrolls vertically due to the horizontal nature of the Game Boy Advance screen) and it sounds right. The only thing marring Pac-Man on the GBA is the easy tendency to accidentally hit the shoulder buttons: one scrolls to to the top of the maze, the other scrolls to the bottom, regardless of where Pac-Man is. If not triggered manually, the game normally follows Pac-Man’s vertical position in the game, but bumping a shoulder button can leave you blind at the most inopportune moment imaginable. Hold the GBA very carefully to avoid this potential hazard, and you should be in perfect Pac-paradise.
The same problems also occurs in Pac-Man Arrangement, a spiced-up remake of the game first introduced in Namco’s 1996 coin-op Namco Arcade Classics Volume 2. The “arrangement” version of the game follows the same basic play mechanics, but drastically ramps up the graphics (everything about Pac, the monsters, the maze and even the dots is stunningly animated) and sound, adds new mazes, and introduces a handful of new elements like jump points, dash points, and fright pills that scare the ghosts back into their home base; it also adds ghosts so hungry that they eat each other, doubling their size in the process. Again, this is as close as you’re going to get to the real thing in the palm of your hand.
That description also applies to 1988’s Pac-Mania, the first-ever 3-D take on Pac-Man which added isometric graphics and an ability to jump. Even more than Pac-Man Arrangement, the look of this game on the GBA floored me. And this time, no shoulder button snafus are possible – they have no function in Pac-Mania.
The fourth game, Pac-Attack, is the same miserable Tetris ripoff with Pac characters that Namco’s been foisting on us since the SNES era, and I don’t care for it any more here than I did before. Couldn’t we have had Super Pac-Man here? It was good enough for the Playstation’s Namco Museum Volume 2 in the U.S., and it was good enough for the Game Boy Color Ms. Pac-Man cartridge. Heck, I would’ve settled for Pac-Man Plus – even with its similarities to the original game, it would’ve been a first-time adaptation of it, and an exclusive-to-GBA port.
Other than that, it’s almost Pac-perfection – marred only by Namco’s insistence on shoehorning Pac-Attack into the official lineup.