As the Xbox and PS2 reap the fruits of their now-established online presence, Nintendo continues to hang back and slowly repeat the mantra “At this time we don’t feel that online gaming is worth pursuing.” They’re answer to their competitors online focus for the past couple years has been a promise of “connectivity”, which is to say that connecting your GBA to your GC to unlock special features, new maps, and an occasional island is supposed to make up for the Big N’s lack of Internet multiplayer features in their games (Phantasy Star Online not withstanding). Many have scoffed at Nintendo’s position on the issue, and perhaps rightly so, but it’s also hard to deny the potential coolness that could come of the “connectivity” concept.
Sadly, not many titles for the GameCube have taken advantage of the GBA-GC connectivity abilities, and the ones that have did little to add justification to Nintendo’s claims that online gaming simply isn’t relevant. But Pac-Man Vs is certainly a step in the right direction, and definitely the most exciting use of connectivity yet. It’s ironic that it took an antiquated piece of long-forgotten videogame software to give Nintendo’s cutting edge chunk of hardware the push it may very well need to make people stand up and take notice.
Basically, Pac-Man Vs is a multiplayer version of the age-old Pac-Man arcade game that caused coin shortages in Japan way back when. But this time around the focus is not only on controlling the famous dot-munching protagonist but the ghosts as well. The game retains its simplistic nature but simply extends the entertainment value of the title well beyond what anyone could have expected. Anyone who is familiar with the original Pac-Man game will have no problem picking this title up and instinctively knowing exactly what needs to be done.
Pac-Man Vs abides by the same exact rules that made the arcade game such a hit, the only difference is that one person will play as Pac-Man on the GBA while up to three other people get to play as ghosts on the TV using GameCube controllers. The person controlling Pac-Man is able to see the entire map and the current position of the ghosts, while the ones who are controlling the ghosts only get to see a small portion of the surrounding map as they move about. Pac-Man’s goal is to gobble up all the on-screen pellets without running into any ghosts. Having achieved this, the next map will be loaded and the process begins all over again. By stuffing a power-pellet in Pac-Man’s gaping mouth, he will temporarily turn invincible and be able to kill the ghosts who were previously chasing him simply by coming in contact with any of the floating spooks. And in an interesting twist, the fruit that sometimes appears can now be eaten by the ghosts as well as Pac-Man. If a ghost gobbles fruit then his view of the action will be increased so that locating Pac-Man will be easier.
If you are controlling a ghost that manages to catch Pac-Man then you will receive 1600 points and the privilege of taking over the GBA and controlling Pac-Man. It’s favorable to play as Pac-Man because each dot that you munch nets you a certain amount of points, and the first person to a specified score is the winner of the game. Ghosts are able to accumulate points as well, but not nearly as quickly. The cycle of passing the GBA around is repeated until one of the players manages to accumulate enough points to claim victory.
But what if you don’t have three other people to join in on the shenanigans, you ask? Well, you’ll need at least one other person to play the game, but even with two people it is still quite fun. The developers added some interesting dynamics to make up for the potential lack of available players. There will still be three on-screen ghosts when playing with two people, but the other two ghosts will be computer controlled. The computer-controlled ghosts first need to be activated by the human-controlled ghost, however. This is done simply by moving your ghost over the pair of ghost eyes that represent the computer ghosts. Of course you’ll want to activate all the ghosts to cut down on the amount of time the Pac-Man player gets to sit in the drivers seat. So as you can imagine, investing your time between ghost activation and Pac-Man hunting adds quite a bit of strategy to the proceedings. But even so, the game is undoubtedly at its best when played with four people.
Six different maps are featured in Pac-Man Vs, including the arcade original and five unique maps. The graphics on the GBA remain essentially the same from map to map with the only difference being the layout of the corridors and pellets, but the 3D rendered proceedings on the TV all have unique graphical themes for each map, which doesn’t do a lot to affect the gameplay but is a nice addition nonetheless. In the audio department there are some interesting bits of aural goodness to be heard, not the least of which is Nintendo’s own Mario playing the part of commentator. He doesn’t say a whole lot, but I got a jolt of excitement every time I heard him exclaim “It’s-a not looking so good!”, or “Pac-Man ate a power pellet!” The rest of the sound presentation is adequate but pretty simplistic, not that that’s a slam against the sound. Pac-Man doesn’t need a lot of music or sound effects to get the job done. In fact, overuse of such things could easily be distracting.
Pac-Man Vs’ unveiling at last year’s E3 wasn’t met with much hype or anticipation, but it’s plain to see now that we’ve had a chance to grow verifiably addicted to it that it should have. The fact that the game is essentially being distributed as a freebee in select Namco titles only sweetens the deal.
If you’re looking for some truly entertaining multiplayer action that takes advantage of the GBA’s and GameCube’s connectivity features then you should certainly give Pac-Man Vs a look-see. Chances are you won’t be disappointed.