Pac-Man & Galaga Dimensions Review
Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Available on: Nintendo 3DS Only
Arriving during a golden age for money gobbling videogame cabinets, it is incredible to think that Pac-Man and Galaga, two legendary coin op big-hitters, are both over the age of thirty. The iconic, hungry yellow blob, so named by the onomatopoeic Japanese slang phrase paku-paku, which describes the sound one would make when chomping, was originally going to be called Puck Man, until US manafacturer Midway wisely took the decision to change it to the name we now know and love, lest some funny buggers may have taken it upon themselves to vandalise the arcade cabinets to make a naughty swear.
Those who are aware of the star of hit documentary The King Of Kong and erstwhile hot sauce entrepreneur, Billy Mitchell, will know that the original arcade hit from 1980 is still played to competetive levels to this day, and even know when firing up the emulation of Namco’s classic included on this here cartridge, the familiar “wocka wocka” sound effects conjure up memories of being a child, in a smoky arcade, many moons ago.
Galaga is similarly still enjoyed by classic arcade fans, its more colourful spin on the Space Invaders-style fixed space shooter still very much playable all these years on, the devilishly hard gameplay far more hardcore than most of the games released in the glorious HD-powered present.
Both of these long standing games have gone on to recieve numerous sequels and spin offs. Save for some mostly dire excursions into first-person, 3D shoot ‘em up territory, Galaga has generally stuck to its roots as a single screen affair, with some notable successes over the years. Pac-Man, on the other hand, has whored himself — and his missus — out to all manner of wacky fare, taking in pinball, side scrolling platformers, isometric versions of the familiar dot-munching mazes, and even free-roaming, 3D adventuring.
Both games have found themselves making appearances on the many Namco retro game compilations that have trickled out over the years, but now for the first time are gathered together — along with some of the selected sequels, and two brand new games — in the mind blowing stereoscopic 3D, gyroscope-sensored medium that is the Nintendo 3DS. Is this package, which has been some three decades in the making, worth getting excited about?
Pac-Man & Galaga Dimensions takes in six individual games. Two of these are brand new efforts, tailored for the hardware. Two of them are 3DS versions of updates to each of the two franchises that have already seen a release either on other consoles or as downloadable games. This leaves the two original titles themselves, which are faithfully emulated with some added options on offer.
Looking at the latter two games, what you get are two excellent arcade conversions of what are all-time classic games. Criticising them for what they are is futile – sure, they are simplistic relics from the past – but they both play just as well as they ever did, and are rightly regarded as untouchable. The games are playable in a number of screen formats, with representations of the original arcade cabinets (with selectable Western or Japanese bezels) including the sit-down cocktail versions. The 3D effects allow for an impressive emulation of the curvature of the arcade screen, which looks nice.
The real stars of the show are the two series reboots that originally came out between 2007-2008 for Xbox Live Arcade. Galaga Legions is a superb re-imagining of the original game, which marries the fixed-screen shooting of the 1981 classic to bullet hell, pattern-memorising mechanics, adds deployable satellite ships to your arsenal, and allows your spacecraft to move anywhere on the screen.
Pac-Man Championship Edition is the real star of the show, however. A beautifully neon-coloured, high octane version of the original game, it is a score-attack masterclass par excellence and can justifiably be called one of the finest games not just in the franchise, but of all time. The game was the swansong of Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani, and boy did he go out with a bang.
The action takes place on a single screen, just like the original. This time, however, the screen is split into two halves. Eating all of the dots of one side of the screen causes a piece of fruit to appear, which will then generate a new series of dots on the opposite side of the playing field. The classic power pills are still involved – and eating these will allow you to chow down on the four ghosts that patrol the maze, attempting to catch Pac-Man. The gameplay is perpetual, getting faster and faster as the clock counts down. Rather than simply conquering stage after stage like the original, Pac Man CE in its standard Championship mode sets you a five minute time limit to score as many points as you can. There are other modes on offer which alter the time limit and change the parameters – such as one mode that makes you do all of this only in the dark, and another that ups the number of power pills, challenging you to generate huge scores by eating a succession of ghosts whilst ensuring that you get the standard pills and fruit to keep things ticking over. The whole thing is ridiculously addictive.
Given the quality of these two games, you would have expected Namco to come up with goods again for the two brand new efforts exclusive to the 3DS. Sadly, what they have dished up is a crushing disappointment.
Pac-Man Tilt is a side scrolling platform game that is best described as a fusion of Sonic The Hedgehog, PSP classic Loco Roco, and a pinball machine. You control Pac-Man — depicted here with limbs and defined facial features — through a series of 25 brightly coloured levels in which you collect dots using the tilting motion controls of the console to send him rolling along at a brisk old pace. Along the way are obstacles that can be traversed by leaping, moving the 3DS around to rotate the screen, and operating pinball flippers that can give Pac-Man a much needed boost. It isn’t a terrible game by any means — just a bit dull — and there is not enough on offer to warrant a full play through all of the levels. Some praise must be dished out, however, to the way the game very cleverly switches off the stereoscopic 3D effects when you are waving the console around. One of my main issues with the gyro controls on other (far superior) games has been the pointlessness of being able to use the control method if the blur negates the use of the 3D slider.
Last and most definately least is the awful Galaga 3D Impact. Basically a version of Face Raiders with your fizzog replaced by garish representations of the insectoid Galaga enemies, this is a waste of time and something I found myself struggling to play for more than a few minutes, particularly on the back of playing through the recent superb remake of Star Fox 64.
There are online leaderboards for posting your best scores — but these seemed fairly sparsely populated when I popped mine up. There are also unlockable achievement-style medals for each game — but these were pretty easy to unlock, if truth be told. The package is rounded out by an excrutiating 3D animated Pac-Man movie, which only a masochist would want to sit through more than once.
VERDICT: My main gripe with this package is not the poor circa-2011 games — it is the exclusion of titles that have been criminally ignored by Namco. Both Pac-Man Championship Edition and Galaga Legions have recieved superior DX sequels in the last 18 months. Why they did not include these is beyond me. As well as this, there are a number of excellent arcade sequels, all of which are the intellectual property of Namco, that would have taken up mere kilobytes of space on the cartridge and improved this package ten-fold. Galaga 88, Gaplus, Ms. Pac-Man, hell, even Pac-Land would have got the thumbs up from this reviewer.
Another massive turn-off is the fact that you are only able to erase your saved game scores and start afresh by inputting an “xbylxrrxy” style-code when you boot the game. Initially we thought that this game was going to follow the new trend that began with the 3DS version of Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, where you couldn’t delete your game save; a somewhat misguided attempt to combat the second hand games market. But you can delete your save, it just doesn’t make this clear from the manual and unless you are savvy enough to check the internet you would be left with a score attack game that has a broken save system. This is a poor show to say the least.
VERDICT: Ultimately, even though this is a budget-priced affair, and does feature some pretty 3D effects and worthy conversions of some legendary games, it represents poor value with a basic lack of options and consideration, and as a result I would simply have to advise anyone to simply pick up the far superior DX versions of the two best games that this compilation has to offer for another format, if you are able to do so.