Nintendo gives its arcade classics a next gen 3DS make-over
Here's an approach to retro gaming we can really get behind. It's three different eras of Pac-Man and Galaga, beginning with their arcade debuts some 30 years ago, skipping ahead to a pair of relatively recent spin-offs, and finishing up with two brand new games While a little more generosity would have been appreciated - the cartridge omits numerous sequels that could surely have fitted into the space taken up by an absolutely abysmal 3D Pac-Man video - the concept is sound.
Pac-Man and Galaga: Orginal
To begin at the beginning, the original arcade versions are emulated as faithfully as they have been since people figured out how to do this stuff on a PC in the '90s. They're ancient games, just a few kilobytes in size, and anyone who's interested has probably played them already on numerous different formats. Here, though, they're better presented than ever before. You can choose to play on a cocktail cabinet, which is viewed from directly above, or via the oblique angle of an upright cabinet. In either case, the display is slightly curved to simulate the appearance of an old glass monitor, and you can change the bezel artwork to match the US or Japanese version. The cocktail machine even comes with a little pile of coins on the side.
Pac-Man and Galaga: Attention to detail
All of these little touches look particularly good in 3D, with the screen appearing to be positioned a little way below the artwork. It's far better than the treatment they've given the Game Boy titles on Virtual Console, although the resolution of the 3DS screen isn't quite high enough to make the score text look crisp where it curves in the corners. If you want a more accurate pixel-for-pixel display, there's always the option to play the games at their native resolution with no special effects. A bit dull, really, and if you've got the 3D slider turned up then Pac-Man seems to float above the maze in this mode, which looks horrible. The two recent games are Pac-Man Championship Edition and Galaga Legions, which appeared on Xbox Live Arcade in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Pac-Man CE is clearly the pick of them. In fact, it's the best thing on the whole cartridge - and were it not for the fact that the superior Pac-Man CE DX came out last year, we'd say it's probably the finest retro reimagining ever.
Pac-Man and Galaga: Dot to dot
It plays out in a similar fashion to the original, but instead of having to clear an entire maze, the screen is divided in half. When you've eaten all the dots on one side, a fruit pops up on the other, which you eat to refresh the maze and make more dots appear. The dots are arranged in patterns, leading you on a non-stop, dot-gobbling route from one side to the other and back again, constantly pursued by ghosts. The more you score, the faster it gets, and you've got five minutes to rack up as many points as possible. The circle pad is a surprisingly good control method, and despite the tiny screen we managed to score just shy of 250,000 on our first go - only 30,000 less than we managed on Xbox, and good enough for a world ranking of 27 on the sparsely populated leaderboard. Did this game really sell only 300 copies in Japan? There are five other modes, with different mazes and longer time limits, but these ones don't have leaderboards, which renders them rather pointless. Even if there's hardly anybody playing... Galaga Legions has also been recently superseded, but we're stuck with the old version on 3DS. It's a kind of memory test, where enemy fighters swarm slowly towards you in impossible numbers. You couldn't take them all out alone, so you have a couple of indestructible satellite ships that can be placed as static turrets. Waves tend to arrive in pairs, so you position the satellites to take care of them and use your main ship to mop up the rest. Ideally, you'll hit the one special ship in each wave that makes all the rest explode at once. It's incredibly stressful.
Pac-Man and Galaga: Pac Hog
Pac-Man Tilt reminds us of Sonic crossed with Sony's PSP platformer Loco Roco. You make Pac-Man roll and zoom through tunnels and loops, with the added twist of environmental hazards that require tilting the 3DS. It's not terrible, but boredom stifled our urge to press on to the end of its 25 main stages. Galaga 3D Impact, on the other hand, is really quite bad. It's like Face Raiders, except instead of playing against a real-world backdrop you're in a spaceship. The angle of it changes as you float through the void, and because you can turn 360 degrees it's all too easy to get a view of some unidentifiable part of the back of the cockpit while you wave the 3DS around, searching for the window. Rounding off the compilation is a 3D movie showing the 'story' of Pac-Man (it's set in the future, apparently) that's so embarrassingly terrible it has to be a joke. It only lasts a few minutes, but we'd certainly never watch it again.
Pac-Man and Galaga: Verdict
And that's all. For this price it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect at least twice as many games, but that's just the way things are. Rich retro fans will enjoy it.