Guilty Pac-Man Feeling

This is a confession: I was one of them. I was one of many journo’s who dismissed ‘Pac-Man Vs.’ at last year’s E3 expo. Sure, maybe Nintendo shouldn’t have made it a centerpiece in their press conference, but in the end we were all wrong.

We said a multiplayer update of a stone age classic couldn’t be worth playing. We said the graphics looked so bad it made our eyes bleed. Some of us actually claimed Nintendo had finally gone mad. As I said, we were wrong. Worst of all, Nintendo listened.

I recently sat down to play Pac-Man Vs. with some colleagues of the Dutch ‘N Gamer’ magazine and it’s just so much fun. This game is far better than ‘Mario Kart: Double Dash!!’, to name a recent multiplayer hit. It’s full of the smart touches I’ve come to love Nintendo for and the main concept is brilliant — one player, on a connected Game Boy Advance, is Pac-Man. The other three are ghosts roaming the labyrinth, chasing the famous hungry mascot, seeing only a tiny part of the map on their TV screen.

When a ghost eats a piece of fruit not only does he gain points, his view also gets bigger. The other two players can of course peek at that bigger view, helping them spot Pac-Man and closing in on him. This is not the only way the ghosts aid each other: my colleagues and I found ourselves shouting all sorts of advice: “Pac-Man is in the top left corner! Oh no, he’s got a power pill!”

For the first time in quite a while, I connected with Nintendo’s ‘maybe simple games are better’ stance.

It turned out there’s actually a couple of possible strategies for scoring points and winning — which are sure to be crushed by expert players, making this game virtually endless. Perhaps not that different from other multiplayer games, but Pac-Man Vs. does its thing with a chaotic, highly original twist.

Another fun touch illustrates this: when a ghost catches Pac-Man, the two players switch roles, achieved by simply swapping controller and GBA. It works flawlessly. Best of all, in the end it ties the cables into one hell of a knot. It’s perhaps Nintendo’s best argument yet for having you get three WaveBirds.

Now for the bad part. If you want to play Pac-Man Vs. you have to buy Namco’s ‘R: Racing Evolution’, with which it comes as a free bonus. Bad news even for car game lovers as R: Racing is mediocre at best. Horrible news for players like me — the last car game I played was ‘Gran Turismo’ on the original PlayStation. I enjoyed it for a couple of days, discovered what the hype was about and went back to some super happy platform game probably.

Apparently Nintendo listened to the whining of the specialist press and decided to do something. So they didn’t release that laughable update of a forgotten classic seperately — the laughable update that turned out to be brilliant and would have been a great buy at budget price, of course.

I guess I’m off to buy R: Racing now, and I’m not going to complain, because I made them do it.