These days it feels like every popular mascot character has starred in their own party game. In the past ten years we've suffered through what felt like every Mario Party clone possible, from Sonic Shuffle to Crash Bash. If your favorite video game character has been used to sell game consoles, then chances are they've been forced to take part in a virtual board game. Perhaps that's why I'm shocked by Namco's newest mini-game collection, Pac-Man Party. It's not because this game is particularly good, but rather the fact that Pac-Man has yet to star in a party game.
Pac-Man Party is exactly what it sounds like, a mini-game collection starring one of our industry's oldest superstars. In essence this is nothing more than a variation on Monopoly, in which players move around a board claiming the different tiles. Of course, it wouldn't be a competent party game without a wealth of mini-games to play. Just about everything triggers mini-game, from figuring out how many spaces to move all the way up to settling land disputes. Beating your friends (or the computer, if you're a solo player) is the key to earning enough cookies to win the game. Wait ... cookies?
You know how it always looked like Pac-Man was eating floating yellow dots? It turns out that you've been lied to. Forget what you saw in the Pac-Man cartoon or those endless (and pointless) 3D reboots, Pac-Man has a series cookie habit that he's having a hard time shaking. At least, that's what Pac-Man Party tells us. One day, in a cookie fueled stupor, Pac-Man decides to take it upon himself to locate the original recipe and return it back to its rightful owner. That's easier said than done, as our favorite colored ghosts -- Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde -- stand in his way.
Embarrassing story aside, Pac-Man Party at least attempts to be a serious virtual board game. Players choose their character and prepare to spend a long, long time throwing dice and competing in mini-game battles. I'm not somebody who gets hung up on cheesy story elements and weird continuity shifts; just as long as the mini-games are compelling I'm ready to be fully invested. Unfortunately, Pac-Man Party's line-up of mini-games is a sad selection familiar themes with bad motion controls.
If you've played a Mario Party game, then chances are you've seen many of these mini-games. Remember that mode where Mario knocked everybody off of a large ball? That theme is used several times in Pac-Man Party. You also get mini-games that require you to shake the controller as hard as you can, paint a level and even play popular sports (tennis, baseball, etc.). There are a few fun mini-games here and there, but they are few and far between. Worst of all, almost all of these mini-games require motion control for no reason. While I understand that Namco is simply using what they're given, but most of these mini-games would have been improved with standard D-pad support.
What baffles me is what any of this has to do with Pac-Man. Outside of the name and the cast of characters, there's nothing in Pac-Man Party that screams "PAC-MAN!!!" Instead we get a bunch of levels and mini-games that could have been played with anybody and anything; they are simply generic stages to master. I understand that Pac-Man's universe may not be as fully realized as Mario or Sonic's, but it's a shame they didn't try to make this feel more like a Pac-Man game. The five boards are all perfectly lovely and include some fun twists (like the Spooky Hallows and the Mirage Oasis), but they don't have the slightest thing to do with our favorite dot muncher ... er, cookie monster.
Assuming that Pac-Man has been eating these cookies all this time, how do you explain the ghosts? I've seen a lot of scary movies and never has a ghost been motivated by cookies. After all, ghosts don't eat; they just float around being all non-corporeal and menacing. Why would ghosts want to stop Pac-Man from taking the original recipe to the rightful owner? What stake do they have in this fight? The whole premise would make more sense if Pac was headed to hire the Ghostbusters or something, but I don't understand the problem with cookies.
Either way, cookies play a major part in this game. Not only is the object of the game to collect as many cookies as possible, but players will pick up special power cookies along the way. These power cookies give the player a significant advantage in the competitive mini-games. In a close match it can be the difference between winning and losing. I really like the idea of these power-ups, even if the concept of a power cookie feels ludicrous as best. I'm pretty sure I've heard Pac-Man refer to these objects as "Power Pellets," which throws into question the continuity of this franchise.
Pac-Man Party suffers from many of the same problems that plagued the annual Mario Party sequels. For one thing, this game is a disastrous single-player game. The only way to enjoy this game is to have several friends over, and even then you'll have to put up with rounds that overstay their welcome. Pac Party offers us a short and long version of each board, but don't be fooled, there's nothing short about these rounds. Even the shortest round will take over an hour, longer if your friends start getting bored half way through.
I'm also disappointed with the presentation. It's not just the fact that Pac-Man is shoehorned into a generic world, but rather how everybody looks and moves. The ghosts all have weird hairstyles and questionable moves, while Pac-Man never quite looks right. Namco also missed an opportunity to remix popular songs from some of their past arcade hits. The level of lazy programming is enough to leave a bad taste in your mouth.
It's worth mentioning that Pac-Man Party is not the only game packaged on this Wii disc. For some inexplicable reason the original Pac-Man, Dig Dug and Galaga are featured in their full arcade glory. These games do a lot to remind players that Pac-Man used to be a relevant video game character. Judging by Pac-Man Party, those days are long gone.
I would be lying if I said that I had no fun with Pac-Man Party. Some of the mini-games are compelling and I had a reasonably good time battling my friends for cookies. But I found myself ultimately disappointed by the overall quality. I was also disappointed to learn that this is not Pac's first go at the party circuit. Judging by how generic this game is, I can only imagine the train wreck that was Pac-Man Fever. There are some good ideas here, but Namco still has a lot to learn about making a quality mini-game collection.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Pac-Man Party has a lot of the right elements, but Namco wasn't able to fit them together to make a worthwhile game. The end result is a board game that overstays its welcome and forces players to suffer through one uninspired mini-game after another. Not even the addition of the original Pac-Man arcade game can push me into recommending this generic Mario Party clone!