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By 1987 Namco were thinking of new ways to milk the Pac Man franchise. They’d had female Pac Man, Baby Pac Man, poor TV cartoon and a game where Pac Man lived in a village, with legs – that’s Pac Man with legs, not the village.
What they came up with was a 3D version of Pac Man. That stroke of genius clearly took them ages in their development meeting.
Pacmania as it was called was essentially Pac Man but in a 3D maze. I remember seeing it in the arcades as a teenager and being quite impressed. As a caveat to that though, I was quite easily impressed as a teenager… to the extent that I was also quite impressed when I saw The Fall Guy on TV for the first time.
Pacmania’s graphics were pretty good to be fair, especially the maze built out of Lego. Pac Man and the ghosts too were well animated, and the whole thing had a really smooth scroll about it. When it got frantic, it really worked well, and the way the camera followed Pac Man was well engineered.
Less impressive was the way it played. It had a difficulty curve that had to be seen to be believed. First level – pretty easy, second level – pretty easy, third level – no point in playing. It all just got too fast. Interestingly you could jump over the ghosts, but this was very hard to get right, and often you simply just jumped on the ghosts head instead.
What Namco failed to understand at the time was that Pac Man was pretty much perfect in it’s original form – in fact if you take Ms. Pac Man as an example then it actually is the perfect arcade game. You can beef up the graphics, and add gimmicks all you want, but it won’t make it a better game. Put two arcade games in a room, one Ms. Pac Man, the other Pacmania and I’d put money on the fact that any retro gamer worth their salt would pick the older game to play.
Pacmania is not a bad game, just an unnecessary one.