If you were to ask one hundred people to make a list of the most classic video games of all time, you shouldn't be surprised to find Pac-Man on every one of those lists. It's an unrivaled masterpiece of gaming simplicity, an experience that involves nothing more than moving endlessly around a single maze, yet which somehow manages to be endlessly addictive and immensely challenging. It is, in short, a fantastic game.
And then, of course, there are its ports and remakes. These run from the disastrous (the Atari 2600 port) to the sublime (2007's Pac-Man Championship Edition). This game, the NES port of Pac-Man, is fortunately on the positive side of the ledger. It's quite faithful to the arcade original, and it offers a smooth and solid gameplay experience. It didn't exactly represent a step forward for the franchise, and it doesn't supplant the original as being the definitive Pac-Man title, but what it does it does very well.
The game itself is played on a single screen. As you advance the speed and points values attached to bonus fruits both increase, but otherwise you're playing the same level over and over again. Remarkably, the game never feels dull, or even predictable.
As you work your way through this simple maze, you're pursued by four ghosts. Each of these behave slightly differently to the others, and anticipating their next move is crucial if you intend to make it any further than the first few stages. Touching them means instant death — unless, of course, you grab a power pellet first. Doing so temporarily renders the ghosts vulnerable to your greedy mouth, and you can chain these frightened meals together for extra points.
The level ends once you clear the screen of dots, at which point you'll get a short breather — and perhaps a cut scene — before you're plopped right back into the thick of it, and expected to do it all over again. Just...faster.
Of course, we doubt anybody's reading this review in order to learn how to play the game. It's Pac-Man! What you're interested in is information specific to the port, and that's something we're glad to do, as this version looks great and controls beautifully.
The colours are vivid and the graphics are clear, even on smaller 3DS screens. Pac-Man is a game that never aimed for a visual thrill, opting instead for a simple and frantic race through confined spaces. As such, its graphics scale down neatly, and lose nothing for their shrinkage. The controls are also great, with the Circle Pad allowing for some fast maneuvering and smooth turns.
The audio, unfortunately, can be a bit irritating, as there's a repeating siren-like sound in lieu of music, and it becomes particularly annoying on later stages, when it too increases in speed. When this game was an arcade fixture that made sense, because a noise like this would attract attention and, hopefully, quarters. At home, however, it's just obnoxious.
It's also worth nothing that this port is absolutely great to have on the go. It's inexpensive, easy to pick up, and fast to play. Owning this on an NES or the Wii Virtual Console is one thing, but having it in your pocket at all times is a much better alternative, as it's a perfect — and undeniably classic — way to kill a few minutes on the go.
Having this title in the eShop, however, is causing us here at Nintendo Life to do something we almost never do: say conclusively that this renders another game redundant. In this case, it's Pac-Man for the Game Boy.
When the Game Boy version of Pac-Man was the only one in the shop, it was understandable that fans of the franchise would want to grab it, in spite of its irritatingly large sprites, its frustratingly scrolling playing field, and its totally disabled two-player mode. Now, with this version sitting right beside it on the digital shelves, there's no reason whatsoever to download that lesser port. This game has faithful graphics, allows you to see the entire maze at once, and — yes — allows you to alternate with a second player.
Pac-Man for the NES is a solid port of a fantastic game. Having it on the go is even better.
The NES version of Pac-Man is a solid port, but there's nothing in the way of unique content. Therefore your mileage with this one will depend on how much interest you have in the original game. It's an absolute classic and portability is a big plus here, as is the thankfully intact two-player mode. Fans of the hungry yellow disc will be glad to have this on the go...especially if they didn't already make the mistake of shelling out for the lesser Game Boy port.