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Pac-Man Museum packs a peck of Pacs into one package

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Pac-Man Museum

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Pac-Man, a pop culture symbol synonymous with video games itself, is one of those timeless characters that should always be represented and kept relevant regardless of whatever generation of console is present. Branching out into other media, such as his more recent Ghostly Adventures, may not always be the best idea. However, it is important to keep him preserved in video game form, maybe with improvements to the classic formula, so he stands the test of time and is forever remembered.

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BandaiNamco Games still recognizes their yellow mascot, albeit in the form of cameos or advertising, in many current games and projects. Including a recently announced roster slot in Nintendo's upcoming Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U and 3DS systems. Sure, there may have been small collections of Pac-Man titles released previously, and far and in between. But never before have they put together such a complete compilation that celebrates Pac-Man's, over three decade long, career than with Pac-Man Museum.

Pac-Man Museum involves titles that read much like a résumé that spans all the major iterations of games that he has starred in. From the legendary original Pac-Man to the mildly successful Pac-Man Battle Royale and the well-recieved revamp with Championship Edition. Even his Ghostly Adventure pals are present to help bring a little bit of cross-promotion into the game's hub-room interface, albeit as trophy rewards for accomplishing preset achievements within the collection's games. Though, there is no actual game tied to this collection that include them and may confuse gamers, and gaming veterans, with their mere presence.

For gamers that are new to these games featured in Pac-Man Museum, a visual card is provided for each game that displays the controller configuration as well as their rules. Also, while playing games that have a graphic around them, which is all of them aside from Championship Edition, a key card will also display if any controller buttons have additional functions. Here's a quick hint, most of these games only need the thumbstick or D-Pad and maybe one other button.

Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, and to an extent, Super Pac-Man, needs little explanation. The single-screen maze game experiences that helped catapult one of the most iconic video game characters into popular culture, and became synonymous with video games in general for generations afterwards, are reproduced almost exactly in this collection. The exception here is Ms. Pac-Man, where there are some unusual drawing glitches, such as the characters being shifted over a pixel or two when moving vertically, and incorrect volume playback for certain effects, such as the overbearingly loud looping siren compared to all the other game sounds. Oddly enough, this audio issue doesn't occur in other releases of the standalone game on modern systems. Hopefully, these issues will be patched up in a future update.

Pac & Pal takes the basic gate and key structure from Super Pac and adds an uncharacteristic projectile attack ability to Pac-Man's arsenal. Most recognizable is the Galaga tractor beam after eating the Galaxian boss item (figure that one out!), and after eating the Rally-X car item Pac-Man can shoot out small smokescreens to knock out ghosts. Ghosts that recover from the stun can be shot again for more points if there is enough time left in the power-up. The "Pal" part of the game comes from the little green ghost named Miru who takes unlocked fruit and items back to the ghost base. Some pal, indeed! Pac & Pal is kind of a treat to be included in this collection since the game was a Japan exclusive release and it's incredibly rare to find anywhere else. Fortunately for the U.S., one cabinet was restored and unveiled at the 15th Annual International Classic Video Game Tournament at Funspot in 2013.

Pac-Land is Pac-Man's first side scrolling platform game that was originally released in 1984. The goal is to take a fairy, who is riding under Pac-Man's snazzy feather cap, to Fairy Land and then return home to Pac-Man's family. The game runs from left to right on the way to Fairy Land, and from right to left on the way back, which is unusual even by today's standards. Subsequent "Trips" become more challenging and the time will cycle from day to night. All the way, the ghosts will try to stop Pac-Man in cars, biplanes, U.F.O.'s, and even on pogo sticks. Power pellets are available here and there to score extra points off the ghosts, as well as hidden fruits and other items if Pac-Man jumps in the right spots. However, taking too long in an area will reduce your end of round bonus and Sue will become a relentless Pac-seeking missile unless Pac-Man reaches the end of the stage or gets caught. The controls will come off as odd, unless you've played the arcade version or perhaps even fighting games like The King of Fighters from 97 onwards, in that double-tapping and holding right and left will make Pac-Man run, as opposed to just walking, and jump higher when running. Pac-Man also has limited control over his horizontal jumping distance, meaning you can cut it short if you like, by tapping in the opposite direction of the jump. By 1984 standards, the game looks and moves quite nicely. Also, as a tie-in to the Hanna-Barbera Pac-Man cartoon, the character designs and background music are essentially the same. But since this version of Pac-Land is based on the Japanese game, Pac-Man's nose is Pinocchio-sized.

Pac-Mania marks the first time we see a Pac-Man game in something other than overhead view. The game is presented in 3/4 isometric overhead view with scrolling. The rules are the same as normal Pac-Man, but Pac now has the ability to jump over ghosts and also turn corners while jumping. The catch is that there are now more ghosts to deal with, all five standard ghosts plus two new ghosts Funky and Spunky. The new ghosts will start jumping along with Pac-Man after a couple stages, and the game will populate the boards with more of them in the later stages. That, and the fact that the narrow view of the stage limits visibility heavily, makes Pac-Mania more artificially difficult by design.

Pac-Attack is perhaps the obligatory puzzle game of this collection. On the other hand, Pac-Land is a platformer, so there is probably no Pac calling the kettle yellow in this situation. Pac-Attack is a falling puzzle piece game with three modes, which is akin to Puyo-Puyo/Dr. Mario or Columns, only not as deep. The pieces are L-shaped chunks composed of block, ghost, or Pac-Man parts that can be rotated. Once in place, if there is an overhang, the hanging parts drop. Block parts will clog up the well unless they are cleared out in complete lines, a la Tetris. Ghosts cannot be cleared unless a Pac-Man comes down and eats them. And every few pieces, a Pac-Man will drop. Once in place, Pac-Man will move in the direction he's facing and eat all ghosts in his path then turn around and make his way down the stack until he can't go any further. Eating ghosts builds up the fairy meter which, once filled, will drop a fairy that will clear out all ghosts up to eight lines below it, clearing the well considerably. Once the stack reaches the top, the game is over. Puzzle Mode challenges the player to clear 100 levels by sending down a specific number of Pac-Men into the stack. Then lastly, there's a 2-player mode which plays more like Puyo-Puyo/Dr. Mario or Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo where cleared pieces drops ghosts over to your opponent's well. Even if this description sounds even remotely interesting, after a couple plays the core game feels like it needs a little bit more. More variety either in the piece shape, or more point items, or even objectives could improve the game's interest dramatically.

Pac-Man Arrangement, from the Namco Museum Battle Collection released on the PSP in 2005, which is loosely based on the 1996 arcade game, brings back the 3/4 overhead view of Pac-Mania but improves the experience by containing the boards to single screens. The game is broken up into several themed worlds with a few boards within each. The game also adds new environmental elements to the formula such as dash arrows, gates, tunnels, drawbridges, and teleporters. Between-stage Intermissions also make a return, which double as mini-demonstrations as to how these new elements affect gameplay. The last board of every world is a boss battle where Pac-Man has to defeat enlarged versions of the ghosts. All this is well and good when it comes to bringing Pac-Man to a more contemporary generation. The big gripe of this iteration, however, is Namco's decision to make the dot pattern on the board wave and undulate like styrofoam balls floating in the stormy chop of the high seas. It will probably be unsettling to those playing on larger screens. The effect may even be enough to induce sea-sickness! In any case, Arrangement brings several interesting concepts to the table for those that have an open mind to give it a chance, and have the stomach for it.

The Pac-Man Championship Edition that is part of the Museum collection is the same version that was once exclusive to XBox Live Arcade back in 2007 in which players have both a set amount of time and lives to navigate the mazes and eat as much as they can for score. Playstation 3 gamers later got the improved Championship Edition DX in 2010, however the original remained inaccessible until now. What makes this, the original version, different is that the only way to chain-eat blue ghosts for higher scores is to keep eating the fruit that replenishes the power pellets and dots to the other side of the maze, then eat those new power pellets to keep the blue time going.

Lastly, and for some this is the big one, is the inclusion of 2011's arcade release of Pac-Man Battle Royale. Taking a page from Pac-Man CE, Battle Royale features the same dot/fruit game mechanic but now includes four player simultaneous play that focuses on encouraging the players to be the last Pac-Man standing in each round. Power pellets are actually combination super power pellets and regular power pellets that allow players to eat both ghosts and other Pac-Men. The winner is the player who wins the most of five rounds. There are also minor statistical awards for eating the most Pac-Men, the most fruit, or the most dots, which are displayed at the final match summary. The game can be fiendishly addictive when played with a good group of friends, but it's an absolute bore when playing solo. Furthermore, without a proper score counter, and no persistent stats, there is really no incentive to play Battle Royale unless you happen to be entertaining company.

Pac-Man Museum, as a whole, is the most comprehensive Pac-Man experience available for any platform to date. It is currently available on XBox360 through XBox Live, PS3 on the Playstation Network, and PC through Steam, all for $19.99 with a separate DLC download for Ms. Pac-Man for $4.99. A Wii U and 3DS version was originally planned but ultimately cancelled citing BandaiNamco Games' reason of "delayed development". A term meaning that supporting simultaneous releases that include those platforms would result in pushing back all of the platforms' release dates undesirably. However, the Wii U did receive Pac-Man Collection, the Game Boy Advance title through the Wii U Virtual Console during E3 2014. This collection includes Pac-Man, Pac-Attack, Pac-Mania, and a port of the arcade version of Pac-Man Arrangement for $6.99. BandaiNamco also released the "never before seen outside Japan" Famicom (NES) port of Pac-Land, on the Wii U VC for $4.99. Though this gathering of titles feels more like a consolation prize for Wii U owners, pun intended, Pac-Man Collection may be well worth the price if only for having the "better" version of Pac-Man Arrangement. Famicom Pac-Land is a pale and mediocre port of the arcade game that was perhaps released a little too early in the console's lifespan. Perhaps Tengen could have done better with the port, but that is wishful thinking.

Pac-Man Museum receives four stars. Mostly for the inclusion of practically all relevant Pac-Man titles. The omissions of Pac-Man Plus and Jr. Pac-Man is forgiven with Plus' quirky nature and Jr.'s steep difficulty. The individual games' emulation is competent and mostly accurate, but Ms. Pac-Man's brings the score down a notch. It is almost inexcusable given how many times the game has been released over the years with little issue and this being the newest iteration and there's something actually wrong with the graphics and sound. That just does not compute. On top of that is being charged extra money for an imperfect port. Also, in terms of presentation, while lengths have been taken to preserve the games' original aspect ratio, the result seems to be a lot of unused space around the game screen taken up by bright colors. Having the option to scale the game screens to at least reach the top and bottom of the display would have been nice. As is also having a choice of an all black background, which may suit the older titles better. I did not give the hub interface much weight in light of a recent update. The game used to have a tendency to force exit out to the title sequence after viewing such things as the Leaderboards, Achievements, Item Lists, etc. Now the game only exits after selecting the DLC (for Ms. Pac-Man) option. Which is good, as you only need to visit that option once or twice, ever. Also, all the Ghostly Adventures characters et al are merely decorative and have no bearing on the actual games except for crowding up the hub screen after completing tasks. All in all, Pac-Man Museum is still a fitting component to preserve Pac-Man's video game legacy. And a few tweaks here and there could make it perfect.

(This review is based on the XBox 360 version)

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