This 1983 evolution of the original Pac-Man game was a Japanese-only arcade release. Subsequently it’s been released on various Pac-Man and Namco compilations. It’s also playable with MAME.
I’ve been playing the 2014 Pac-Man Museum version for Xbox 360. In common with the other games on that collection and a lot of the retro ports on XBox Arcade generally, it’s more limited than it should be. Main gripe with this version is that it uses only part of the screen (no stretching option even!). At least dip-switches are changeable and don’t seem(?) to prevent achievements despite the warning. However, there’s no proper splash screen, demo mode or depiction of how to play. You get one credit and high-scores aren’t retained by the game, although they are tracked on the Xbox Live leaderboards. 2-player alternating mode is absent too, although I’m unsure if that’s even in the original version of this game. You do get a pause button though, bound to Y of all buttons.
The game itself is an oddity. Looking at the screenshots the first thing you’ll notice is the lack of dots and power pills. Instead Pac-Man must eat all the fruits and items contained within the closed off sections of the maze. Having only messed around with this game previously and found it unrewarding to play I did the unthinkable and read the instructions. The scales fell from my eyes!
The purple things on the maze floor are cards. When flipped by Pac-Man travelling over them they unlock the depicted fruit or S-pecial item. Only three can be flipped at any one time, once their corresponding item is eaten or stolen, you can flip another. (What might have been neat/challenging is if cards flipped every time you passed them, allowing for some tactical play and doubtless frustration. Or even every time the ghosts passed them, which would be great but rage-inducing).
The special items are a sequence of objects such as Galaxians, Rally-X cars and, er, trumpets. These replace power pills as your means of fighting back against the ghosts and there are two on each level. Eating one turns Pac-Man cyan and gives him a breath weapon for a short time. Yeah. Only fire button I ever pressed in a Pac-Man sequel was Jump, so that was unexpected. Again, Damascus, scales, eyes.
When powered-up Pac-Man can project forward a stunning beam long enough to hit two ghosts. The graphics for this are item-appropriate, e.g. a Galaga tractor beam or tyre smoke, but the differences are purely cosmetic. Stunned ghosts remain so for several seconds on early levels and can be safely passed through. It’s also worth noting that ghosts will periodically pause of their own accord. I can’t honestly tell if it’s an intentional mechanism to give you a chance to flee or the 1983 equivalent of the Windows hourglass. Regardless of intent, the way it happens it feels to me like the latter. Experientially ugly.
The Pal of the title is a small green ghost apparently called Miru. She doesn’t harm you or interact with the other ghosts, instead whilst you’re evading your enemies she steals the fruit/items and takes them to your undead pursuers’ spawn point. That’s not a pal, that’s Git-of-the-Week on The Walking Dead.
Items can be reclaimed from Miru if you catch her; laden she travels slowly enough to be caught and tends to take the long route to the ghost house. Once they’re taken into there though, they’re gone. One neat side-effect of this is that you can be cornered by ghosts expecting to lose a life when the level suddenly ends because Miru has disposed of the final on-screen fruit in the ghost house. I remain convinced that the fact that this helps Pac-Man is purely incidental.
Sadly the game lacks the traditional Pac-Man intermissions/cutscenes. However, after the first two levels and every four thereafter you do get a bonus screen, containing only cards. Success here is entirely luck-based. You have to flip over all the cards hoping to get points “$” or Miru (who doubles your bonus). If you get the red ghost Blinky then the bonus round is over. Good fortune on this level should score enough points to win a bonus Pac-Man first time through.
Pac & Pal is a very chilled-out game to play. Not a walkover, but definitely easier than a lot of the other Pac-iterations. I haven’t mentioned the music yet, which contributes to this almost relaxed feel. Utterly unlike the original game’s iconic introductory fanfare or Pac-Land‘s jaunty Bubble Bobble-esque tune, Pac & Pal has a sort-of understated musical burbling synth-xylophone loop. Check it.
The bonus round has its own more urgent tune, which I found less compelling (no link for you!)
One of my favourite features of this and the previous Pac-sequel Super Pac-Man is the ability to enter the ghost house. That was like the Holy Grail to 10 year-old me! Every Pac-Clone I ever wrote had the ability to enter the ghost house! Unlike Super Pac-Man though, there’s no real benefit here to being able to do so. You can’t eat the fruits that Miru has supposedly stashed there, for example.
I definitely think any classic Pac-Man fan should give Pac & Pal a go. Two goes and maybe not sequentially. Quit if it’s not for you. If I hadn’t been chasing achievements I wouldn’t necessarily have returned to it myself, yet approached on its own terms and, crucially, with an understanding of what’s required, the game provides an interesting Amidar/Pac-like challenge. Not having to walk over every square or eat every dot definitely changes the dynamics of the gameplay, plus you’ve got Miru mixing everything up a little.
By no means a classic, definitely not a stinker. Slightly better than Super Pac-Man. Decent time-waster. Endorsed!
Pac-Man that is born of Pac-Woman hath but a short time to live