I don't know if it's the same with you, but despite the hundreds of arcade/computer/console games I've played in my time, there is always
one that stands out as MY game. Sure, there are plenty of special ones that made my mouth drop (Space Harrier - arcade), or hooked me completely
(Pinball Dreams - Amiga), or totally immersed me into the game world (Last Ninja series - C64). I could probably list 50 or so games that are
my personal classics in one way or another, but there is still one game that somehow connects with me more than all the others, and that
game for me is the arcade version of Pacland.
I first came across Pacland at the tender age of nine, in a small arcade in Devon, England smelling of the usual cigerette smoke and stale popcorn.
We used to holiday there every year, and every year we returned I would run to the arcade in order to play my favourite game ever. It's
strange, but I never saw it in any other arcade for years, which is perhaps why it holds such nostalgic affection for me.
Pacland is a sideways scrolling platform game. Nothing original there then. Namco took the pacman characters and brought them to life like never
before by dumping them in a bright, colourful, cartoon world, full of car driving ghosts and magical fairies. This is what appealed to my nine
year old eyes. Forget "Dragon's Lair", this was a TRUE interactive cartoon.
Pacland casts you again as Pacman, now blessed with arms and legs, who has to complete a number of dangerous journeys across the ghost strewn
landscape of Pacland in order to return a (presumably lost) fairy to her home. At the end of his journey, he is given some magic shoes by the fairy
queen. These shoes assist him on his return journey although when the next trip starts, he is back to his normal ones. Possibly they're eaten
by the dog you see on screen as you arrive back home!
As you can see from the screenshots, Pacland is depicted in a wonderful cartoon style, with multiple layers of parrallax scrolling. Everything is
beautifully drawn, and it really brings the pacman characters to life. Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde are still here. But now they drive cars,
fly planes, use pogo sticks, float around on clouds and generally use all manner of devices to try and stop you. Animation is of similar high
quality, with small touches like the way PacMan's hat departs from his head when falling, and his different expressions.
Accompanying the action is a brilliantly cheery tune which completely matches the graphic style. Some people may find it grating after a while
(like my mum used to when I played the (rubbish) conversion on my trusty Amstrad 464), but I love it! Sound effects are good too and seem to
integrate really well into the tune. For instance, the car driving ghosts regularly sound their horns, but the horns play a scale of notes, in
the same key and tempo as the main ditty.
Although the gameplay is fairly similar throughout (keep running right and dodge the ghosts), you get plenty of changes of scenery and ghosts
to keep your interest. Also there are occasional power pills scattered around, which you can use to turn the tables on the
ghosts and grab some extra points. One of the strengths of the arcade is that there are many hidden bonuses and extras. For instance, one early one is
that you can push one of the fire hydrants to the left by running against it, and you will be rewarded with a hard hat which protects you from
the small ghost bombs dished out by the plane flying ghosts. Similar secrets provide extra lives and shortcuts, so it pays to experiment. The
platform aspects of the game are realised though the scenery itself. Rather than meaningless generic "platforms" just floating around, you get
to jump on fire hydrants, cacti, houses, craggy cliffs, the ghosts themselves and there are swimming pools to cross using spring boards.
It is this latter item that is the only complaint I have of the emulation. Previously I was only able to play the game using the JAS emulator
as MAME emulation was just too much for my trusty old P90. Nowerdays MAME plays it just great on my PIII 500 - perfect graphics, gameplay and sound.
The only problem is the forementioned springboard bugbear. After jumping from a springboard, you must repeatedly tap right in order to keep
yourself airborn. This isn't a problem with some of the earlier, smaller pools. But later ones are very long, and the only way I could do
these in the arcade was to adopt a two handed approach and hammer the joystick with each hand in turn. I don't know why, but it seems to be
much harder in the emulator. You would suspect it to be easier using the keyboard as you can just hammer the keys Daley Thompson style, but
it just doesn't seem to work to well and I more often than not end up in the drink!
Although the graphics and sound seem to indicate that this is an easy game aimed at kids, some of the later levels are very tough indeed and
require a great deal of skill. Unfortunately, the springboard problem means you'll probably never get to see these which has lowered my
Replay rating somewhat.
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Screen Shot 3