Pacman, the beloved 1980 arcade game that was enjoyed by both gamers and casuals alike for decades. It has been ported to nearly every electronic device imaginable including the Neo Geo Pocket Color which is the version we’ll be looking at today. For those unfamiliar with Pacman, it is a title that tasks you with collecting every pellet in a maze while at the same time being hunted down by four ghosts. As we navigate the maze, we must take care not to let them touch us as they will immediately kill you on contact. It often becomes a juggle between collecting the pellets and mere survival as they try to corner you with their numbers.
Each ghost behaves differently and noticing the quirks of each of the four will greatly help you. Aside from collecting the pellets, a random fruit may temporarily appear near the middle of the screen which you should gather given the chance since they get you a substantial amount of points. As it is an arcade game, points are extremely important and not just for bragging about your highscore, but for the extra lives, you receive from gathering a set amount of them. You start off with only three lives, and if you lose those, it is game over. These ghosts are really good at their job, and for new players, runs will be short. Pretty soon one will get the gist of things and survive longer & longer with each try until your skills as a Pacman player are greatly improved.
This title is just as addictive as ever, and with its simplicity, it is easy for anyone to pick though difficult to master. There are no buttons to use, you simply move around and try to gather every pellet. It is much more about strategy than it is about fast reflexes. One must predict what will happen, plan which routes to take and have an overall plan instead of blindly moving about to survive for far longer. Scattered at each of the four corners of the maze are four giant pellets that when consumed allow you to turn the tables and become the hunter as you chase after the ghosts to devour their souls.
They are already dead, so they obviously won’t be killed. All that happens is that they respawn back into their cage in the middle of the map and more importantly net you a huge amount of points, especially if you devour all four of them. Like all good things in life, this power up will soon come to an end and leave you vulnerable once more. You only have four of these giant pellets so you must really make them count or use as a last resort when surrounded. Gathering every pellet will result in a happy melody before everything respawns and the cycle starts again. Every two times you clear them a small cutscene will play out as a little reward.
I do not know if the famous glitch occurs if you manage to clear out 255 mazes. I am sadly not skilled enough to make it anywhere near that insane amount. When you first boot up the game, you have the choice of picking from either a Fullscreen view of all the map or a Scrolled one that zooms it in close to your character for a better view as well as sharper sprites. Both carry their own sets of problems sadly, and there was no way Namco could have fixed either. They are due to the Neo Geo Pocket Color’s small 2.6-inch screen that has a 160×152 resolution. Running the game full screen will show the entire map but it is extremely easy to miss a single tiny pellet by accident, and you will have to squint a bit at all that is going on at any given time. Scrolled on the other hand is a lot easier to see but most of the time you will not know where all the ghosts are and good luck trying to find a pellet you randomly missed without getting killed in the process.
Fullscreen is the overall better choice though that also depends on how good your eyesight is. All the sounds from the original game make their way over and the iconic waka waka sound Pacman makes as he eats pellets is still as hypnotizing as ever. It controls really well with the amazing 8-way mechanical DPad that the Pocket has. These days one could get a Pacman even on our phones, so the portable factor of this version is hardly a selling point. Trying to find a reason to recommend this when you have so many other options is a futile task. Its flaws are hardly game breaking, but this will be mostly interesting to collectors of the Pocket or of everything Pacman. As of the time of this review, the cartridge for this is extremely cheap, and I certainly don’t plan on ceasing to play it anytime soon. The game is simply timeless with even an imperfect version being an addictive experience.