After Google’s recent celebration of Pac-Man’s 30th anniversary put a sleeper hold on workplace productivity, it only seems right for Namco-Bandai to release a game to take advantage of the franchise’s nostalgia. With the big 30 in mind, I approached the Namco section hoping for a huge dose of either bland retro-love or bold re-imagining that pushes the franchise into a new era. With Pac-Man Championship Edition in 2007 being such a major hit, I had my money on the latter.
It turns out I was absolutely right, but not in the way I originally thought. When I picked up the Wii controller and had my first go at Pac-Man Party, I quickly realized that although it was only Pac-Man’s 30th birthday, he was playing like a Pac-Man in his mid-50′s.
It probably should have hit me as soon as I saw the title of the game, but Pac-Man Party is exactly what it sounds like. Like many other party games in the Wii library, the title consists of a series of mini-games for 1-4 players.
Unfortunately, all traces of classic Pac-Man gameplay have been eradicated in the name of fun for the whole family. The only thing that would identify this title as an entry in the franchise is the use of Pac-Man characters, and when pushed through the grist-mill of party game design they come out without much of the charm that makes them so iconic. In order to fill out a roster, a number of barely recognizable to unrecognizable characters have been added.
The game plays out in a board game fashion, with the object being to race around the map before your opponents. Where characters land determine the mini-game that gets played, and performance in the mini-games give players points and bonuses. The overworld conceit gives Pac-Man Party a little bit of separation from other games in the genre, but ultimately any party game will live or die with the fun quotient of the individual mini-games.
During my time with the game, my experience with the mini-games was hit or miss. I played a fishing mini-game that consists of pulling up on the Wiimote when a fish tugs and a race to shake up a soda bottle which was essentially a waggle race, neither of which were fun. On the other hand, a game where you toss pizzas into a pizza oven, and a survivor style event where all 4 players scramble over junk on a slowly accelerating conveyor belt (reminiscent of NSMBW gameplay) were entertaining.
For what it was, the game seemed serviceable, but as an old-school gamer I was severely disappointed by the fact that there was no release that at least built on previous iterations or changed up the gobble-n-chase formula in some way. This was only compounded by a strange anomaly nearby; there was a modified cocktail style Pac-Man cabinet that was running a game called Pac-Man Battle Royale.
Battle Royale was a 4-player competitive Pac-Man game, where each Pac-Man scrambles to eat as much as they can before the other players get to it. When one Pac grabs a power pellet, not only can they eat the ghosts, but also the other players. Anytime a player is eaten by a ghost or another player they are removed from play, so each round plays out in last man standing fashion.
I had an absolute blast playing Battle Royale, as the gameplay shifted wildly from moment to moment. The constant shift from trying to give your opponent the big wakka-wakka to running for your bald yellow life put a huge smile on my face, so imagine my surprise when the booth representative told me that Pac Man Battle Royale is only a prototype with no plans for release. It boggles the mind, but hey, if party games are your thing, and you’d like to play them with Pac-Mans or ghosts as your avatar, then Pac-Man Party is on the way, and it might just be right up your alley.