Even though I do think that Pac-Man for the 2600 does not deserve the reputation it has, I still cannot recommend it. It might be worth a few plays to satisfy your own curiosity, but there are too many better Pac-Man games available.
We begin our week of Pac-Man reviews with Pac-Man for the 2600, a port of the arcade classic that is notorious for not only failing to capture the experience of the original, but also (often mentioned alongside E.T.) for contributing to the video game crash of 1983. So, how horrible is this game that it managed to upset scads of Atari gamers and bring the video game industry to its knees?
Relatively speaking, it isn’t that bad.
Granted, the complaints about Pac-Man not being faithful to the original are warranted. There were many sacrifices that were made to bring the game to the Atari 2600, and each of these removed the game further from the source material. The game board was changed to fit the aspect ratio of televisions, so it lost the vertical layout of the original. The sprites for Pac-Man and the ghosts are simplified, with Pac-Man being much blockier and the ghosts being monochrome. Additionally, the ghosts constantly flicker, which is not aesthetically pleasing. Apparently, this was a result of only one ghost being rendered at a time, so any one ghost only appears onscreen one out of every four frames. It makes sense, then, why there is no flicker when the ghosts move together (e.g., when they exit the box in the middle). You will also notice when you play that whenever Pac-Man eats a ghost, he will face to the right, even if he was moving from right to left.
Other differences between the Atari 2600 version and the arcade include sound differences (it’s strange to start a game of Pac-Man without that all-too-familiar intro music), behavior differences of the ghosts (e.g., the ghosts exit the central box from the side and not the top), and speed differences. This last difference is perhaps the most disappointing when comparing the Atari 2600 to the arcade. Pac-Man feels like he’s taking a leisurely pace through the maze, which makes the game feel very ho-hum.
All of this considered, though, Pac-Man can be enjoyable. Certainly, it does not provide the experience of the original, but taken on its own and compared with other Atari 2600 titles, the game fares well. It reminds me of when I saw Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. After anticipating the newest installment of a beloved childhood series, the movie was a huge letdown; however, had this not been a Star Wars game and been saddled with the expectations set by the original trilogy, I would probably have considered it an above-average sci-fi flick. If people had not been anticipating the console release of the arcade smash Pac-Man and expected what the arcade game provided, I think that this game would not be remembered so harshly.
Now, even though I do think that Pac-Man for the 2600 does not deserve the reputation it has, I still cannot recommend it. It might be worth a few plays to satisfy your own curiosity, but there are too many better Pac-Man games available, including Ms. Pac-Man and Jr. Pac-Man for the Atari 2600, both of which I plan to cover in upcoming reviews.