If there’s one thing you can count on in life, it’s that Namco will release a new Pac-Man collection at least once per console generation. As the name suggests, this latest compilation is an updated version of 2014’s now delisted Pac-Man Museum, including content from that collection plus a few new entries. While the £16 price tag may seem like a reasonable deal, the more you dive into this package, the more you realise this is very much a case of one step forward, one step back.
First impressions are favourable enough. You’re presented with a customisable virtual arcade and can either interact with 3D cabinet models or bring up a menu to access the game library. Only around half the games are unlocked initially â€“ to access the rest, you’re required to play the available games twice. The definition of “play” is precisely that – play a single credit until reaching a Game Over screen. To unlock all 14 games took us around an hour – we had slight difficulty with the SNES platformer Pac in Time registering progress.
Arcade games require coins to play, with 500 coins available from the outset, while the console games are on freeplay. More can be earned by completing missions, and they can also be spent on new decorative items for the arcade. There’s a Gashapon machine too, which dishes out toy-like Pac-Man models. While the desire to acquire every model holds some appeal, bringing back memories of Shenmue, the novelty of the arcade’s customisable nature soon wears off. An actual museum with document scans, photos of promotional items etc, would have been more worthwhile.
Every game has its own mission list, with the completion percentage handily visible on the game library list. Completing every game 100% will take considerable time and effort, making the inclusion of missions a key feature. BGMs for the jukebox unlock periodically too, including tracks from the recent 40th-anniversary album.
Considering Pac-Man’s arcade roots, there’s a surprising amount of variety present. Namco has thought to include some deep cuts – games never released individuality, such as Pac-Motos and Pac ‘n Roll Remix from the Wii’s Namco Museum Remix, and Pac-Man Arrangement from the PSP’s Namco Museum Battle Collection. The SNES version of Pac-Attack provides a change of pace, playing like a combination of Tetris and Pac-Man, while 2016’s Pac-Man 256 (with its Crossy Road skins intact) offers a modern take. 256’s inclusion is a little odd, however – we imagine most Pac-Man fans will already own it. The same also goes for 2007’s Pac-Man Champion Edition.
Of course, the original stone-cold classic Pac-Man is here. That’s joined by follow-ups Super Pac-Man and Pac & Pal. These two are oddities – Namco was obviously keen to create sequels to Pac-Man, but rather than refining the formula in the way Ms. Pac-Man did, they instead introduced new mechanics that impaired the simplicity and elegance. Pac-Land fares immeasurably better, arguably deserving more recognition for creating the side-scrolling platformer blueprint. It has some quirks- double-tapping makes Pac-Man run – but it remains a lot of fun, and it’s backed by catchy music. The isometric Pac-Mania seems slower than we remember – not necessarily a bad thing.
Then there’s Pac in Time, another new addition. This too is an oddity, developed by French studio Kalisto (best known for Nightmare Creatures on PSone) and published in Europe by Mindscape. At the time, Namco was looking to release more games that would appeal to European audiences, resulting in a 2D action platformer with some puzzle solving. Visually, it looks a little bland considering it launched late in the SNES’ life (1994 in Europe, 1995 in Japan) and it has some pesky ‘euro-platformer’ sensibilities. Adding to these woes, the Japanese ROM with subtitled text is used, rather than the European or US release. Still, it’s a welcome addition, being something few will have likely experienced before.
If you’re going into this collection anew, chances are you will find a fresh favourite. Pac-Man Arrangement, with its tidy 2D artwork, stands out â€“ the changes made to the classic formula improve the experience, and the stages become progressively tougher before ending with a final boss battle. Pac-Man Battle Royale will please those looking for a new couch multiplayer experience, while Pac ‘n Roll Remix – originally a Nintendo DS title- is far removed from classic Pac-Man, delivering a more typical console experience.
There are some obvious omissions, however. Ms. Pac-Man is absent. Not just the game, but the character entirely. A dispute with AtGames has resulted in all Ms. Pac-Man sprites and artwork being replaced with Pac-Mom. Goodbye red bow, hello pink bonnet. Despite the SNES’ Pac-Attack and Pac in Time being included, The New Adventures of Pac-Man is missing. Why not include all three unique SNES titles? It’s easy to wish for newer 3D games such as the PSone’s Pac-Man World too, but obviously, the line had to be drawn somewhere. A more realistic CRT filter and full-screen modes seem like minor requests in comparison.
Rewinding back to the opening paragraph, Pac-Man purists will soon notice that something is a little off – something that prevents this collection from being superior to its predecessor. This collection runs on Unity, and as the recent Sol Cresta proved, it isn’t an engine ideally suited to arcade-style experiences that require fast inputs. There were lots of instances of pressing a directional button in good time, only for Pac-Man to continue his path and clash with a ghost. Jumping in Pac-Mania also feels delayed by around half a second. Indeed, it’s more noticeable in some games than others; Pac-Man Champion Edition lets you push and hold a direction in advance, mitigating lag, whereas in the classic Pac-Man games (the original, Super Pac-Man, and Pac & Pal especially) you’ll likely find yourself dying more regularly.
As such, if you’re here to chase scores and top leaderboards, you may find yourself shaking your head in dismay. But if you simply want to experience key points in Pac-Man’s history, casually diving in and out, you’ll likely find this a carefully curated collection with lots to offer – especially if you rise to the challenge of clearing all fourteen mission lists.
Pac-Man Museum+ is out now on PS4, Xbox One (tested), Switch and PC.