The classic dot muncher is back, and in perfect form! As the final offering of the five-week Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) Wednesday promotion, the original version of Pac Man hit the Marketplace August 9th. At a mere 400 Microsoft Points, it is a steal for those that want to again relive the nostalgia felt back in 1980 when Pac Man was introduced. While many incarnations of the game have appeared on various consoles over the years (who can forget the disastrous Pac Man World 3 on DS), this rendition reverts back to the TRUE classic arcade version.
Visually, Pac Man is spot on, displaying 1980's graphics at their best. Some updating to Hi-Def standards were done to the side bars and the initial game screen. The side bars provide a nice update of the classic Coin-Ops panels to help fill the space on your widescreen TV. The initial game screen is Pac Man oriented, but pretty standard fair.
As for the game play.....Press Start.....Eat dots.....Evade ghosts. What's not to love! Never has a game been so easy, where your entire objective is to drive around a yellow circle and eat everything on the board. No need for button combos to execute a flying side kick to the head, no cheat codes to make yourself invincible and no com buttons to talk. Just move baby!
If this game has a flaw, the controls would be it. As simple a concept as Pac Man is, precise control is the key to setting high scores and moving to the next level. Similar to Frogger and Street Fighter II (previously released on XBLA), trying to control Pac Man with the Analog Stick or the D-Pad can prove to be a challenge, as Pac Man tends to get hung up on corners or miss turns due to the wireless controller failing to match the responsiveness (and quite frankly the toughness) of a good old fashioned commercial grade joystick. However, practice makes perfect, and after playing for a while I started to get a better feel for how the controls respond.
The artificial intelligence is a perfect rendition of the classic Coin-Op game. The same paths and flaws that Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde had 26 years ago are still there. Anyone old enough to remember trying to memorizing patterns for each level knows what I mean.
Namco made a few improvements to the feature list to update the game to today's standards. XBLA Leaderboards for all XBLA members and your friends are expected and delivered. One unexpected touch has been Namco's offering of the ability to start at any level that has been previously completed (also seen on Galaga). Also included was a resize feature, but having a larger screen TV I have yet to need this feature. However, I can see how it would be useful for smaller widescreen TVs.
Achievements in Pac Man are attainable with a little work, and are something fun to shoot for if you get bored with the gameplay. However, they will fall in line as you progress through the levels, mainly requiring you to eat the fruit that pops up below the Ghost Pen. The added feature to start on any level makes it a lot easier than playing from scratch to get the 'Clear Round 21' achievement. Despite this, the hardest appears to be the 'Perfect' Achievement, which requires you to eat all four ghosts all four times in a stage.
Playing the game brought me back to my youth, thinking of how I used to wait in line for hours in a dimly lit arcade for my quarter to be the next one up. Now, some 20+ years later, I sit on my couch, using a wireless controller to play the game in HD on my 52" Wide Screen. Even though how we play has changed, the challenge to complete the levels and trying to set a high score are still there. If you loved the playing the original, the magic is still there.
The bottom line is that this is an excellent remake of the classic game. The sights and sounds (cut screens and the "wakka wakka wakka") are all there. Add in the nice touches Namco included (such as the ability to start out at the highest level completed, quality achievements and full XBLA Leaderboards) and the game is an excellent blend of 80's nostalgia updated to today's standards. For 400 Microsoft Points, this is a definite must-buy if you loved the game in the past. The only negative (something I have found with many retro Coin-Ops on XBLA) is the struggle with control response from the D-Pad or Analog Stick. If you can find one at a reasonable price, the Hori Arcade Joystick (Dead or Alive model) is a great way to fix the issue.