Pac-Man, the classic Namco arcade game, was released in 1980. It received something of an unenthusiastic response in its native Japan due to the popularity of Space Invaders and other fixed shooters. However, much to the surprise of its creators, it quickly became a cultural phenomenon when it reached North America, grossing over a billion dollars in quarters by the end of the decade. Its appeal overseas was such that it spawned an American-made sequel, a pop rock song, and even a short-lived animated series. Fourteen years after the debut of the original, Namco produced and published an official sequel, Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures, for the SNES and the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive.
Analyzing the Experience
Despite its name, this game is more of a spinoff of Pac-Man than a proper sequel. The reason I say this is because Pac-Man 2 is not a game in which you navigate the titular character through new mazes in an attempt to eat all the dots on screen while avoiding ghosts.
In fact, contrary to almost every other game ever made, you don’t actually control the main character. In something of a postmodern twist, the game is played from a first-person perspective, and it’s up to you to guide Pac-Man through his misadventures. Pac-Man usually wanders forward by himself until he happens upon an obstacle he cannot circumvent. This is where you come in – you are given a slingshot and you are made to shoot various things to keep Pac-Man out of danger. You may even need to use the slingshot on Pac-Man himself at times.
As you do not have direct control over Pac-Man, you can get him turn around by making him look in the opposite direction he’s facing. You can also use this command to get Pac-Man to notice, and potentially interact with, important objects that are above his head or on the ground. Other times, simply shooting the important item is enough to get his attention. You can also feed Pac-Man a power pellet when he is attacked by ghosts, allowing him to turn the tables on them.
In light of this, Pac-Man 2 could be loosely described as an interactive cartoon or an unconventional point-and-click adventure game. Though I would have to say the subtitle this game bears is a little misleading, as Pac-Man 2 doesn’t feature what most call a journey. Instead, the challenges Pac-Man faces include getting milk for his child, picking mountain flowers, and finding out why the ghosts are stealing gum from kids.
Admittedly, it is pretty funny just how complicated these mind-numbingly mundane tasks end up being (for instance, getting flowers involves hang gliding), but it doesn’t take long for the novelty to wear thin. The biggest source of frustration in this game stems from being unable to get Pac-Man to cooperate, for his emotional state functions as a core mechanic. As one might expect, Pac-Man is more likely to listen to you if he’s happy. If he’s sad, it can be difficult to motivate him into doing what you need him to do. Similarly, if he’s irate or smug, there’s a good chance he’ll start acting reckless or even flat-out mean, taking his anger out on hapless bystanders. It’s one of those things you need to see to believe. After a while, it feels like you’re babysitting a toddler.
Not helping is that Pac-Man in this game could probably give the Spelunker protagonist a run for his money in terms of sheer uselessness. We’re talking about someone so inept, he can’t even get a can of soda without the help of slingshot-wielding maniac capable of breaking the fourth wall. |You even have more of a hand in defeating the game’s sole boss than Pac-Man does.|
A common criticism lodged at point-and-click adventure games is that they can be solved not with logic, but sheer brute force. These interfaces tend to be less versatile than titles which use a text parser. For example, the action “pry boards off door with crowbar” would be accomplished by selecting the crowbar in an inventory menu and clicking on the boards with it. In other words, you couldn’t type “use crowbar on boards” and expect to get through.
Owing to the fact that there is only one way for the player to interact with the world of Pac-Man 2, the puzzle solutions come in two flavors: insultingly obvious or completely unintuitive. Consequently, the experience of playing this game is akin to those times I’m sure at least a few people reading this have had where you’re playing an old-school adventure title only to hit a brick wall, prompting you to try every possible action until you drum up the solution by accident.
Such that it is, this game does have something of a saving grace. As this is an interactive cartoon, the scene will end if Pac-Man either faints or is otherwise rendered unable to continue for whatever reason. When you inevitably grow bored of the game, you’ll start developing this irresistible urge to see all the numerous, creative ways Pac-Man can lose. A lot of them made me laugh when I first tried this game, but if it has gotten to the point where finding every possible way you can mess up has more entertainment value than trying to succeed, it’s a good indication you’re not exactly playing a quality title.
Drawing a Conclusion
It’s never a good sign when a game’s precursor is included as a bonus feature and is unequivocally the superior title. If you need proof that a unique game can be bad, look no further than Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures. You’re better off watching other people’s playthroughs online instead, because while the situations Pac-Man regularly finds himself in throughout the course of this game are rather amusing, it’s not worth looking into by any stretch of the imagination. There is a good game lurking within Pac-Man 2, as I think it had a better take on the concept of an interactive cartoon than FMV arcade titles such as Dragon’s Lair. However, with the way it was executed, Pac-Man 2 is essentially one continuous escort mission, which is only slightly more advisable than making a game that’s nothing but a series of quick-time events.
Final Score: 2/10