Review: Jr. Pacman (Atari 2600)

In this review, we go back to dodging ghosts in the Atari 2600 game Jr. Pacman. We find out if this survival game is worth playing.

This game was released in 1986. We’ve already reviewed the much reviled Atari 2600 port of Pac Man and agree it isn’t a good game. Still, we decided to brave this other port to see if it is any better.

Jr. Pacman plays a lot like other classic Pac Man games. You are the Pac Man character running through a maze trying to eat every pellet. In the process, your goal is to, in part, evade the ghosts that will kill you on contact.

Another returning feature is the power pellet. If you eat the power pellet, you’ll be able to turn the tables on the ghosts and kill them on contact. As usual, it is very useful when you find yourself getting cornered by the ghosts.

One new feature is the thicker pellet. Each pellet is worth 10 points. However, getting the thicker pellet earns you more points per pellet. Still, the goal is to eat every pellet in the maze. This includes these thicker pellets.

One feature that is a modification is the bonus items. Previously, there were fruits that appear in the middle of the maze. The items in this game are different. Instead of appearing in a fixed location near the center of the maze, they randomly appear throughout the maze and move around. The items are also different. In the first level, it is a bicycle. In the second level, it’s a, er, hard to identify object.

The change in items doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The reason it doesn’t make sense is because the fruit were at least edible. Bicycle’s, on the other hand, are a little less appetizing. No doubt they would be harder to cut with utensils at the very least.

Still, there are improvements over the previous Atari 2600 ports. One of the improvements is the fact that the mazes are bigger. In fact, the screen even scrolls up and down to make up for lack of screen space.

Another improvement is the fact that the maze changes configuration between levels. This was simply not present in the previous Atari 2600 title we reviewed. This is a very nice feature to see as it makes the game seem less cheap.

The game, however, has a number of downsides. A big downside is the fact that the game is seemingly more difficult. It starts off fast pace and only hits the accelerator from there. I, for one, only made it to level 2. This is pretty counter-intuitive given the name of this game.

Another downside is the fact that the screen configuration makes it more difficult to tell where ghosts are moving. Forming strategies to avoid the ghosts is key in this game. When this is hampered, the game only ends up being more frustrating.

Generally speaking, this game is an improvement over the Atari 2600 port of Pac Man. While an improvement is an improvement, we’re talking about an improvement over what some consider one of the worst games of all time. Compounding the problem with this game is the fact that it was released in when games like Excitebike, Tetris, and The Legend of Zelda were already around.

Graphically, this department was a big reason the original Atari 2600 Pac Man port flopped so hard. Yes, the graphics are better detailed in this game, but this game suffers a lot of the same problems as the other game. The ghosts flicker, making them hard to see at times. The pellets are still that bizarre wafers that was a big point of criticism. As a result, this game seems to prove once again that the Atari 2600 system just can’t handle a Pac Man game. It also shows that the system may not be able to compete against the NES console.

If there is one bright spot, it is the audio. There is some basic music. While there isn’t much for music, it’s hard to expect much more out of a Pac Man game. The sound effects also work fairly well here. If there is any area of the game that makes me feel like I’m playing a legitimate Pac Man game the most, it’s the audio here. So, a nicely done job.

Overall, this game is an improvement over a previous Atari 2600 outing with Pac Man. Of course, considering some blast the Atari 2600 port of Pac Man is often labelled as one of the worst games of all time, that is not saying much. The game does contain different maze configurations. The maze space is larger. Unfortunately, the non-sensible edible bonuses and limited screen space makes strategy a chore. The graphics proved that the Atari 2600 can’t really handle a Pac Man game properly even though it is an improvement thanks to the flickering and wafer pellets. Though the audio is sufficient in offering a satisfactory game, that alone does not carry a game. So, another flop as far as I’m concerned.

Furthest point in game: Made it to second level. High score: 7650

General gameplay: 10/25
Replay value: 6/10
Graphics: 4/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 46%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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