Posted by Damien McFerran
He may be as old as the hills but Pac-Man still manages to entertain after all these years. We've been relying on one of those Namco 'plug in' TV games for my pill-popping fix, but thanks to the Virtual Console that battery-hungry gadget can be retired.
For those not acquainted with the premise of the game — what cave have you been living in? — the player controls Pac-Man, essentially a very hungry yellow blob and video gaming's first real mascot, as he attempts to eat pills scattered about a maze, all the while avoiding getting devoured himself by evil ghosts. By grabbing energizers at the corners of the maze, the tables are temporarily turned as the ghosts become vulnerable fodder for Pac-Man's snapping jaws.
Eating each ghost in sequence yields more points, but it's not necessary for completing the level. Once all the dots are eaten, the level is cleared and a new round begins. Unfortunately, other than the game speed increasing and the duration of the energizers decreasing, there is no variation from one stage to the next, so if you find repetition a problem then you're going to seriously struggle here.
Visually and sonically this isn't going to turn heads. The arcade original is tremendously basic, but it could be argued that that is part of its charm. Although the NES isn't exactly a powerhouse in technological terms, this is a fairly faithful port of the coin-op original, so fans will notice pretty much everything is as it should be.
Regardless of its shortcomings, Pac-Man is one of those games that remains timeless. As we've already established, the graphics are really primitive and the sound is sparse but it's not a huge issue as the gameplay remains as addictive as ever. Pac-Man is from an era where the challenge of a videogame was all about scoring as many points as possible, and even today this has a certain appeal to it.
This arguably isn't going to offer the same depth as other Virtual Console releases — it was primarily designed to suck coins, after all — and it's only entertaining in short bursts, but you might find that it's a game that you will find yourself returning to months after other titles have surrendered all their secrets.