Posted on April 5th, 2010 4 comments
Release Date: 6/1/89
Price: 5200 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 21.66 / 30.00
Kōgien: “The fairy tale-like visuals are impressive in this game, where Pac-Man journies out to bring a wayward fairy back to her homeland. The familiar ghosts use assorted approaches as they get in Pac-Man’s way.”
Yoshihiro “Kissy” Kishimoto, designer/programmer for Namco from 1982 to 2001, had a bad habit in the ’80s of creating original game concepts, then having Nintendo execute them a lot better later on and take all the credit. It happened with Baraduke, a 1985 arcade title that bears a lot of resemblance to Metroid, but it also happened with Pac-Land, Kissy’s first designer credit, which hit Japanese game centers about a year and a month before Super Mario Bros.
I remember being completely amazed by SMB when I first saw it on a Vs. cabinet sometime in the mid-80s. I wasn’t alone, of course. Meanwhile, Pac-Land figures in my childhood memory only very faintly; it didn’t get much distribution where I was, and although it was quite nearly the first horizontally scrolling jump-‘n-run action game, it retained only a very low-key sort of popularity. This despite boasting a lucrative tie-in with Hanna-Barbera’s Pac-Man cartoon, which had a successful two-year run on Saturday mornings — Pac-Land’s music is largely a Namco remix of the show’s opening and incidental sound library.
Where’s the difference lie? I wonder if it has to do with SMB’s keener sense of discovery. At any given moment of Mario, you run the chance of uncovering something hidden under a block, encouraging an “adventure into the unknown” atmosphere as you tried discovering all of the secret stuff. Pac-Land is a bit simpler than that — it’s a purer arcade challenge, one where the primary aim is still to get your name on the high-score list, despite the inclusion of a real ending in the PC Engine version.
Namco may have lazed out on previous PCE arcade ports like Wonder Momo, but Pac-Land is (predictably) a lot more faithful to the original. The dual-layered scrolling is gone, many of the item pickups are in different locations, and the music sounds just a tad different, but for a port from one 8-bit platform to another, it’s about the best anyone can hope for. All of the esoteric secrets are there, from the Round 2 -> Round 12 warp to the 1UP Pac-Man you can nab for chomping down on Sue as the fifth ghost after grabbing a power pellet. It’s no wonder, I suppose, because Kissy programmed both the arcade and PCE Pac-Lands himself.
In addition to a real ending (the arcade version restarted you at Round 20 at higher speed after you beat Round 32), the PCE version also has a set of 32 “Pro” stages, unlocked after viewing the ending or entering a code. The challenge on these Pro levels are nothing short of ridiculous — ghosts riding airplanes that seem to go at 80 MPH, that sort of thing — and I’m honestly uncertain if anybody’s ever completed this second quest without cheating. Namco is so terribly mean to all of us.
Pac-Land’s affinity for 7650-point bonuses (“765” being a goroawase pun for “Namco”) is also pretty well-known. The number shows up for doing all sorts of things in this game, from eating six ghosts with a single power pellet to catching a certain randomly-chosen balloon among the ones that pop up when you push certain objects.
You can also get it for jumping at just the right moment at the end of a round, stopping the action just before Pac-Man hits the ground. What’s not so well-known is that if you finish a stage just as you start jumping — a feat just as difficult as the 7650-point trick — you get a whopping 10 points. Both of these moves require accuracy to within 1/30 of a second. It makes me cry.
(One bug not ported to the PCE version, by the way, is a kill screen that flamboyantly crashes the arcade game if the player reaches 25,480,000 points. It’s due to another one of those 8-bit overflow bugs — that score just so happens to be the 256th time you earn a 1UP in the default settings.)
Overall, Pac-Land is a nice effort, especially compared to the horrible Famicom version Namco released in Japan. Out of Namco’s PCE ports, this one and Splatterhouse are undoubtedly my faves. It leaves me wondering, too, what would’ve happened if Kissy kept designing platform games instead of stumbling across a once-in-a-lifetime hit with Family Stadium.