Why am I reviewing this game? You've probably already heard the netlore surrounding this botched port of Namco's beloved arcade classic. Well, it's an important gaming memory for me, because it's the first truly bad game I can remember playing. When I was really young, I thought most games were good, so it's a testament to how awful this game is that it wouldn't even entertain me as child.
Admittedly, Atari 2600 games were never quite the same as their arcade counterparts. But some games like Missile Command, Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Defender still captured some of the magic of those machines, and were also fun as games all on their own. Pac-Man is a demonstration of a worst-case scenario. The decent version of Ms. Pac-Man that would come later proved that limited technology was no excuse for this debacle.
For starters, only one ghost is displayed on the screen at a time, but they still wanted to have all four. The programmer compensated for this by having the ghosts flash alternately. A similar technique was used with the Neutral Zone and the Qotile's shield in Yars Revenge, but it was less noticeable to the human eye. Pac-Man's flashing ghosts are enough to give a non-epileptic convulsions. Yars Revenge was also bright and colorful. Pac-Man has one nasty shade of blue for a background, and everything else is dull browns and white. Pac-Man's chomping animation is horribly blocky, and just whose idea was it to give him that god-awful eye? Should I even mention that he can't face up or down?
The sound effects are even worse than the graphics. A shrill whistle replaces the jovial arcade Pac-Man introductory tune and is followed by the neverending torrent of loud "banging" noises as Pac-Man consumes the dots. What completely blows my mind is that these sound effects would often be used in TV shows and movies when video game or computer sounds were needed (like Superman 3, which is every bit as bad as this game), as if they're representative of what a typical game or computer sounds like. Were people not aware that these were considered subpar even by 2600 standards, or were the royalties just really cheap?
The one thing that hurts this game more than anything else is Pac-Man's inability to dodge quickly around corners. This throws off the entire feel of Pac-Man. Even if you never gave it much thought before, being able to dodge around corners is what made the arcade Pac-Man *work*. In 2600 Pac-Man, you have to slide completely into a corner before turning. It's awkward, and it leaves you no chance to escape ghosts that are eagerly pursuing you. Pac-Man's hit box encompasses his entire sprite, so if just one pixel of a ghost touches him, he dies, unlike in the arcade where you had a chance to dodge away if a ghost was closing in on you.
Even without comparing it to the arcade Pac-Man, this version doesn't stand up as a game of its own. The layout of the maze is simplistic and boring, and nothing is added on consecutive rounds, except speeding up the ghosts. It makes me feel claustrophobic, trapped in a box of neverending one-note gameplay.
Though this game deserves it, I still feel guilty about being so hard on it because it's such an easy target, and much has already been said. But the most positive thing I can say about it is that (unfortunately) I've played games that are worse. It proves that the execution of a good idea is just as important as the idea itself in making a good game.