Of the three Atari 2600 Pac-Man games, Jr. Pac-Man is definitely the member of the Pac-Man family you’ll want to bring home. With its more elaborate, scrolling mazes; improved AI; and faster gameplay; it finally brought the excitement of the arcade to the 2600.
With Ms. Pac-Man, Atari redeemed itself following the disappointment that was the 2600 port of Pac-Man. The game was closer to the arcade original, played at a faster pace, included additional mazes, and was just more enjoyable overall. Still, sacrifices were made when porting the game, leaving room yet again for improvement. Enter Jr. Pac-Man.
Unlike Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, playing Jr. Pac-Man was an entirely new experience for me. By the time this was in the arcades, Pac-Man was not a huge draw for me (plus, I lived in a small town, so access to the latest coin-op was rare). If I ever knew about this game, I had forgotten about it, which made finding it recently on the 2600 a real joy.
Unlike Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, Jr. Pac-Man finally provided a vertical maze. Instead of the entire maze being onscreen at all times, the screen scrolls vertically as the player moves (which is somewhat strange because, from what I have read, the original coin-op had a screen that a screen that scrolled horizontally, as the mazes were wider than they were tall). The game plays much faster than its predecessors and feels much more like an arcade experience. Also, the game is much more difficult when compared with Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man. Often when I died in previous games, it was partially due to the fact that I was getting a little bored and was lackadaisically wandering around the mazes. The quick pace of Jr. Pac-Man always keeps me focused, as the ghosts are relentless and the AI is better. Even more than in Ms. Pac-Man, the ghosts seem to exhibit their individual characteristics, with the red ghost almost always on the pursuit and the orange ghost . . . not so much. Additionally, the mazes are more complex, with more corners to navigate, which seems to work to the ghosts’ advantage as they try to corner the player. With regard to sound, I cannot comment on how arcade-accurate the music and effects are, but I will say that they are pleasing and appropriate.
My only gripe with this game is the character. For some reason, I don’t like controlling a Pac-Man wearing a little beanie, and I don’t like that the fruit has been replaced by tricycles and other juvenile fare (why is he eating a tricycle?). It’s a minor complaint, and I’m not so sure why I am more willing to accept the other incarnations of Pac-Man I have previously reviewed, but I would much rather to have this be an updated and improved version of Pac-Man. It doesn’t ruin the game for me, but it certainly doesn’t add anything, either.
Of the three Atari 2600 Pac-Man games, Jr. Pac-Man is definitely the member of the Pac-Man family you’ll want to bring home. With its more elaborate, scrolling mazes; improved AI; and faster gameplay; it finally brought the excitement of the arcade to the 2600. Now, if there were only some way to get rid of that beanie . . .