FGC #071 Namco Museum Megamix

Keep rollin rollin rollin rollinNamco Museum Megamix is what happens when a video game mascot has a mid-life crisis.

Pac-Man, and by extension, Namco, has a problem, and that’s that Pac-Man is one of the most recognized faces in gaming (which is good, as he’s like 90% face), and once rode a practically unheard of wave of popularity based on one, maybe two games. Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man both were incredible hits in the arcade, and shortly after their release, the world went gaga with a bad case of Pac-Fever. People ran out to purchase Pac-Man watches, binders, songs, television shows, and I’m pretty sure there were some spaghetti-os in there. For a couple of years, Pac-Man was completely ubiquitous, and even today, Pac-Man is an icon (literally, if your desktop is anything like mine), and you can still find Pac-candies, Pac-purses, and one wildly impractical Pac-stapler.

But this was all based on Pac-Man, the game, and its sequel, and… that’s it. Pac-Man has been a staple of the video game universe for decades, but he’s still basically only got three good games to his name (the third would be CE, released… eight years ago now?).

Maybe I’m expecting too much of one puck person. After all, Star Wars is Star Wars because of a mere three movies, and Back to the Future is in a similar boat (or Delorean). He-Man or Voltron seem to carry an unprecedented amount of cultural clout, and that’s all based on their original animated series that were barely comprehensible when they aired (revivals? What revivals?). And, geez, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a mere ninety minutes, and it practically birthed its own language, so why am I complaining about a creature with a “measly” three brilliant video games. That’s more video games than I’ve ever starred in!

Video games, admittedly, are judged very differently for success than franchises in other mediums, and it’s likely because of an overwhelming success rate for the good ones. Mario has pretty much never had a bad game to his name, and Zelda, too (cough CD-i). I MUST SCREAMMega Man has had some clunkers, but you know that bot is doing something right when you realize he’s had at least one good game per spin-off. Even Sonic the Hedgehog, a rodent with a pretty dismal win/loss ratio, has headlined more good games than little Pac-Man, and it can’t just be because of his adoring public and their myriad of delightful fetishes.

Now, it’s one thing to write about this from an academic perspective, and just title the article “15 Things Pac-Man needs to change, #7 rocked me to the core,” but it must be another thing entirely to be Namco, or whoever is responsible for actually making money at Namco. Look, sitting right there in your coop is the golden goose, and you know, just know, that that sucker is going to lay some golden eggs, because she’s done it before, but every time you go in there, and I mean every time, there isn’t a golden egg to be found, and you wind up chased out of the room, covered in goose poop and reeking of failure. Why haven’t we gotten any golden eggs? We’ve got pictures of golden eggs right there on the wall! I guarantee you that, at this point, Think Geek has made more sales in the name of Pac-Man than any programmer in the last decade.

So how can we get Pac-Man, beloved grandfather of gaming, actually involved in some good video games? Well here’s a thought: let’s just stick him in a bunch of different games, and see what sticks. What could possibly go wrong? Well, here’s a game that answers that question.

BUMPFirst, we’ve got Pac-Motos, based, as you can likely guess, on Motos. Motos was a game with vaguely Marble Madness-like bumping that saw the player controlling a bumper car doing its absolute best to bump all the other “cars” off the stage. As time went on, gaps would appear in the board, and as levels were completed, new and exciting enemies would appear. Like a surprisingly large number of arcade games, the enemies are predominantly bug creatures, and there is an actual variety, even if there isn’t much of a change in the gameplay from bug to bug. Pac-Motos inserts a spherical Pac-Man in place of Motos, the main bumper car, and… that’s it. Aside from an obvious graphical upgrade for the 1985 arcade release, Pac-Motos adds absolutely nothing of consequence to the experience, and you have to wonder why anyone at Namco even bothered.

Rally-X Remix doesn’t fare much better. Rally-X sounds like a racing game, but it’s much more like a maze game: you direct a little go-kart fellow in an overhead viewed world toward various flags that will now forever be known for their inclusion in ZOOOMSuper Smash Bros 4. Along the way, you avoid all the other karts and, in an answer to those that crave offensive options, you can release a noxious cloud behind your kart to hopefully hinder others. As a maze-game, you might expect Pac-Man, maze all-star, to really shine in this remix, but, nope, Pac is just piloting the kart, and adds absolutely nothing to the experience. They didn’t even have Team Ghost piloting the enemy karts! Come on, Namco, use your IPs to their fullest!

Grobda Remix gets a graphical overhaul that somehow makes the entire experience worse. Grobda is the 1984 spin-off of Xevious that features not a flying, shooting craft, but a tank, and one that was, incidentally, one of the enemies in Xevious. Overall, the grobda controls not entirely unlike Atari Combat’s Tank or Resident Evil’s Jill 3 2 1 Let's JamValentine, but unlike some of its more fragile contemporaries, the grobda has a shield for a little added protection. Unfortunately, that shield does nothing when you obliterate an enemy drone and accidentally tread into the blast wreckage. This isn’t much of an issue in the original Grobda, as all enemies detonate in a very clear “do not touch” explosion; however, in the Pac version, enemy wrecks just kind of innocuously hang out. Now I don’t know about what video games you’ve been playing, but when I see a defeated enemy lying motionless, my first impulse is to wander over yonder and see what kind of loot I can salvage. Do that here, and your pac-piloted grobda explodes. Whoops! I’m sorry, but I have a hard time claiming any video game that makes me constantly go against my own refined gaming impulses is at all worthwhile.

OUCHGator Panic Remix is… just baffling. You’ve likely seen Gator Panic in an arcade somewhere, though it was probably an arcade at a boardwalk, casino, or theme park. It’s one of those games that wins you redeemable tickets based on your score, and I’m sure it’s a personal bias, but I’ve always been distrustful of such affairs, as I don’t play video games to score random knick knacks, I play video games to impress strangers on the internet with how many words I can ream out of Ice Climber for fun. Gator Panic, the arcade machine, is at least fun on its own, as walloping plastic gators with a bopper is usually a good time, and the gators make a very satisfying “ow” sound, assuming you can hear anything at your chosen venue. I never expected this game to be adapted for the couch, though, as the visceral gator whacking is such an integral part of the experience that just randomly aiming the wiimote is a pale imitation. An ideal game for venting frustration on reptiles becomes an extremely limited shooter/aiming game with Pac-Man’s inclusion, and, strangest of all, Pac-Man is being used as the bat. Someone at Namco decided to turn their beloved mascot into a bludgeon, and, shockingly, it wasn’t a good idea.

Luckily, there’s a better “aiming” based game on the collection: Galaga Remix. First of all, put Galaga right out of your mind and you’ll feel better about everything. This is a game about aiming your wiimote at an GO FOR Garmy of space bugs, but there’s a complete lack of spaceship navigation, so you’re playing House of the Dead, not Xevious. That said, this is the first game in the collection that really looks like someone took more than five minutes to design the environments and enemies, and the eclectic enemy formations make this all seem like a game you might actually want to pay money for. Granted, it would be a value somewhere between “cell phone download” and “xbox indie showcase”, but still a worthwhile game all the same. The only real sticking point is Pac-Man, who, once again, has been shoehorned into the proceedings with all the tact of a killer whale at a penguin convention, so he’s just a round, yellow target for the Galaga fleets. He’s not even the one shooting, so Galaga has effectively become an escort mission. I feel like I should deduct points for that.

Finally, there’s Pac ‘n Roll Remix, which is the first time all day that Pac-Man feels even moderately like Pac-Man. Mazes are gone, and in their place is a vast, 3-D world with some unforgiving physics for the perfectly spherical Pac-Man. Basically, it’s Monkey Ball with a little more control, and more of an emphasis on “dodging”, as the ghosts have finally returned to ruin Pac’s day. This whole thing feels like a real, full game… because it is, as it’s simply an upscaled version of a DS game that came out two years prior. And, for reasons that are likely related to not giving a damn, they removed all the Still rollin'“plot” and cutscenes from the original game. Namco removing cinematics from a video game? I don’t even know you guys anymore.

Pac-Man is, apparently, an infinitely adaptable mascot that can appear in many different genres and situations. The only problem? He adds nothing. Sonic drops into the Court of King Arthur, and at least you have Knuckles running around like an idiot, and Shadow just being annoyed by everything. Mario might be a lousy doctor, but his experience in germ warfare seems appropriate when he throws on a labcoat. But Pac-Man? Pac-Man doesn’t even have arms half the time, and it’s hard to have enduring characterization when Paccy forgets to bring his nemeses along to 85% of the events.

Pac-Man, I’m sorry, you’ve had your time in the limelight. It might just be time to retire. Let some new kid take over, and just hang out with your fleet of pac-cars and pac-guitars. Maybe take up a hobby? You’ll be happier, Mr. Pac-Man. You’re the man, now, you can stop trying to be da man.

FGC #71 Namco Museum Megamix

  • System: Nintendo Wii, which works well for all the vaguely “light gun” games.
  • Number of Players: Like a lot of Wii games, it’s potentially a blast at parties, and four players. Still, it’s on the same system as Smash Bros, Wii Sports, and, if you’re in the mood, a variety of fun trivia games, like Smarty Pants. The Party God only requires so many sacrifices.
  • Let’s play something else: The actual reason I bought this game is that it contains a variety of old Namco classics, and I’m a sucker for “look at all these great games you can play for one low, low price.” Truth be told, though, about the only games I really enjoy on this collection are Mappy Land, DESTROYDig Dug, and Dig Dug 2. Not to say the other games are bad, of course, just, as they’re mostly ancient 80’s arcade games, practically every other game on the collection is better in a later version/rip-off elsewhere. I like Galaga, for instance, but I’d rather play Gradius, and even then, probably Gradius III.
  • But no Ms. Pac-Man: Yes, despite the Remix games being all about Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man is nowhere to be seen in this collection. Pac-Mania is there (the one where Pac-Man can jump), and Super Pac-Man is always good for a whole thirty seconds, but the missus didn’t get invited. Oh, and Pac & Pal is available, too, but we don’t talk about Pac & Pal.
  • Goggle Bob Memories: I always remember the Super Pac-Man arcade cabinet appearing… somewhere that I was frequently bored, likely a restaurant that my parents frequented when I was a wee laddie. It was the only place I ever saw Super Pac-Man (Ms. and Regular were much more popular lobby/arcade games), and I begged, every time, for some quarters to play the dang thing. I never got those quarters, which is why I’m convinced it must have been at a restaurant, as no one wants to sit around and watch a kid play video games when they’d rather be eating. No matter. It would be years before I finally got an opportunity to play Super Pac-Man, and I learned that, when you get right down to it, my parents made good decisions when I was a child.
  • Favorite Game in the Collection: Dig Dug 2. In order to save some islands from monster destruction, Taizo Hori must destroy every island. It’s not easy being a driller.
  • Did you know? By the rubric of the Davie-Brown Index, Pac-Man is recognized by 94% of American consumers. You ever consider where statistics like that come from? Well, apparently the DBI has a 1.5 million-member consumer research panel that is all about providing the essential information regarding whether Tom Cruise is more popular than Mario. They’re 500,000 people shy of being more numerous than the entire population of the nation of Macedonia, and I really want to know what that means for humanity.
  • Would I play again: I’m really trying to think of a situation where that would happen, but… nope. Some of these remix games just make me sad, so I’d rather not be reminded of their existence.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Oh geez… Hologram Time Traveler for the Playstation 2. And I was just talking about games from the arcade that should never have left their beeping homes… Well… as ever… please look forward to… it.

3 Responses »

  1. Yeah, for such a huge gaming icon, most of Pac-Man’s games have been middling at best, and he feels out of place when he stars in different genres* than his usual maze games. I think part of it is that Namco just doesn’t know how to expand Pac-Man and his universe into something more palatable for other genres.

    Speaking of Namco, I’m sure this story’s familiar, but out of the three really good Pac-Man games they didn’t even make Ms. Pac-Man their own damn selves. The game was a hack of Crazy Otto, which was some college kids’ hack of Pac-Man that added new maze designs to the game. Midway (Pac-Man’s distributor at the time) bought it from them because Namco themselves weren’t putting out when it came to making a Pac-Man sequel.

    Of course, Namco did eventually get the rights to the sequel. And the other sequels Midway ended up releasing themselves before Namco shut them down were just as inadequate as Namco’s own.

    * I did like Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures*, but that has more to do with the loving detail to animations and the plethora of ways to torment its protagonist than the actual gameplay. I don’t play it for the fetch quests or vehicle bits, I play it to send the yellow doofus spinning around repeatedly in an apartment store door or get him mauled by animals.

    ** It was stupid to call it Pac-Man 2 in the west, especially given expectations. People who see Pac-Man 2 without knowledge of what it is from game magazines are going to be expecting a maze game (or at least some kinda platformer with dots and ghosts going by the Pac-Man with hang glider cover), not some adventure game where you use a slingshot and Look button to guide an uncontrollable, emotionally unstable Pac-Man. I get why they did it from a marketing standpoint, though (sequel numbering = more suckers parted from their money).

    • Ya know, I might give Pac-Man 2 the blessing of its bold name even without the marketing influence. Pac-Man 2 is a really unique game, pretty much singular and unusual not only in its time, but still, decades later, we haven’t seen much of anything like it. In a way, I almost laud the idea that THIS is the true successor to Pac-Man, and will redefine gaming the way Pac-Man 1 basically invented the concept of “familiar” mascot based video games.

      … Of course, Pac-Man 2 completely failed to gain any traction with the public, so now the name looks stupid, but it may have been more than mere marketing at the time.

  2. Pingback: FGC #072 Hologram Time Traveler | Gogglebob.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *