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Pac-Man Vs.

Developer: Namco | Publisher: Namco
Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 12/02/03 | Genre: Puzzle

Connectivity -- it's been the subject of debate and criticism against Nintendo ever since E3 2003. Simply put, "connectivity" is the word Nintendo uses to describe connecting the Game Boy Advance with the GameCube for enhanced gameplay. However, Nintendo has received much criticism among gamers and journalists for what many people believe to be a lame concept. There have been plenty of examples to back up that view. Aside from just a few applications, most connectivity features have been rather gimmicky, only offering the ability to unlock content without adding any real interesting gameplay enhancements that could have been accomplished other ways. I have always been of the thought that the best, most fun uses of connectivity would require a Game Boy Advance as part of the gameplay, not just be an extra option. Pac-Man Vs. is an excellent example of this.

When Pac-Man Vs. was first shown at Nintendo's E3 2003 Press Conference, there was a sense of interest over the concept, but also a sense of disappointment. While Halo 2 and Half-Life 2 trailers were being shown elsewhere, Nintendo was trying to show the press how cool a 23 year old game could be on the GameCube. People were worried about Nintendo's focus. Still, when people played it on the E3 show floor, you could tell there were having a lot of fun. That's what Pac-Man Vs. is all about: getting four people together to have some fun. It's not a very fancy game, but it's a surprisingly fun multiplayer game.

Getting together what's required to play a game of Pac-Man Vs. game is a little bit of a task. First of all, the game requires a minimum of at least two players (it's a multiplayer game only). You also need just one Game Boy Advance (or GBA SP), a connectivity cable, and 1-3 GameCube controllers (oh, and a GameCube of course). I really don't think that it's unreasonable to expect that out of a group of four gamers, at least one has a Game Boy Advance, and that there are enough controllers to go around. Probably the thing many GameCube owners don't yet have is that connectivity cable. Also, I would recommend using a GBA SP if possible. The GBA is going to be changing hands often through out the game, so unless your ceiling is made of light, everyone's not going to have good lighting conditions to see the regular GBA screen.

Perhaps you're confused about what Pac-Man Vs. actually is. Well I'm glad you stuck with me through to this paragraph. Pac-Man Vs. is the original Pac-Man arcade game turned into a multiplayer game. If you don't remember (what's wrong with you?), the game is about a little yellow circle eating dots by maneuvering around a maze-like map. The more dots he eats, the more points he gets. The occasional fruit gets him some extra points. However, Pac-Man needs to watch out for the ghosts that chase him. If they touch him, he dies. If he eats one of the larger dots, the Power Pellets, then the tables are turned for a short period of time. Pac-Man can actually eat the ghosts by touching them until the effect wears off.

Pac-Man Vs. is very similar, but with an important twist. The ghosts are controlled by humans. Take a look at the screenshots near the bottom of the page. One player plays as Pac-Man (first screenshot). That player uses the Game Boy Advance. That screen shows him or her the entire map, including all of the ghosts. To this player, the gameplay is just like the original arcade game, except that the ghosts are controlled by humans. So they're smarter (or dumber, as the case may be). The player playing as Pac-Man just tries to get as many points as possible by eating all of the dots, fruits, and using the Power Pellets to eat the ghosts. His only other option to avoid ghosts is to go through the warp tunnel on the sides of the map. The ghosts move much more slowly through it than Pac-Man does. Take a look at the second screenshot. This is what the three other players see. They play by using GameCube controllers and watching the TV screen. The ghosts play on the same map as the Pac-Man player sees on the GBA, but it is represented with 3D graphics on the TV screen. As you can see, the ghosts only have a small field of view. They have to sort of search blindly through the maze to catch Pac-Man. They do have a few things to help them out though. First of all, like the original game, the ghosts move faster than Pac-Man. Pac-Man leaves a colored trail that fades behind him. If a ghost finds it, they can continue to follow it. Also, the ghost players can also eat the fruit that occasionally appears on the map. Eating the fruit gives that player a much larger range of vision for a limited amount of time. The only thing they have to watch out for is when Pac-Man eats a Power Pellet. Then the ghosts slow down and Pac-Man can out run them. While the three ghosts share the common goal of catching Pac-Man, they are still competing with each other. See, the ghost player that finally catches Pac-Man then gets to play as Pac-Man. At this point, the ghost player trades controllers with the Pac-Man player. Then the round starts over again, only this time, the player who was previously Pac-Man is now a ghost and watches the TV screen, and the player who previously caught Pac-Man as a ghost now uses the Game Boy Advance to play as Pac-Man. This all sounds more complicated than it really is. Trust me. This continues on until a set point limit is reached, and the player who first reached that point limit is the winner. Points can be earned by being a ghost, but points can also be lost. The main way to earn points that you know you will keep is by being Pac-Man. So, as a Pac-Man player, you want to avoid getting caught by a ghost for as long as possible, and as a ghost player, you want to catch Pac-Man as soon as you can so you can start earning more points by playing as Pac-Man.

Controlling this game is simple. All anyone can do is move up, down, left, or right. So all you ever need to use is the directional pad or Control Stick. This simplicity, along with the wide familiarity of Pac-Man means that practically anyone can pick up and play this game, and have lots of fun doing it. There are six different maps to play on. One is the map from the original arcade game, and the other five are original creations. Each map has a different arrangement of walls, pellets, and Power Pellets. On the GBA screen, the different maps still have the same graphical look. However, on the TV screen, the different maps have different graphical themes from a shoreline pier to a cemetery. Although Pac-Man seems like a pretty simple game, you would be surprised at all of the various strategies that one can come up with when Pac-Man is set in a multiplayer context. The different arrangement of walls and numbers of Power Pellets in the different levels actually do have an affect on how both the ghosts and Pac-Man must play. When it comes down to it though, Pac-Man Vs. is just a lot of fun. While it's best played with four people, two or three players can have fun as well. If there are not four human players, then one or two computer-controlled ghosts will start out each round as neutral. Once a ghost player touches a neutral ghost, that ghost becomes his or her ally. If that computer-controlled ghost catches Pac-Man, then the player allied with that ghost will get the points for it and become Pac-Man. That adds an additional area of competition among the ghost players.

Graphically, Pac-Man Vs. is not very impressive, although, I don't think anyone expected it to be. The GameCube graphics have a neat, but simple look. Each map has a different theme. So the Panic Pier level has wooden piers surrounded by water, while another level has trees and grass. The textures and geometry are simple. The graphics on the Game Boy Advance are identical to the original arcade game save for a score display on the side of the screen. So the graphics aren't very impressive, but they're not ugly, and it's what we expect of this relatively simple game.

The audio is a mixed bag. The sound effects all have a retro Pac-Man feel, which is nice. The annoying part is that for some reason, Mario is the official announcer of the game. He lets players know when fruit appears, when a player is close to winning, and more. It's a little annoying to hear him spout an exclamation for every event that happens. However, it's not too hard to get used to, and it often gets drowned out among all of the laughing and trash-talking that will be going on anyways. The original arcade map doesn't have any music to accompany it, but the other five maps do. While none of the songs are amazing, I thought a few fit the frantic gameplay well. A couple other songs were not so great, but overall, nothing that actually detracts from the game.

Nintendo and Namco were smart enough to realize that this is not a game that they could market and sell to a mass audience. Though fun, it's too simple in nature when compared to modern games. So instead, they have included it as a freebie with other Namco games. Pac-Man Vs. comes packaged with R: Racing Revolution and the Player's Choice version of Pac-Man World 2. It was also available as a pre-order bonus with I-Ninja. This is in important factor in how I've rated the game. While Pac-Man Vs. is actually an incredibly fun concept, it's too "small" of a game to receive a good score when compared with the rest of today's games. However, because it is not intended to be a full, deep game and it is more a freebie, I feel confident in giving it the score that I have. Pac-Man Vs. is just a really fun multiplayer game. The cool thing about it is that everyone seems to enjoy it. You can play this game with your family, with your hardcore gamer friends, and with your non-gaming friends and they'll all enjoy it. Pac-Man is probably the definition of "easy to pick up and play" gameplay, but because it is a multiplayer game (with humans), there's added depth that makes the game incredibly fun and surprising. GameCube owners will definitely have a fun time with this if they have the people to play it with. As for suggestions on how to get it, the best game that it came with is probably I-Ninja, a clever platformer. The problem is that it was a pre-order bonus and while some stores still have Pac-Man Vs. to give a way with it, it's not guaranteed. The cheapest way to get it would be to buy the Player's Choice version of Pac-Man World 2. It's only $19.99 right now. Actually, you may also be able to find Pac-Man Vs. separately and cheaper on eBay as well.

By Andrew Thivyanathan - 01/24/04
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Screenshots for Pac-Man Vs.

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