ULTIMATE GUIDE TO... PAC-MANIA
After pac-man’s escape from the Maze into the bright And colourful pac-land for his first platformer, namco decided to send him back for the isometric hit pac-mania. kieren hawken Munches up the story
hen exploring the concept of a character that broke free from the cult world of gaming and catapulted itself into the public eye, we don’t have to look far to find an early example. Pac-man’s success as gaming’s first character to cross over into mainstream pop culture meant that sequels (and numerous spin-offs) were as predictable as night following day. The first,
Ms Pac-man (originally known as Crazy
Otto) was more of the same, but added additional mazes and other new elements, which gave the sequel some much-needed variety. Baby Pac-man followed in 1982, while Jr Pac-man arrived the following year.
Namco ended its relationship with Bally
Midway, but had more plans for Pac-man.
These plans would see our rotund yellow chum break free from the maze that had trapped him for so long in order to star in his very own scrolling platformer, Pac-land,a
title that was based on the Saturday morning TV series. But Namco wasn’t done with Pac-man’s adventures, and in 1987, some seven years after the original game, it sent him back to his roots for Pac-mania. By this point, Namco knew that yet another 2D maze game wouldn’t cut it in the late Eighties, and so drew inspiration from other games. Namco had just taken a majority share in Atari Games, the American arcade company it had long been intertwined with. Atari Games had already tested a way of displaying pseudo-3d graphics with isometric projection, which was most notably used on games such as Paperboy, Return Of The Jedi, Marble Madness and Crystal Castles. It was perhaps the latter that provided the most inspiration of all, as Bentley Bear’s vehicle already featured more than a passing nod to the Pac-man games itself. This change of perspective would allow the Namco programmers to deliver advanced graphical detail, and also implement an array of features to separate it from Pac-man and co’s previous maze game offerings. The most prominent of these is the ability to jump – a press of the fire button sees Pac-man launch into the air for just enough time to leap over an oncoming ghost. Timing is the key to mastering this particular tactic, however players shouldn’t be fooled to think out hungry hero is alone in showing off this new airborne skill, as players will find out on later levels of the game. To nobody’s surprise, Pac-man’s old nemeses, the ghosts, reappear here. However the cast has also been upgraded somewhat. We see the return of mainstays Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde from the original Pac-man, but also Sue (from Ms Pac-man and Pac-land), who is now purple instead of orange. Unlike her original appearance in the earlier Pac-man
sequels, where she served as nothing more than a replacement for the bumbling Clyde. In Pac-mania, however, she chases our hero down like a Terminator. There are two new ghosts joining the cast, too, coloured green and grey and named Spunky and Funky. These are the spooks that you have to really keep an eye on, because like Pac-man, they also posses the ability to jump, making avoiding them that little bit harder. As a way of ramping up the difficulty, Pac-mania starts off with the original crew of ghosts and more are added as the levels progress.
nother feature introduced in Pacmania comes in the form of new power-ups that, in addition to Power Pills, give ol’ Pac more ways to turn the table on his pursuers. These will appear in the same place as the regular bonus fruit, and the first of these is a speed pill that lets you
shoot around the maze at a tremendous pace, giving your foes no chance to catch you. Another handy pick-up enhances your scoring abilities by doubling the point values of everything you munch. There are also several less notable tweaks to the game design too, but one that is definitely worth mentioning are the new side tunnels. Of course, anyone familiar with the original
Pac-man will know that these were a handy way to escape the ghosts. Now that the maze is much bigger, seen in a 3D perspective and scrolls, these tunnels have been changed a little but serve the same purpose. You still wrap around to the other side of the level however here they are much longer than before and also contain dots that need to be eaten up.
Moving away from the design changes and moving onto the most obvious upgrade, the graphics, there is more to talk about than just the new isometric perspective. One of the most attractive elements of Pac-
Mania is the level designs themselves, with each stage taking on its own unique theme and challenges. Pac-man travels from the opening, Block Town, with its near-copyright-infringing Lego bricks, to the Egyptian-themed pyramids of Sandbox Land and onto the final challenge at the Jungly Steps, which features a series of challenging steps or platforms seemingly suspended in midair. What made these creative designs even more special is the outstanding soundtrack that accompanies them. Each stage has its own unique tune, and we challenge you to not carry on humming them long after the game has finished. Namco had never been a company known for its music but Pac-mania certainly changed that. Another more subtle graphical enhancement comes in the form of the enemy animations. With each ghost having their own distinct personality, their facial expressions will change depending on the situation, something that was no doubt carried over from the cartoon series. fter the huge success of Pac-mania in the arcades for both Namco and Atari Games, which released the game in the west, the game was gobbled up pretty quickly for home computer conversions.
These came from well-known Yorkshirebased software house Grandslam, which had previously published Pac-mania’s predecessor Pac-land. Console versions of the game were also released via a wide range of publishers including Atari Games’ own label Tengen, Tecmagik and Namco itself. Amazingly, it took Namco nearly ten years to release another game in the franchise after Pac-mania, but from then they came thick and fast. More recently
Pac-man returned to the maze once more for the sublime Pac-man 256, which also returned to the isometric perspective and even featured a Pac-mania screen mode, meaning that this classic arcade game lives on to this very day.
» [Arcade] Feeling blue? These ghosts certainly are and they will be even glummer when Pac-man eats them!