Pac-Man is one of the most influential games in history and the highest grossing videogame of all time. Originally released in 1980, it has been the subject of as many as thirty officially licensed spin off titles and remakes over the years. However, nothing quite captures the classic tense and frantic gameplay of the beloved original better than the original itself, and with that in mind that’s exactly what we have here – a classic, original re-release of Namco Bandai’s best-selling I.P, Pac-Man.
Pac-Man hardly needs much of an introduction, it’s a game which almost every gamer has played, and every non-gamer has at least heard of. But why? What was it that caused this game to be known all over the world by so many people. Was it the gripping storyline, the fantastic plot twist, the unforgettable characters, the emotional journey? At first glance Pac-Man has no story to speak of, the same basic characters frequent it from start to finish and the same challenge runs throughout, with no change in sight. But anyone who has played Pac-Man for a serious amount of time knows that this is not the case at all.
Let’s start with the gameplay. The idea is simple enough; the player takes control of Pac-Man, a hungry yellow character tasked with eating up all of the Pac-Dots found in the onscreen maze so he can progress to the next level. On the way, he’ll need to avoid four enemy ghosts who are out to stop him. The player is given three lives to continue for as long as possible with the game getting progressively harder with each level; Pac will lose one life each time an enemy comes into contact with him. In each the four corners of the maze are a power pellet worth fifty points and collecting these enables a very brief period in which the four ghosts Blinky (red), Pinky (pink), Inky (blue) and Clyde (orange) can themselves be eaten and thrown back into their box in the middle of the maze. For a short while after, the player gets the chance to move around as quickly as possible and gather up as many of the remaining dots as possible before the eaten ghosts are released back into the maze to once again give chase.
Simple enough right? Wrong, as with each level comes a much higher challenge. Despite the same maze and end goal being on offer throughout it would be reasonable to think that the game could become repetitive and boring quickly – that’s certainly not the case. Each new stage sees the enemies become faster and more expecting of the players next move, to the point that even moving along the straight edges of the maze can become a worry with ghosts quickly becoming faster than Pac from as early as level 4! Of course this would be no fun if there was no escape but thankfully Pac is always quicker at turning and utilizes the teleporting path on each side of the maze well. However this is the only escape route throughout the entire game and with the game getting harder with each level, merely getting from one side of the maze to another becomes a challenge in itself.
Throughout the early stages of the game the player has one other task; once enough dots have been collected a pickup appears in the form of a fruit in the middle of the screen. With enemies floating around, grabbing these fruits is no easy task, but should the player collect them a nice points boost is added to the overall score. With each fruit changing throughout the 17 levels, each offering a larger score than the last, this can become more of a priority than an optional extra, if only due to the fact that when a certain amount of points have been attained, an invaluable extra life is added to the player.
I say this because at level seventeen everything you thought you had perfected within the game changes no matter how many hours you have put into perfecting those silky turns at each corner. The valuable fruit pickups change to 5000-point score boosters in the form of a key, but this is only a bribe over the more extreme change implemented to the game changing power pellets. From there on in, power pellets become simple pellets with the ghost gobbling side effect lost for the rest of the game and instead swapped with ghosts simply changing direction. This is where the mapping of my next move went entirely out the window and my perfected turns morphed into a rushed hope for survival. Ultimately a few seconds later it was the end of my great run! The player has nothing to rely on but their reactions with every pickup harder to get to, every ghost now even more dangerous and every dot requiring a plan of its own.
As for the story – well, there is no story. At least none that is in place from the developers. Pac-Man is a game that works well with the gameplay mechanics already in place and therefore the lack of narration really doesn’t harm this game in any way. In any case, the lack of linear progression helps keep the replayability which we see sorely lacking from many games today.
As nice as it is when developers remember classic games and keep loved franchises alive, there is often a sense of dread with a re-release or a remaster. This is often due to the lack of new content given when they are released – so what does Pac-Man offer to ensure there is something for old players to come back to other than pure nostalgia?
Well the answer sits within the games menus. After flicking down to a new option I hadn’t remembered from the original I was given a nice surprise. The addition of numerous gameplay options given this time out offer the player the chance to change things up slightly, giving the option to select how many lives to start with, the score limit needed to receive extra lives and also the option to choose which level to start from. The feature that was most pleasing to see however (despite the fact I would never be good enough to experience it), was to have the infamous level 256 glitch turned on or off. When turned on this causes level 256 to crash from a coding error in the original 8-bit coding of the game and the games code is introduced to the maze causing the dots that it covers to become unattainable – therefore making the level impossible to complete. For many gamers this would seem more like a horror show rather than a nice little extra, however with this previously only experienced by the words best Pac-Man players it’s a nice touch to have the option placed into the game.
So, is Pac-Man worth buying on Xbox One? At just £3.99 it is certainly a bargain and whether you’re looking for a fun gaming experience or a nostalgic return to childhood memories, the gameplay on offer is more than worth the asking price. For many it will be seen as a bargain title rather than another cash-cow and shows that sometimes simple mechanics work better than triple-A budgets.