Despite its grandfatherly age in the video game industry, the 1980 arcade classic Pac-Man has stood the test of time in what has grown to be a very big industry. Granted, it has endured in part to being heavily available on nearly every console in some capacity, but its relevance has also been due to its simplistic, addictive design: eat all of the dots, avoid the ghosts until you get the Power Pellet, and chomp on the fruit for extra points. Pac-Man’s massive success led to then-Namco turning the little hungry yellow ball into a full-blown franchise with mixed results, but with enough wins to keep Pac-Man a household name. How interesting it is to now have a catered collection of these arcade games from over the years all put into one collection. A Namco collection comes out every year or so, but it’s not common to get one based solely on Pac-Man. Pac-Man Museum + is a port of the 2014 title, Pac-Man Museum. The “+” indicates the new games in the collection, as well as new features revolving around customization. How does this collection fair against its own company’s saturated market of compilations? Well, it seems that despite how simple a game Pac-Man is, talking about this collection is a little more complicated.
Pac-Man Museum + comes packaged with 14 games from across the pellet-muncher’s history. These include the original 1980 Pac-Man, its 1982 sequel Super Pac-Man, 1983’s Pac & Pal, 1984’s Pac-Land, 1987’s Pac-Mania, the Super Nintendo version of Pac-Attack from 1993, the Super Famicom version of Pac-in-Time from 1995, 1996’s Pac-Man Arrangement as well as the PSP version from 2005, 2007’s Pac-Man Championship Edition, Pac-Moto’s, and Pac n’ Roll Remix. 2011’s Pac-Man Battle Royale and 2016’s Pac-Man 256 round out the collection. Needless to say, there is a lot of arcade Pac-Man content here, most being variations of Pac-Man’s history through his maze-based games, with a handful of other offerings in the puzzle and platformer genres. While there is a lot here, I couldn’t help but notice a few omissions. Ms. Pac-Man is the obvious missing title. However, if you’re unaware like I was going in, Ms. Pac-Man has been battling some ownership issues and thus wasn’t included. The character was actually struck completely from games that had included her, even as a cameo, and replaced with the character, “Pac-Mom.” While it is a shame that Ms. Pac-Man is not included, there are several other games that try to make up for her exclusion, many of which have had far fewer re-releases. To ask for a collection to cover the entirety of Pac-Man’s history is unreasonable, sure, but there was a small nagging feeling of wanting just a little bit more from Pac-Man’s history that has rarely been revisited, such as the Pac-Man World games, Jr. Pac-Man, or even the hilariously ill-fated Baby Pac-Man. That said, for the price of admission, what is available here is a great offering, even if it’s likely not every game will be played as much as some others.
Admittedly, I didn’t realize how many Pac-Man games existed that I had not played, especially from his earlier ventures. I blame part of this on the fact that many have not been re-released or included in the various Namco Museum collections. That said, after having trekked through maze after maze, I have a better understanding as to why many of these games were not made widely available again: they ain’t great. Sure, the fundamental design of Pac-Man is just as timeless as it was decades ago. And it was interesting to see the journey that Namco underwent to keep the magic of the series alive in each sequel. But that didn’t necessarily translate to enjoying the actual gameplay.
For instance, Super Pac-Man, the sequel to the original arcade game, added locked doors to the mazes that had to be opened with various keys. Pac-Man could use a power-up that made him much larger, invincible, and capable of busting down these doors. At best, it’s a novelty. But it starts to stray away from the appeal of the simple game. The follow-up, Pac & Pal, does away with the mechanic of chomping the ghosts altogether, instead focusing on having Pac-Man chase down a character that is nabbing all of the fruit. Then you have the experimental games that shake up the genre instead of trying to evolve the original concept. These are fairly middling, too. It’s fun to check out Pac-Man as some sort of tilt n’ tumble game or a Tetris-style puzzle game; I also enjoyed seeing where the Super Smash Bros. stage comes from (which was better than I was expecting!). But a lot of these games are a few steps past being novelty items. I found myself only wanting to play a handful of the games for long periods of time: both variations of Pac-Man Arrangement and Pac-Man Championship Edition. Thankfully, even though I didn’t stick to every game available, the inclusion of an achievement system made it somewhat interesting to return to other titles. It’s certainly not a perfect system, but it was a helpful addition to keep me coming back, and also to tie in the Pac-Man Museum +’s newest feature: a customizable arcade.
While I wasn’t majorly impressed by the arcade hub menu given its small size and limitations, I was enjoying the constant unlocking of new skins for cabinets, new figurines, and even characters to come hang out at my arcade. The process for decorating is fairly straightforward: play the games, unlock achievements, earn rewards to decorate. You can also earn tokens that you can use to either play the arcade games, or spend on a gatcha machine for more figurines. It’s rudimentary, but charming. There isn’t a lot to complain about, as it’s all very serviceable, but I did have a few netpicks. Why were there a bazillion different wallpapers, but only two types of flooring? Why did arcade cabinets that were multiplayer get put into a single player arcade cabinet? What’s up with the 30 fps? Again, it’s not a huge deal. It’s a neat addition to this enhanced port that I think would be welcome in any collection celebrating an iconic video game character’s important history.
I did appreciate some of the flavor text that was written about the various games, each providing enough context to its relevance in the history of Pac-Man. In terms of other cosmetics, there’s a CRT filter that has varying levels of quality depending on the game. It appears to be a single filter overlay that doesn’t adjust depending on the game. In some games, such as Pac-Land, the lines that break up the pixels don’t line up with the in-game pixels, and I found this to be distracting. Speaking of, if you aren’t a fan of colorful arcade cabinet borders around your game, I regret to inform you that they are in full swing here with no option to turn them off. Personally, I was enjoying seeing all of the different artwork, but an option to customize the experience seems like a no-brainer that was missed. In some games, resizing the game screen actually will conceal part of the artwork, which often included instructional material. It’s not a game breaker, but it’s another element in this quality control tug-of-war the whole collection struggles with.
What is definitely a game breaker is the lag. I can’t really pinpoint if it’s the horrible drifting that occurs on Switch controllers, if it’s the input lag, or even the emulation itself, but more often than not I was frequently running into instances where I didn’t make a turn while fleeing a ghost, which jeopardized my fleeting strategies in the moment. I noticed this recurring issue across multiple maze games, while experimenting with different controllers and Switch play styles. For fun, I even booted up Pac-Man 99 and didn’t experience nearly the same level of frustration. So while I was having a grand ol’ time re-experiencing my childhood favorite, Pac-Man Arrangement, the experience was soured just a little with some control issues. Thankfully, most of the games are forgiving with the lives / credit system (again you use in-game tokens). But in a high-score chasing experience, it can be frustrating to not be able to claim what you rightfully feel you earned. There are online leaderboards too, which stack you up against both your friends and the best of the best. I like to think I gave each game a fair shake, but with some of those older titles, it was grating having to deal with moments of unfairness in already questionable games. Save states aren’t really necessary in these arcade-based games, but they would have been appreciated in some of the platformers like Pac-Land or Pac-in-Time, as occasionally the games would present you with a very punishing obstacle that did not promote experimentation.
Pac-Man Museum + is a lot to chew on, as there are many upsides to this package. The selection is good, there’s plenty of replayability, the leaderboards are nice, and a few stand-out titles can be found within. Plus, you really can’t beat the entry price being so low. But sadly, it’s a package that is bogged down with a handful of control issues and a lack of options. In a collection celebrating a character via a customizable arcade, it’s unfortunate there isn’t as much care put into the customization of the player experience. Will I still be playing it often? Absolutely. A handful of these titles both promote Pac-Man’s historic legacy, while standing on their own. Others, however, get lost in a game that is ironically all about mazes.