The popularity of "TV Games" units seems to have waned a bit recently as overexposure and, to some measure, public apathy, have set in. After at least three years on the market, the newly reborn dedicated home video game concept (pioneered by Jakks Pacific) is a product line whose novelty has finally begun to wear off. TV Games and their countless imitators are everywhere you go; you'll see them as impulse gifts in stores like Best Buy, Toys "R" Us, or even in less likely retail outlets like Kohls or Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Literally dozens of different units of varying levels of quality line the shelves of my local Target, for instance. But their absolute retail ubiquity doesn't mean that a few good new ones aren't leaking through. Jakks Pacific's line of classic game units, developed by HotGen of London, have typically retained a high standard of quality over the years. And it's their latest Super Pac-Man TV Games unit that I'll be discussing in this review.
As always, this battery-powered, stand-alone joystick hooks directly to the A/V inputs on a modern TV and contains a collection of classic games. In this case, it's four different Pac-Man titles: Pac-Man, Pac-Man Plus, Super Pac-Man, and Pac & Pal. I must admit that I never thought I'd encounter this lineup in a TV Games unit; my first thought upon seeing the list was "They must be desperate." It's no secret that three out of four of the included games in this unit were complete flops in the arcade. The unit retails for around $20 (US), but until a recent half-off post-Thanksgiving sale at the aforementioned Target, I didn't consider buying one. After bringing the unit home and playing it, however, I have decided that it might even be worth the $20 originally offered.
The joysticks in Jakks Pacific's TV Games units are traditionally excellent, and Super Pac-Man is no exception to this rule. The joystick is a durable, responsive, clicky, microswitch device that feels similar to an authentic arcade joystick. It also has a neat bonus in that the knob of the joystick is shaped like Pac-Man himself. This being a Pac-Man only unit, the joystick is only four-way (i.e. no diagonals), which saves me the inaccurate control criticism that other Pac-Man-containing units have received. The joystick housing itself, while being not only colorful and attractive, is the most comfortable of any TV Games unit I've ever held, and for that, Jakks Pacific should definitely be praised. Compared to the Super Pac-Man unit, most TV Games' controllers are downright ergonomic nightmares. The unit has one action button which is well-placed, clicky, durable, and responsive just like the joystick, so I have no complaints there. There is also a handy light-up "menu" button located next to the on/off switch that is styled to look like an arcade coin-return button, which is an amusing touch. The A/V cables are suitably long for play a decent distance away from a TV set.
As with other Jakks Pacific TV Games, the software interface is top-notch. Upon turning the unit on, you're presented with a sharp and colorful screen with the four game logos at which you can select which game you'd like to play. Pressing the "menu" button during any game will pause the game and give you the option of quitting to the main menu, which, while obvious, is a nice feature not present in many TV Games imitation units. And as an additional unexpected bonus, the Super Pac-Man unit saves your high scores for each game in non-volatile internal memory between power-offs and even battery changes, giving you new incentive to best your old records. Surprisingly, not even the original arcade games themselves (or the older TV Games units, for that matter) had this feature.
The most obvious standout in this unit's collection of games is the seminal arcade classic Pac-Man. The conversion here is nothing new, but that is its best strength: it is a surprisingly accurate recreation of the original arcade game, complete with authentic graphics and sound. Interestingly enough, even the original Jakks Namco TV Games unit — their first to contain a version of Pac-Man — didn't even do Pac-Man this well. In the old unit, the sound, while decent, didn't quite hit the mark of the original. Thankfully, the arcade-authentic sound of Pac-Man has been restored to its intended glory in this unit. While some may scoff at the importance of this detail, consider that the compelling sound effects are one of the key elements that made Pac-Man so great, so to any true game connoisseur, that part of the presentation is equally as important as the graphics and gameplay.
If you ask me, Pac-Man Plus is pretty much a waste of space. Namco licensee Bally-Midway hastily threw this title together as an upgrade to Pac-Man — without the permission of Namco — to capitalize on the success of Ms. Pac-Man and Pac-Man before it. As a result, Pac-Man Plus plays mostly like a corrupted, bastardized version of the original. Considering that Pac-Man's one-stick, immediately approachable gameplay achieved a level of simplistic perfection that has rarely been matched in the history of video games, that is a very bad thing. New "features" of Pac-Man Plus include inexplicable dinky green arrows on the heads of blue ghosts, the random chance that one of the ghosts will not turn blue, or that all ghosts, or the maze, will turn invisible upon eating a power pellet, a green maze instead of blue, and a Coke can as a bonus "fruit." Sure, some die-hard Pac-Man masochists like it, but I'm not one of them. All that being said, the Super Pac-Man unit's reproduction of the game is authentic and accurate as far as I can tell, although it's something that I might want to block from my memory.
Ah, so we finally get to the title game of the collection. Unlike Pac-Man Plus, Super Pac-Man is definitely worth playing. In fact, until purchasing this unit, I had never really sat down with the game for a long period of time and given it a chance. But now that I have, I consider it an absolute blast. Super Pac-Man is an authorized, Namco-produced successor to Pac-Man; it is original and inventive, but that's exactly what scared players away from the arcade version back in 1982. In fact, I've read that due to its more recognizable gameplay, Pac-Man Plus actually outsold Super Pac-Man head-to-head despite being only a weird, minor upgrade to the original. It's understandable, though — to any seasoned Pac-Man player, Super Pac-Man looks a little scary. At first glance, you'll wonder "where are all the pellets?" Well, there are still power pellets that let you eat ghosts, but there's also a new "super power pellet" that turns you into a honkin' big Pac-Man that is impervious to ghosts (but doesn't eat them unless you also get a regular power pellet) and is capable of eating through locked barriers. The barriers are opened by keys that you collect, and beyond them lie the main fodder for Pac-Man this time around: various types of food, like fruit, donuts, or burgers. In addition, while in honkin' big Super Pac-Man mode, if you hold down the button on the controller, you'll go super fast. It's a neat feature that adds a burst of speed, but it's hard to control Pac-Man while holding it down. All-in-all, the conversion of Super Pac-Man on this unit is excellent, and its presence alone, in my opinion, makes this unit worth the purchase.
Pac & Pal
The last and most recently produced game on the unit is Pac & Pal (1983), which is an odd derivation of Super Pac-Man that takes the franchise even farther away from its roots. Like Super Pac-Man, it's not immediately obvious what you're supposed to do upon playing Pac & Pal. That steep learning curve, along with a lack of resemblance to Pac-Man kept this game from being a success when it was released. Given a little time, however, and allowing your prejudice to fade a bit, Pac & Pal can be quite enjoyable. Like in Super Pac-Man, there are no regular pellets to gobble up. Instead, there are a few key fruit-like items behind locked barriers (also like Super Pac-Man) that are required eatin' before completing the board. This time, instead of keys opening the barriers, there are cards that match the items. Once you pass over a card, the barriers around the item depicted on the card open up and you can eat it. The "Pal" in Pac & Pal is a stumpy little friendly green ghost with legs who tries to bring you the edible items, and if she can't reach you, she carries them into oblivion in the center of the board. But if she does that, there is no penalty except losing the chance for the points you would have acquired by eating it. Now here's where Pac & Pal gets really wacky. On every board, there are two power-up items. Upon collecting the items, Pac-Man turns cyan and, no, he cannot eat ghosts. But if you press the action button, he can blast ghosts with either the tractor beam from Galaga, smoke from Rally-X, yellow musical notes, ice (to freeze them), or a bunch of tiny Pac-Men, depending on the board. Yes; Pac-Man can shoot. And no, I'm not making this up. Upon hitting the ghosts with these special power-ups, the ghosts are temporarily stunned and Pac-Man can run by them unscathed. Despite this utter weirdness, the game is actually fun (although it's no classic, in my opinion), and the translation of it in this unit is excellent.
Overall, I'm very impressed with the Super Pac-Man TV Games unit from Jakks Pacific. It ranks up there with the Ms. Pac-Man TV Games unit as one of my favorite and most-played all-in-one video game joysticks. This unit gets just about everything perfect except the game selection. If only they could create the killer Pac-Man compilation by bundling both the original Pac-Man and the classic and ever-popular Ms. Pac-Man together in one unit. Unfortunately, I doubt that Jakks will do that any time soon (at least until the market for TV Games starts to really falter, anyway), since there's more money to be made by separating the marquee titles and bundling them with filler. Even better yet, I'd love to see a unit with all the arcade Pac-Man games (including the entertaining Pac-Mania) together in one package. For now, the Super Pac-Man unit will have to do. If you can get this unit at a discount, I recommend buying one post-haste. Otherwise, for those of you Pac-Fans out there, the unit — at any reasonable price — is probably worth it.
|The Skinny: Super Pac-Man TV Games (Jakks Pacific)|
|Good Features:||Brings rare and novel Pac-Man games home. Gameplay, graphics, and sound faithful to the arcade. Great interface. Attractive, ergonomic case design. Responsive controls. Saves your high scores!|
|Bad Features:||No Ms. Pac-Man. Pac-Man Plus is a throwaway game. Typically $5 too expensive. They're really starting to milk their game licenses.|
(10 Being Best)
|[ 8.5 out of 10 ] Shiny Marbles|