Pac-Mania (Sega Master System)

When first seeing Pac-Man in pseudo-3D, there is a certain level of excitement at the promise of a new Pac experience. However, this soon fades, as the somewhat pedestrian pace of the game and frustrating controls prevent this game from achieving its potential. It isn’t that Pac-Mania is a bad game, but it certainly does not provide the level of enjoyment that can be had with many of its 2-D predecessors.

Coming up with new ideas for extending the Pac-Man franchise had to be challenging. I mean, what does one do after changing the titular character into a woman, a child, a baby, and a professor? The character had even been made super. What is left?

Apparently, that character goes manic 🙂

Following the tired practice of quoting from Webster’s, “mania” is defined as “1: excitement manifested by by mental and physical hyperactivity, disorganization of behavior, and elevation of mood” or as “2: excessive or unreasonable enthusiasm.” So, our question becomes, which of these applies to Pac-Mania for the Sega Master System?

Let’s start with a cursory examination of the game. Unlike the sequels I recently reviewed, Pac-Mania once again places the user in control of Pac-Man. To distinguish this game from Pac-Man’s previous incarnations, this game is presented in an isometric view. This not only allows to provide dimension to the characters, but it also permits movement in a third plane, which Pac-Man accomplishes by jumping (the “elevation” referred to in the Webster’s definition? Nah, I think not). Pac-Man now appears spherical as opposed to flat and circular. Pac-Man and the ghosts all look fine; however, the game is certainly not as attractive as the arcade original.

The game moves along at an okay, but none-too-fast pace (so . . . no hyperactivity). The game is not as plodding as the Atari 2600 Pac-Man, but you won’t experience the more frantic action of, say, Jr. Pac-Man. I don’t know how this compares with the arcade original, as I never had an opportunity to play it, so I am curious as to whether this is a design choice or if the Sega Master System was just unable to handle this game running at a faster speed.

As mentioned previously, Pac-Man now has the ability to jump, we he can use to vault over ghosts or even power pellets in order to save them. Later, though, the ghosts get this ability as well (at least I was warned that they do prior to Sand Box Land, though I never saw one actually jump) to help even the score. Also, more ghosts wander the maze of Pac-Mania than in the previous games I reviewed; however, the mazes are so large and the ghosts rarely seem to work together (disorganization of behavior?), so their bolstered ranks do little to place Pac in peril.

One issue I had with this game was the control. As with all Pac-Man games, a good controller is paramount, as it is too easy to do an about-face into a ghost when attempting to quickly take a side path to evade him (or her). I think an arcade-style joystick is ideal, but unfortunately, I did not have one for my Master System, so I was stuck using a three-button Genesis pad (because the Master System pads I have are atrocious). The problem with a control pad is that it is too easy to hit a diagonal unintentionally and to not be able to more accurately. This is compounded when the game does not seem to read inputs as it should. If you watch the gameplay video, you can see that I occasionally move back and forth in front of a side passage. This is not due to indecision on my part—I could not get Pac to move that way, even though I was pressing the control pad in the right direction. Hmm, that disorganization of behavior seems to be more and more applicable . . .

Or, perhaps, the most suitable justification for the “mania” in the title lies with the definition “excessive or unreasonable enthusiasm.” When first seeing Pac-Man in pseudo-3D, there is a certain level of excitement at the promise of a new Pac experience. However, this soon fades, as the somewhat pedestrian pace of the game and frustrating controls prevent this game from achieving its potential. It isn’t that Pac-Mania is a bad game, but it certainly does not provide the level of enjoyment that can be had with many of its 2-D predecessors.

Not recommended

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One Response

  1. Not a fan of the design on this version. Looks like something a 3rd grader would make.

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