Region Reviewed: PAL
Year of Release: 1993
There’s certain games throughout industry history that has spawned many a clone, or at the very least not-so-loosely–by-titles. Pong, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros, Tetris…the list goes on. But welledy wait a good second, sir; where this be goin’!? I’ll fill you in where I’m going if you haven’t got spoilers from clicking on the link for this review already…But back to where I was going with it, this particular release up for review today is part the former kind of game, while also being a franchise entry for something so crazily cloned both in its day and even now it’s unreal. So what is it? SPOILERS OF COURSE, I’m chattin’ on: PAC-PANIC!
Think about it. Pac-Man is a huge money spinner and easily Namco’s most visibly recognisable property. Tetris was one of the most popular video games to ever hit the scene and showed those crazy Russians loved a good puzzle. Why the heck not blend to two into one ultimate combination of what has become a mostly overlooked gem?! Makes all kinds of sense. And you know it.
Pac-Panic wasn’t always what we know it as today, obviously. It’s not even known globally simply as Pac-Panic, either – you may also know it as Pac-Attack. Here though, I am reviewing the Sega MegaDrive version of the game co-developed/published by Namco. Billed elsewhere on t’interwebz, it’s noted for its similarities to the Columns series and Dr. Mario, which are both fair. It’s actually a conversion from an arcade title known as Cosmo Gang The Puzzle prior to Namco shoehorning in Pac-Man for the home market, in a similar manner to how Super Mario Bros. 2 and Alex Kidd in High Tech World (or if you’re feeling much more relevant to the matter with a title that didn’t come long after, let’s whack in Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine to that list). The game as it is how I’ve played for review can be obtained many ways outside of simply a cartridge, as it’s been since re-released on various Pac-related compilations and online services and it was also a multi-platform title at the time, finding homes on the likes of the SNES, CD-I, PlayStation, Game Gear, Game Boy and Master System, too. Phew! That’s a lot of Panic!! So, with the historical-based overview out the way, then…
If you’ve paid any remote attention to the above bits, I’m willing to bet how you figure it plays. Essentially, it’s just that. Blocks drop, some blocks have ghosts (there’s a whole lotta Blinky’s up in here!) others have a Pac-Man. The blocks/ghosts/Pac-Man (Pac-Men?) will break apart/drop once placed if there’s a visible area below them to do so, as you’d expect in the likes of Puyo Puyo. When a Pac-Man does drop, the player’s gotta manoeuvre that lovable nom-nom ball toward a (hopefully) carefully placed line of ghosts, who will turn blue at the very appearance (no pills needed) of our hero and subsequently get chomped to oblivion. The easiest way to think of the gameplay is that of Baku Baku Animal for the Saturn/GG (or Master System in Brazil!) as it’s essentially the same thing. A fairly simple, yet addictive puzzle title with charm in spades. Easy to learn, difficult to master. Like Tetris!
You crash down lines, chomp on ghosts and build up your Fairy Meter (yup) to try and clear the board as best as you can, or at least keep it at a manageable rate as the difficulty level (or rather, lightning speed of blocks dropping) ramps up. It has nice little breather periods however, I noticed, similar to the original Pac-Man arcade game, in which the pace levels out slightly as if to ease the pressure on the player and let you collect your frustration-filled nerves from the other room. I personally love the touches and nods made toward the franchise, in a subtlety befitting one of my writings. Why? Everybody loves Pac-Man, because he’s awesome. Having the traditional jingle ring out in glorious 16-bit and the audio/visual-based sensory experience of the ghost-chompin’ is decidedly lovely.
Much like with Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine (from Puyo Puyo) the fact it’s just a random conversion of a non-specific title with a popular franchise tag is particularly well done, so all the credit in the world to Namco there, as it’s a job well done. The only thing that does feel out of place, is the Fairy. Yup, that Fairy Meter thing. The move ghosts you rid, the more your meter fills, when it completes a Fairy will drop and get rid of the 8-lines of ghosts below her/him/it. It’s a handy power up, but I’d prefer it to be Ms. Pac-Man with a wand or something. Oh, well. The mechanics are well implemented and the games is a treat to play overall, from its sheer playability standpoint. If the player messes up, the player regrets it – but it isn’t as harshly punishing as some of the Columns titles, all the same. It’s a well-balanced mix, which is what you want.
Speaking of balance, there’s obviously multiple modes of play. The main mode is your standard, with 5 difficulties to choose from (PRO-TIP: want a big high score? Just immediately jump on in the deep end with HYPER~! Mode) for all your single-player hour-killing needs. There is also a Puzzle option which has set puzzles for the player to complete rather than the random block-drop styling’s and even comes with a password save system which is nice if you fancy switching off and returning later. Those Namco folks think of everything! The Versus mode is basically Baku Baku starring Pac-Man and co. That’s literally the best way I can describe it.
The presentation is obviously appealing to any Pac-fan worth their salt, as that’s what this is, essentially; just a Pac-Man branded video game that isn’t in the accustomed Pac-Man formula, yet relaying just as much flavour. You dig?
Now, the music sounds great. Clearly, I am reviewing a PAL territory version of Pac-Panic here and I am unaware if it is a PAL-optimised title or not (likelihood is not), so only having played via 50hz, it’s that of which I’m commenting. Either way, it sounds great. Many familiar tunes ring out, alongside some very nice start-up music and classic effects sprinkled throughout. Is it Yuzo Koshiro level of ripping to a CD-R, then to a tape, then to an 8-track, so you can rock it in your hot new joint when you’re out cruisin’ about the town..? Ehh, maybe not. Is it at least as annoyingly memorably catchy as the Tetris theme we’re all too aware of...? Ehh, maybe not that either. But it stands as a decent soundtrack on its own, that perfectly matches the pace of the game and adds to the atmosphere, which is essentially all you should want/need, anyway. Bottom line, I like it. Yeah!
It’s far from graphically ground-breaking, but neither is the gameplay. It’s all about familiarity, with Pac-Panic certainly ringing true as a product of its time. The heavy use of purples (that I’m sure Megatron will adore), with solid brick-like backdrops that wouldn’t be out of place on a talk show set like Jerry Springer with Pac-related graffiti as the furthest wall for which the blocks drop in front of. No boundaries pushed, but some occasionally nice uses of the palette available to freshen stages up between modes, etc. go well to satisfy even if not going above and beyond. Average, I guess. Yet, still in a good way. Nothings muddled or bleeding in, so the player can always eye their next move with relative ease on the retina and friends.
The actual lastability of the title will be a very subjective section. If you’re especially a fan of the Puzzle games like MBM, Baku Baku and the like – there will be enough here to warrant returns to beat your previous high scores and reclaim the top-spot of the board over and over again. Similarly with the Puzzle and Versus modes, in that once you’re done with Puzzle, there may be moves you figure you could have improved upon thus want to return to and Versus is dependent on having a game-buddy who digs the puzzle-based action as much as yourself. That said, if you don’t like puzzle games nor Pac-Man, you won’t be returning any time soon after a quick play or two. Having never played upon release, the nostalgic sub-section of the games lastability is null and void here.
At the end of the day, Pac-Panic on the MegaDrive may well not be the deepest, the most intense, or even most original Puzzle game on the 16-bit block nor a title alone worth buying a system for. But if you already own an MD and have even the mildest of interests, give it a shot. I enjoyed the heck out of it and found it to be tremendously harmless fun.
You only live once, despite what a James Bond film/book title will tell you…
Waka waka, motherf**ker.
Verdict:- If you love games that puzzle and you just can't pop enough power pellets to ever subside your Pac-Man addiction? Namco got your back, bro!
The long and short of it all is thus...
Pac-Panic is a maddingly addictive action-puzzler with a heap of charm, but overall resides in the field of the rather average as opposed to propelling itself into new realms of actual greatness. It's a fun use of the franchise and it's easily playable, that will have you back for more if you're a fan of any or all of the above.
It's just not quite Pac-Man, nor is it quite Tetris. It's Pac-Panic, take it or leave it!
Second Opinion:- Puzzle games are not something Transbot grooves too at all however this is not a bad game at all, if being honest it's one of the better ones.
Transbot still prefers Puyo Puyo or even some columns based action if he has a gun put to his head and is forced to play a puzzle game. It's good if you like the genre, that's it.
Transbot Scores:- 7 out of 10