Game Systems Handheld Entertainment Nintendo DS/DSi/3DS

Pac-Man & Galaga Dimensions (3DS)

Namco has a lot of video gaming properties out there.  However, Pac-Man and Galaga have obviously been Namco’s biggest money makers because we continue to see the games released again and again – for one system or another.  We’ve had the games in “TV controller” form, Xbox Live renditions and of course in portable and mobile formats as well.  Not to mention the often horrible “name whoring” ventures where the good names of these classic games are sullied – Galaga: Destination Earth, I’m looking at you.
With this in mind, it is easy to understand why a lot of groaning and moaning was put out when Namco announced Pac-Man & Galaga Dimensions for the Nintendo 3DS.  After all, haven’t we seen all these games before … and, couldn’t we get them a bit cheaper than $40?

The drought of 3DS software is simply undeniable and when a game – any game – comes out for the system, people take notice.  Unfortuantely, the press has been everywhere from unjustly cruel to downright incorrect in reviewing this title, so I guess it is up to me to give the game a fair shake.

To set the record straight up front – this is not simply another “classics collection” being rehashed for a new console.  There is considerable original and “modern” content as well.  In fact, there is more “new” content than classic content.

Pac-Man & Galaga Dimensions (P&GD from now on) offers up two “new” games – Pac-Man Tilt and Galaga 3D Impact, both designed from the ground up for the Nintendo 3DS.  The modern favorite overhaul of our little yellow pizza-missing-a-slice friend makes its Nintendo debut – I’m talking of course about Pac-Man: Championship Edition which graced many other consoles over the years.  Next up, Galaga Legions – an Xbox Live port of a more modern take on Galaga (fans ofGaplus take note – Namco sure did).  Rounding off the collection, straight up ports of the classic Pac-Man and Galagaarcade games.

So that’s six games – two of which are arcade classics, two Xbox Live ports and two original games.

There are a couple of nice bonuses too – we’ll get to those later.

Not bad so far, right?

Let’s start at the proverbial bottom and work our way up by looking at the two arcade classics; Pac-Man and Galaga.

In the classic gaming circles, there is a saying; Pac-Man gets all the love, Ms. Pac-Man gets all the play.  And why not?  Ms. Pac-Man kept all the addictive play of the original, but brought so much new to the table; changing mazes, trotting fruit, smarter ghosts … what’s not to love?  Compared to Ms. Pac-Man, the original is more an effort of endurance and pattern memorization than actual fun game play.  Yet, anytime some new collection comes down the pike, it’s always the original that gets included.

Unfortunately, even classic game players would rather play Ms. Pac-Man (I’ll take the speed up chip version, please) than Pac-man which makes the inclusion of the title in this package more about nostalgia than quality game play.  Hey, I’m all for nostalgia; by all means, include Pac-Man – just give me Ms. Pac-Man too.  Sadly, there is no Ms. Pac-Man to be found here – speed up or otherwise.  What we do get is a very faithful rendition of the original Pac-Man game.

Galaga is another story.  Galaga (and the venerable Ms. Pac) are still found TODAY in arcades – in a multi-game cabinet – still making money.  Galaga has enjoyed a very rich history of imitation over the years through some incredible games like Deluxe Galaga (Amiga) and Warblade (PC/Mac) and many other generic shooters.  Galaga is a game of memorization, tenacity and even a bit of strategy – and that hasn’t changed over the years.  The Galaga included in this package appears to be very faithful to the original – including the wave patterns, shot patterns, alien ship movement – even the Wave 10 “the bugs don’t fire on the way in” is included here.  I haven’t tried the “stop bugs from shooting” glitch, but it wouldn’t shock me to find out it was there.  For those that remember early emulation missing the “ship explosion” sound, don’t worry; it is intact here.

In addition to the games themselves, you are offered options on how to view the games as you play; upright cabinet, cocktail cabinet – or simply on the screen without a bezel.  The two former modes offer a true perspective of the game – with slanted perspective (based on your viewpoint playing the game on the real machine) and even some through-the-glass distortion of the screen.  It is very cool to see.  The latter mode offers no other onscreen effects or content – it is the straight up game as you would play them in a modern emulator.

Along with the mode changes, you can play the games in 3D – on Galaga the starfield is “further away”, and your ship and the bugs float on top.  Text and other display elements have 3D depth as well.  On Pac-Man, the maze has more depth along with the text and other display elements.  It is very non-gratuitous and offers something to the game.  If you’ve played the 3D classic games from the eShop, you should know what to expect here.

Finally, both games feature achievements – each game has 16 challenges to master; anywhere from eating all the ghosts on a single energizer in Pac-Man to fashioning a dual ship inGalaga (even shooting your captured ship gives an achievement).  The game itself plays on the top screen, while your achievements (both pending and complete) appear on the bottom screen.  Touching a ? box will show you the achievement you are to earn, while completed achievements show up as a little icon that is somewhat related to the achievement itself.  This can be done during game play, too – which is quite handy.  When an achievement is earned, there is no popover or even sound indicator that you have gotten one – the icon just replaces the question mark.  It is a little lackluster in presentation, but it is a nice addition and I found myself struggling to get them.  You can also turn on “self-test” or the power up sequence animations for each game – give you a little more feeling from the arcade.  US and Japanese bezel art is available as well.

Next up, Galaga Legions.  This is a pretty pure Xbox Live port of the game.  I really didn’t care for the game then and it hasn’t gotten any better with time.  As an Xbox Live game, the graphics are improved, but the gameplay simply doesn’t work for me.  Similar to Galaga game play, you place auto-fire satellites to help you fight the swarms.  Again, it is presented in a 3D enhanced manner with achievements to accomplish as well.

Frankly, what drew me to this package initially was Pac-Man: Championship Edition (CE from now on).  While the basic core components of Pac-Man are here (evade ghosts, eat pellets, get energizers, eat ghosts, eat fruit) the presentation and variation push this title into Gold Status for me.

In CE, the widescreen maze contains pellets and energizers as well as the standard ghost “home base”.  Exits flank all four sides of the screen, allowing wrap around access to the other side; perfect for shaking the tailing ghost.  When all the pellets (and energizers) are gone from one side of the screen, a fruit appears.  Eating it will cause the maze on the completed side to SHIFT into a new maze and cause new dots and energizers to appear.  This “back and forth” process ensures the action never stops – clear one side, get the fruit, clear the other side, get the fruit and so on.

The ghosts are a lot smarter this time around.  If you’re hoping that patterns will set you free, guess again; the developers keep the game frantic as heck – especially as the game speeds up over time.  Ghosts do have particular BEHAVIORS that can give you an edge once you learn them, but you aren’t going to get them to fall for a banana in the tailpipe.

There are a couple more extras too.  Energizers can be “daisy chained” – meaning that as long as you can keep the ghosts blue, they will continue to go up in value when you eat them – maxing out at 3200 points.  But, as long as you can keep them blue, you can continue to score multiple 3200 point ghosts.  Pac-Man always had a greed element to it, but now it is simply ridiculous.  The longer you live, the more the pellets are worth.  They start at 10 points, but slowly creep up.  This keeps you from being more risky than usual – despite how many lives you have stocked up because dying resets the multiplier on the pellets.  You might think the 3200 point ghost is worth it to get dead over, but do make sure you do the math first.  The final goodie in the game is the ability to scrape the edges of the maze for a speed boost (no, I don’t know how dragging yourself along a wall makes you FASTER rather than SLOWER – but hey, what do I know).  Suffice to say, if you “push” against the maze as you’re moving, a little streak appears behind your Pac-Man and you move slightly faster.  This can be essential to slipping a closing in ghost.

Along with the changes, the game has been decked out in full neon glow with slick aesthetics and effects including color cycling.  The pumping techno beat really gets you into the groove while you play.  Several game modes will keep you busy, too – the greatest one, of course is the 5 minute “ranked” mode (more in a minute).  You have 5 minutes to score attack yourself to a high score.  The game ramps up in speed very quickly – and by the end, the ghosts are hauling some serious ass around the maze – and so are you.

The 3D effects make the game even more trippy and awesome to play.

If you think this sounds bad ass, it is.  Frankly, the 500 point Xbox Live edition is what really nudged me into getting a 360 to begin with.  Yes, it’s that good.

Next up, the Galaga 3D Impact shooter.  This game is a motion-controlled, 3D, cockpit view shooter which features a very nice “streaming” background over which to play.  The 3D effect is excellent – really lending itself to the “depth of space” illusion necessary to pull a game like this off.  You move the 3DS up, down, left and right to “shift” your view and targeting reticle.  This is a bit awkward because you have to be careful with how you move or you lose the 3D head-on perspective.  It will take some getting used to, so be patient.

If you simply ABBHOR motion controls, you can use the analog pad to control the “camera” view as well.  I found this completely unusable, and decided my time was better spent learning how to do the motion control correctly.  The bugs fly up to and sometimes beyond your view – but they never really “stop” so you can shoot them (like on the arcade game).  They do fire back and can ram you.  Unlike the original game, you have a shield that will take damage instead of experiencing an outright death from a collision with bug or bullet.

Much like other games, your A button “rapid fires” but the longer you fire in succession, the “hotter” your gun gets and it will eventually crap out on you until it cools down.  This is much like the turbo on Excitebike or Excitetruck.  Use it wisely.  The B button will allow you to “charge” and shoot a blue capture ball that will grab enemies and bring them to your ship – which in turn fills a gauge.  As the gauges fill up, your ship upgrades – for example you get a shield on the R button which lasts a few moments then has to “recharge” (the capturing system has to recharge too).  Chests appear (in space?) that can be shot open to score more shield or rank markers.

All in all, it’s a pretty decent shooter once you get the hang of the motion controls and there is a lot of variety including different bugs, boss bugs, etc.  Beats the crap out of other Galaga-esque shooters.

Last but not least, the new namesake game – Pac-Man Tilt(PMT from now on).

PMT is a side scrolling platformer that couples traditional controls with “tilt” (side to side) controls.  You use the analog stick to move your Pac-Man and you use the tilt control to move the environment and create situations to help Pac through the level.  The tilt mechanism is fairly subtle – and since you only have to tilt left and right (like a steering wheel), you never lose the 3D perspective.  You also don’t have to wrench the 3DS 180 degrees to get the tilt effect either.  A little metronome like graphic in the bottom left shows you “how much tilt” you have going on – and it maxes out long before you turn the 3DS a full 90 degrees.  This won’t stop you from flailing around like a mad man for the first few levels as you get used to the game, but it’s nice that the turning radius is small once you get the feel for it.

As with any Pac-Man game, PMT is about eating pellets, fruit and energizers (which are stored and manually activated instead of instant acting) – and of course, consuming ghosts.  Not all of these actions are required to complete a level (especially the early ones), because your main goal is to get to the finish line at the end – most everything else is just gravy (and in this game, the gravy is a higher score).  Finish the level with enough points and you can earn a medal (bronze, silver or gold).

To keep you replaying levels and actually TRYING hard (instead of just racing through to the end), every level has an indicator on the bottom screen that tells you how many ghosts, pellets and fruit are on the level – as well as how many you have achieved so far.  When you get them all, a little PERFECT icon shows up.  Think of these as carrots for level completion – not unlike the 3 coins per level on New Super Mario Bros. on the DS.  Did I mention there is a timer running?  Yes, each level has a countdown timer to complete the level under.  You don’t “lose” if you don’t make the time, but you lose a lot of “bonus points” if you finish the level with nothing on the clock left.  Add all this up, and you have a serious recipie for “just one more game” addictive qualities.  Sure, you may get through the level, but not seeing that medal makes you crazy (at least it does for me).

Let’s talk about the levels now.  The levels get progressively more intricate as you play (which is how it should be).  On the first couple of levels, you’re going to learn how to get around, how to tilt yourself into a ball (I couldn’t help thinking about Metroid or Turrican) to break through barriers and how tilting affects your abilities to jump and run.

As the levels progress, you’ll get swinging platforms, shock zones (yes, you can die in this game), pinball flippers, turbo boosts, transport chutes – all sorts of fun things.  Tilting helps you navigate certain terrain, cause swinging platforms to swing higher or farther – even affect your jumping ability to get to hard to reach spots.  There are even platforms that you’ll “control” with the tilt – moving your Pac to different areas of the level.

What?  Pinball plungers?  You got it – you can use plungers to shoot your Pac high into the air to reach hard areas.  Gates?  Of course – pressure plates, fruit requirements, timed runs – yeah, we got gates.  There are many more level modifiers to make your journey more interesting the longer you play.

Ghosts appear as mostly as level obstactles – patrolling smaller areas, waiting for you (much like the Pac-man Worldgame series).  You store up energizers and can activate them on command – making the ghosts a little bit easier to deal with.  Of course, in pursuing the “perfect” level score, you’re going to have to use the energizers sparingly and smartly.

If you haven’t already figured it out – PMT is a score game (as it should be) and not a “levels” game.

Graphically speaking, PMT is very cartoony and appealing.  The camera moves in and out based on the needs of the player – but it isn’t done so often you want to kill the dude with the camera.  The music and audio are spot on – never annoying or repetative – and all your favorite sounds are here.

Now that we’ve covered the games included, let’s talk about the bonuses.

A fun-but-only-watch-once special 3D anniversary video is included – celebrating Pac-man.  I imagine they used it to fill up the cart, but it’s a fun bonus never the less.  It is narrated and subtitled on the bottom screen – and runs about 5 minutes or so.  Some great use of 3D effects.

Obviously, the greatest bonus is online leaderboards.  Thank God Namco took the high road on this one and included full, online, friend-aware leaderboards.
Daily and weekly scores are also kept – to see how much better you’re getting.  Every game is represented with your best score.
In the case of CE and Galaga Legions, only the ranked modes (the 5 minute game and adventure mode, respectively) is submitted for high scores against your friends and the world.  Console players take online leaderboards for granted – and they really make a difference in score attack games like these.  While I’m happy to beat my personal best in CE, I’m much more happy beating my friend’s high score (Alex, I’m talking to you).  The online leaderboard process is pretty painless.  The only thing worth mentioning is that while all the games are covered, the leaderboards are isolated from each game – meaning you have to go back to the main menu of the game, selected the scores table – then you can get access to the leaderboards.  A little kludgy, but I’m so happy they are there – I’m willing to forgive a little.

Speaking of forgiveness – we must take a moment to talk about the short comings of the package.

As mentioned before, the leaderboards are isolated from the games.  It lends a level of … disjointedness … to an otherwise very pleasant experience.  It gives you the feeling that every game in here was developed by a different team and that high scores online was a last minute add on.

While I love the bezel art on the classic games – and the 3D effects are great – I’m quite disappointed that there are no “landscape” modes for playing these vertically oriented games.  This makes the actual game play area seem small – even on the larger 3DS screen.  Being able to rotate the 3DS sideways and fill more of the screen (even with the off controls) would have been appreciated.  I’m GUESSING it has to do with the 3D effect perspective limitations – but they could have offered us a 2D only mode for this.  Fortunately the top screen is a bit higher resolution, so the games still LOOK great; they are just small.

I would have liked to see more “Pac-Man & Galaga“.  Pac-Man Arranged would have been nice and Galaga Arranged (droooool) would have been better value than a 3D movie added on.  I would have killed forGalaga 88 (or 90 as it were) in this package.  Of course, I would have really been happier if they had thrown in Ms. Pac-Man classic along with the original Pac-Man.

Finally, the games offered no “two player” modes – not even the classic games.  I would like to be able to hand the 3DS back and forth to my wife or son to challenge me to some Galaga love.  I understand it makes no sense to play on wireless – but “turn taking” is part of the arcade experience.

Part of the problem with this package is the saturation some of the content has already had; Pac-Manand Galaga are playable just about everywhere – TV, consoles, computers … even phones.  CE has been available on Live for some time and is even available on the PSP already (just isn’t as good there, though).  A lot of people still haven’t played CE, but if you have already played it to death, even the 3D and game modes might not be alluring enough to you.  I personally feel Galaga Legions is a wash – which leaves us with Galaga 3D Impact and Pac-Man Tilt.  The former is fun but not what I would call a true selling point.  The latter, on the other hand, is a top notch, well fleshed out, quality and fun to play platformer with some new interesting elements and controls that I think most people would appreciate.

The online leaderboards promise to lend itself to tons of replay and score chasing – but they could have been better implemented.  It isn’t a show stopper by any means, but it would be unresponsible not to mention it.

The bottom line is that this is a solid title for classic gaming fans and platformer lovers alike.  There is a lot of replay value, great use of 3D, polished presentation and good-to-great content both old and new.  Pac-Man Tilt and Pac-Man Championship edition alone are nearly worth the price of admission alone – and coupled with some sound extras, I can definitely recommend this title to pretty much everyone.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

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