Review by Retro
"What in the world is this?!"
That was the question that most people had to ask after they saw and played this Atari 2600 rendition of the arcade classic for the first time.
Pac-Man for the Atari 2600 is the same when it comes to how the game is played, but just about every other aspect of it is on a different planet from the major arcade hit. Like the arcade game, there is the yellow, round creature called Pac-Man. The object of the game is to eat all the dots in order to be promoted to the next level. There are four ghosts which Pac-Man must avoid unless he wants to lose a life. To save the day, there are four flashing power pellets (one in each corner) that Pac-Man can engulf, which transforms the ghosts from menacing predators to confused prey.
There's also just one maze that never changes throughout the game. Finally, as the game progresses and new levels are reached, the ghosts get faster and faster (but Pac-Man doesn't in this one), providing a bigger and better challenge for the mysterious yellow creature that has developed eyes for this outing on the home console.
Unfortunately for most Pac-Man addicts, the Atari 2600's clone has a lot more differences than it does similarities to the arcade original.
Unlike the arcade game, Pac-Man for the 2600 doesn't have any fruit for a much-needed snack; there's just a square-shaped item that appears right below the ghosts' hideout from time to time for a hundred bonus points.
The biggest difference in this game when you compare it to the original is that the maze is quite a new breed. Instead of the dark and haunting maze from the arcade game, the one in this game seems to suffer from a fair deal of claustrophobia, without much fresh air or places to go when the ghosts get too close for comfort. Also, in the arcade game there are 2 holes, or portals (one on the left and one on the right), that take you to the other side of the maze upon entering either one. There are also two portals in this one, but they are at the top and bottom of the screen instead of on the sides (no real biggie, but worth mentioning).
Since the maze is of a separate species this time around, the graphics are also a lot different. The dots aren't dots anymore; they're squares, and so are the power pellets. The colors are also a lot lighter in color. Those aren't really drawbacks, but this one is: the ghosts suffer from more flicker than a firework at the end of its fuse. The terrorizing ghosts just seem to barely be there (visually) at times. This might make you think that the creators of this cart were trying to make the ghosts more realistic by having them disappear every other split-second.
Looking more into the graphics department, you'll see that Pac-Man and the ghosts are almost entirely different looking from their original arcade residing selves. The ghosts quickly turn their eyes from left to right the entire game, Pac-Man has developed a set of eyes and seems to 'chew' more slowly, and the list goes on. While I like the yellow creature's (Pac-Man) new look, I can't quite say the same for the ghosts.
Even though this game is so much different from the arcade game, it is still fun in its own mysterious ways. I don't know what it is, but the 2600's Pac-Man occupies some unknown territory in the Atari 2600 part of my brain. It's horrid, yet it's fun and memorable (in good ways).
To boost up the overall score a notch, there are eight variations in this 1981 cartridge. These eight variations allow you to choose the speed of both Pac-Man and the ghosts to a certain degree. You can also choose to play any of the eight games by yourself, or with a friend in a two-player game.
Also, each time you complete a maze by devouring all of its contents, you'll be given an extra life. You can also keep track of your score at the bottom of the screen.
If you make the mistake millions of people did and expect this version to be an exact replica of the arcade game, you'll find yourself beyond disappointed. But, if you'd like to play/own a Pac-Man that is a bit different (but still fun) from the original, then I recommend this hugely successful but bashed and trashed variation of Pac-Man.
If you're on a search for an Atari 2600 game in the Pac-Man series that stays true to the original and does a great job of it, turn your sights toward Ms. Pac-Man and/or Jr. Pac-Man.
GRAPHICS - The graphics aren't anything like the arcade game, but they're not really hard on the eyes either; they look decent enough. The game has plain, but good colors, and Pac-Man himself actually has somewhat good animation (especially the death scene). The ghosts on the other hand don't look terrible, but they suffer from way too much flicker.
SOUND - The sound is also entirely different this time around, in both good and bad ways. The ghosts produce their own sound at the start of each new Pac-Man life, which is a nice addition. Some sounds such as that of a Pac-Man death and the sound of Pac-Man going on a ghost feast (eating a ghost), are fairly impressive. But some of the audio's contents, such as the constant chomping of the pellets, aren't quite as impressive.
CONTROL - There's not any flaws with the controls. All you have to do is move in any of the four directions at the right time. It's not hard to master that!
REPLAY VALUE - Of course, since this is a Pac-Man game, anybody who really likes Pac-Man will probably want to play it from time to time, even if it's not a faithful arcade port. Myself, I've always liked, and still do like playing it from time to time. It's not the best Pac-Man game for the system, but it can be fun.
OVERALL - I'll admit that after I added Ms. Pac-Man and Jr. Pac-Man to my Atari 2600 collection, I played Pac-Man less and less. But as I said before, I don't know what it is, but even with the game's horrid characteristics when compared to the arcade giant, there's still a good bit of fun to be had in this cartridge.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 04/06/01, Updated 05/20/02
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