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STORY & OBJECT
There really isn't a story to Pac-Man. How this living yellow disc got stuck in this maze and why he has a taste for dots (or rectangles called "wafers" in this edition) and a phobia of ghosts is a mystery. He's like Sisyphus, forever doomed to clean up the maze and dodge the ghosts only to start all over again once his task is complete.
The entire game consists of one, and only ONE screen; a bright blue background under an ugly orange-brown maze with wafers of the same color scattered about. Your job is to gobble up all the wafers for a whole one point each. Once you've cleared the maze you begin another one.
Of course there are some obstacles in your way, namely, four flickering ghosts who kill you instantly if they even graze you. To counteract these baddies there's an arsenal of four power pills (a whopping five points each) in each corner which enable you to turn the tables on the ghosts for a short period of time (earning you 20 to 160 points). Every once in a while a "vitamin" will appear in the center of the maze for and extra 100 points.
But that's it, that's all there is!
Simple? Yes. Fun? No.
GAMEPLAY, CHALLENGE & STRATEGY
Playing the same game over and over again can be fun and challenging, but this edition of Pac-Man is most definitely not. You would think after a few stages the maze would change or the ghosts would speed up or SOMETHING out of the ordinary would happen, right? Unfortunately, no, and it's the main reason this game is so bad because of its repetitive nature.
How many times can you go through the exact same maze accomplishing the exact same task? Actually, that's the concept behind the original arcade edition and yet it works on that platform because as the stages progress both Pac-Man and the ghosts speed up. That does not happen here, although the game does have eight different modes of play which vary the speed of both Pac-Man and the ghosts. Game #6 in which both move at the fastest possible speed is probably the most fun and challenging way to play this game, but even that's not saying much.
Why couldn't the game designer have incorporated a few more challenging aspects? Obviously, additional mazes would have made the game dramatically more fun. But if that wasn't possible, what about a timer? Also, why are the ghosts so seemingly random in their movements? You never get the feeling they're out to get Pac-Man, they're just obstacles that get in his way.
What's also surprising is the fact you are awarded a 1-Up for every stage you clear. There's seemingly no limit on the number of lives you could earn and because the game is so easy, being able to have so many chances just makes it even easier (or prolongs your boredom).
As lame as the overall concept and gameplay are, the game itself is at least playable. In fact, the controls are surprisingly smooth and quickly responsive. Pac-Man will always go wherever you want him to go whenever you move him. There's only two problems with play control I have:
1) How easily Pac-Man is considered "caught" by one of the ghosts. You never truly feel like you've been pwned, only that you made a wrong turn and because you got within the radius of a molecule to a ghost he got you.
2) Pac-Man must move over a wafer completely in order to eat it. There have been times in which I went to eat a wafer and move in the opposite direction only to realize Pac-Man never ate the wafer even though it was IN his mouth, but he never chomped down on it (oiy!).
GRAPHICS & ANIMATION
Even for an Atari 2600 game the graphics are very primitive, mostly due to the fact the game is made up more of shapes than true graphics.
The bright blue and hideous orange-brown color scheme is actually quite taxing on the eyes. Why not a blue maze on a black background? Also, all four ghosts are the exact same aqua green color and are constantly flickering (again, annoying on the eyes). Why couldn't they be four different colors?
As for Pac-Man himself, he has a funny crescent wrench shape to him. When he moves up and down he stays facing either left or right and his jaws never stop flapping, even when he's not moving.
MUSIC & SOUND
Yet another source for my derision against this game is the abysmal quality of the sound. There isn't any music to be heard here - only four notes to indicate the game is about to start.
The sound palette is just as ugly as the color scheme. Hearing an annoying metallic "boink" every time Pac-Man eats a wafer is grating on the ears. Even the sound that plays when you eat a power-pill or a vitamin is a low-pitched, annoying tone. These sounds almost make the player think they've just done something wrong!
There is something of a cute four-note tune played whenever Pac-Man dies, but that's the only remotely positive aural aspect to be found here.
This particular edition of Pac-Man is a perfect example of what a video game should NOT be. It's not challenging, it looks awful, it sounds awful, it's repetitive and obviously uncreative. But more than anything else, Pac-Man fails because it's just not fun to play, so why would you?