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Written by  :  Guy Chapman (2001)
Written on  :  Mar 03, 2005
Platform  :  Atari 2600
Rating  :  1.25 Stars1.25 Stars1.25 Stars1.25 Stars1.25 Stars

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How To Make A Great Game... Anything But.

The Good

As a six-year old when the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man came out, I was more excited than anything to have my favorite video game come home. And so I would play this for hours. Even rolled the high score back to zero, I played it so much. Because it was Pac-Man, and to me, that was enough. After all, you did control a yellow dot through a maze eating pellets and running from ghosts. That's Pac-Man, right? Can't argue that the basic premise of the game was there.

I also liked the illustrations found in the game manual, as they had that sleek, rounded style that Atari's illustrator was know for doing with several of Atari's games.

The Bad

However, as I got older, I soon wised up that this game was almost NOTHING like my beloved Pac-Man that I loved in the arcades. Where do I even begin?

The maze was built nothing like the arcade's version. The maze wasn't even colored correctly. The escape tunnel was no longer on the sides, but on the top and bottom. There were no clever maze parts to lose ghosts, on a series of angles that looked like broken squares. And Pac-Man didn't even dots. He ate "wafers". And don't even get me started on the "vitamin" that replaced the fruit.

The ghosts were equally as bad. They were all the same flickering, pastel color. Hard to see, as they blended in with the maze, and devoid of the personality traits from the arcade game. They wandered around the broken maze aimlessly, and sometime, you might get caught. They didn't even flash when they were about to change back. You left them alone when the tone stopped that signified you could chase them. Setting the game in black and white mode allowed the player to see them clearer. Not that they would miss much from the muted colors of the regular game.

Sound effects were a dud. There was a grating four-note tone that replaced the original Pac-Man theme, and it was awful. Dot eating, ghost noises, chasing the ghosts after eating an Energizer.... Nothing even close to the original sounds.

And the greatest mystery of all: Pac-Man could never point up or down. He always floated around the maze facing the side, no matter where he was going.

And of course, no intermissions. Gamers played the same maze, over and over, without stopping.

The Bottom Line

One of the biggest selling games for the Atari, and also one of the biggest disappointments. This was one of those "the name will sell it alone" moments in gaming history, and they were right. But it came with a terrible price to Atari's future. They corrected this mistake (in a very big way) by introducing near-arcade perfect versions (for Atari) of Ms. Pac-Man and Pac-Man Jr., but as far as Pac-Man goes, the ball was dropped. Not only for the game being this way, but for Atari allowing the game to hit the shelves looking like this.

Still, it seemed that Pac-Man was a hard game to accurately port for the longest time. The most "authentic" of the versions is found in Pac-Man Collection for Game Boy Advance.

Atari 2600 Pac-Man is at best a novelty item for classic gaming or Pac-Man enthusiasts. I can't recommend seriously playing it for a Pac-Man fix, but it is an interesting footnote in how a gaming empire crumbled.

For the curious only.