Overall Rating: 3.75/5 Stars
Pac-Man is one of the most widely recognizable, industry-defining, gameplay-perfected, legendary video games of all time in the history of the universe. It was one of the titles that truly defined the arcade era, and helped define video gaming in general, introducing such innovative concepts as using a cartoon-like main character protagonist, rather than a simple shape or starship. This may seem like an odd trait, a quirky paradigm shift to choose, but the choice for recognizability would truly have a profound impact on the future of electronic gaming; arguably, without Pac-Man, there would have been no Super Mario, and that could either be by virtue of Pac-Man’s distinctive characterization or its rampant popularity.
This irreplaceable legacy must be kept firmly in mind to provide the proper context in which to review the NES version, which itself had a less straightforward place in the video-gaming chronology, being originally released by controversial unlicensed Tengen in 1987, before actually being released in nearly identical form by Namco themselves in 1993. Pac-Man, as a gaming concept, was explosively revolutionary in its original time; since then, though, viewed through an honest and objective lens, you could certainly say that the experience is dated. However, even if there are superior games being released today and there were better games on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System as well, Pac-Man is still one of the all-time classics and one of the standards by which gamers worldwide are measured.
The player controls Pac-Man, an all-yellow circular character with a wedge removed (his mouth), somewhat giving the appearance of a pizza with a slice missing. Gameplay takes place within an enclosed maze, of which there are eight different varieties. Maneuvering through the twists and turns of the walls that offer a one-character-wide width (significant, because Pac-Man must avoid four differently colored ghosts, each having their own unique name and even pursuit personality), Pac-Man’s goal is to eat all of the pellets on the level in order to advance to the next one, the pellets being in a quantity of dozens per level and spaced evenly apart every sprite length or so. Included in the pellets are four super pellets, near the corner, that upon eating grant Pac-Man the temporary ability to consume ghosts for bonus points. Bonus points are also awarded for the fruit that appear on each level, and eventually become other items such as blue keys when the levels repeat often enough. This version is fairly faithful to the original arcade cabinet Pac-Man experience, with the goal being to attain a high score. Unlike the arcade game, that due to a programming threshold glitch would end on level 255, the NES Pac-Man has no humanly discernible ending and is purely for high-score purposes, providing quite a challenge for any would-be hardcore gamer to tackle.
The visuals are simplistic, but also sublime. They were original back in the day, and still stand out as iconic. Although even on the NES the graphics were by no means pushing the limits of the console, they provide the perfect vessel through which the Pac-Man challenge is experienced. Getting lost in the haze of the “ghosts in the maze” sensation is half the fun, as tunnel vision sets in and players see nothing but the digital grid they are trapped in.
There is no background music to speak of, but the sound effects are pitch-perfect, offering a selection of unforgettable effects that provide nostalgic sentimentality for gamers everywhere. The spiraling notes of Pac-Man’s death knell, the frenetic pellet-chomping overload, the success of eating all four ghosts, all add up to provide an auditory masterpiece composition of harmonic noise.
The original Pac-Man was a crazy concept that saw massive success and would spawn a franchise of sequels and re-imaginings. The NES version is serviceable, but not quite as awe-inducing as the arcade cabinet, even if it is a much better rendition than the watered-down Atari 2600 iteration provided. While Pac-Man is an all-time great, speaking strictly from the perspective of deeming the cartridges of the NES library head-to-head against each other, Pac-Man bites three and a half stars out of five.
For a reviewed look at arcade ports and other NES titles, check out NintendoLegend.com.