Pac-Man is a creature of classic longevity. We kindly submit as evidence to this claim the fact we’re reviewing a 13-year-old game compilation for a character who was a spry 21 at the time. The question now is how well the four games of Pac-Man Collection have held up since its 2001 GBA release. Do Pac-dots even have expiration dates?
Making a Pac-Man game collection without the original Pac-Man feels like going to an a-ha concert and not hearing “Take On Me”: the whole thing could still be good, but you know you need that one thing to keep from feeling disappointed. Pac-Man Collection knows this, delivering the original game in all its classic dot- and ghost-eating simplicity.
There is no messing with the gameplay here, which is very wise, although two different ways of viewing the mazes are provided. Full screen mode offers the entire maze on one screen and, while a little small, is still sharp and serviceable even on the GamePad. A closer look at the action is provided with a scrolling option that follows Pac-Man as it pans about the maze, but this may bug players who want to keep tabs on the ghosts at all times.
If Pac-Man is the sacred puck, Pac-Man Arrangement shows what can happen when designers get a chance to go nuts with the formula, with joyful results. Arrangement carries the same core maze gameplay, but throws in a handful of crazier elements. Top of the list is a bespectacled fifth ghost, “Kinky,” who is weak and immediately munchable on his own. Let Kinky come in contact with any of the four original ghosts, however, and he will merge with them to form a larger, super-powered ghost; true terror is not known until a bunny-eared Super Pinky starts bounding all over a stage.
Pac-Man gets his own upgrades in Arrangement, including dash arrows, jump pads, and capsules with different effects. Unlike the original Pac-Man, Arrangement also has a set number of stages, ending in a boss battle of sorts — players are given unlimited continues to reach the end, although using one naturally resets one’s score. While more lenient than the other games, Arrangement could easily be considered the highlight of the collection, brimming with fun, personality, and a ‘90s pseudo-3D arcade feel.
Pac-Mania also possesses a 3D-ish look, but has somewhat nicer graphics than Arrangement and plays itself less wackily. Mania grants Pac-Man the ability to jump over ghosts, which likely sounds game-breaking at first. Jumping is trickier than it looks, however, with a timing element involved, and jumping ghosts are introduced later on for some mid air collisions.
While Mania looks dapper and pulls off pseudo-3D well, the closeness of the camera to Pac-Man can be frustrating. A wide scope of the maze isn’t given, which can lead to suddenly being besieged by a pack of ghosts or wandering around like a lame duck while you have no idea where the last two or three dots are to finish the stage.
The final entry, Pac-Attack, ditches the mazes entirely for a straight-up puzzle game that is part Tetris, Puyo Puyo, and chomping. Players rotate and place pieces consisting of blocks, ghosts, and Pac-Man himself. Lines of blocks will disappear on their own, but ghosts can only be removed by setting a Pac-Man up to devour them down a path.
Attack consists of an endless Normal Mode and a 100-stage Puzzle Mode where stages need to be cleared of ghosts in a set number of Pacs. It’s a unique puzzler concept in its own right and can be great for short bursts, even if the overall presentation feels like you’re playing it in an alley behind a honky-tonk bar.
The treatment of all four titles as a compilation is considerate. Pressing Start on the title screen of each game will provide a menu to view tips and adjust that game’s settings, including numbers of lives and bonuses. Some limitations of the original GBA title do still haunt this version, though. The sound is nothing special, although a few catchy tracks can be found, and there are no high score boards as there was never a battery to save scores to begin with. At least the very top scores can be saved now via the Virtual Console’s restore points and shared on Miiverse.
Time has tarnished Pac-Man Collection a little, some of its games more than others. It’s hard to detract from the original Pac-Man, of course, and Pac-Man Arrangement is just about worth the price of admission alone. On the other hand, while Pac-Attack is not a very attractive-looking game and the 3D amazement of Pac-Mania has long since worn off, each still contains elements that could easily hook some who fiddle with them. In the wider span of things, Pac-Man Collection may not feature all the choice cuts of Pac-Man’s history, but it still does a good job of showing why he’s timeless.