In the right hands, the concept of multiplayer Pac-Man could make a great game. Unfortunately, Pac-Man All-Stars isn't it. The worst of the various Pac-Man remakes up to this point, the game falters by straying too far from the original formula, and also lacks the necessary innovation to make up for it. The biggest error is that the game is not set in a maze (or mazes), so instead we're treated to open, single-screen levels viewed from an isometric perspective.
The basic objective of collecting dots remains intact, but now you're battling up to three other Pacs for them. In a different game, this could've been fun, but here it's just tedious. You and your opponents merely run around aimlessly collecting dots that appear in various areas of the screen while avoiding the occasional ghost. There's none of the strategy, planning or close calls of the 1980 arcade game. Not even some lame power-ups make things more exciting, and the Story, Adventure and Head to Head modes all play exactly the same.
There are four different characters to choose from -- Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Pac-Man Jr., and Professor Pac -- with no discernable differences between them. It would've been nice if each had specific characteristics that made choosing one over another worthwhile, but this is not the case. And they all look so much alike during gameplay that it's often difficult to tell who you're controlling.
Aside from the fundamental gameplay issues, the other place Pac-Man All-Stars stumbles is its controls. The open nature of the levels and the floaty way the Pacs move is ill-suited to the strict cardinal movements of the keyboard, and the Gravis Xterminator gamepad didn't function properly within the game. Your mileage may vary, however.
The graphics and sound effects are adequate, and do nothing to contradict the overall vibe of mediocrity radiating from the game. Even at 1280 x 960 and 32-bit color, the visuals fail to impress. The level designs are basic and static, neither evoking the simple look of the original or a distinct style all its own.
In the end, Pac-Man All-Stars feels like some goofy little game you might download for free on the Internet and play for a couple of minutes. It certainly isn't worthy of the Pac-Man legacy. Even the lackluster Ms. Pac-Man: Quest for the Golden Maze (also developed by Creature Labs) is a better choice for Pac-Maniacs looking for a modern fix.
Graphics: The visuals get the job done in a very basic way.
Sound: The music and sound effects are barely noticeable.
Enjoyment: Pac-Man All-Stars is a disappointment, even by the low standards of Pac-Man remakes.
Replay Value: It's nowhere near as addictive as other Pac-Man games, and there isn't enough variety to keep things interesting, either.
Remember that pill-munching addict that everyone fell in love with a few decades ago? Yes, I mean Pac Man. Who didn't pop a few quarters into the machine at their favorite pizzeria to "run" a maze, trying to eat all those little circles, all while avoiding those nasty ghosts. The concept was simple yet fun.
Skip ahead to the present. Pac Man All Stars takes the same simple concept of the original, and does very little to improve on it. The original game is given a new paint job and the very linear, square, "walls" have been replaced with more elaborate environments. Also now there are four Pac Man characters fighting for the pellets simultaneously, to try to make it a little more interesting. But does it succeed?
Well compared to the original Pac Man the graphics are great. Unfortunately, not many people use the original Pac Man as a comparative reference in the 21st century. However, for a simple Pac Man game the colorful levels and cute characters do the job. Seriously though, how tough can it be when your main character is a sphere with a wedge cut out of it?
This game is viewed from the top down but is played on a three dimensional surface. There are ramps to go up to higher levels and little pits to jump into. The problem with this is at times it is difficult to tell if you are on a platform you can jump off of or if you have to find another way down. The same goes for getting out of holes or climbing a hill. You'll walk at something that looks like you can make it up, but a lot of times it'll be a dead end. Fortunately the game, and the ghosts that float around in it, are very simple and these problem areas don't make things that difficult.
Sounds / Music
I didn't expect too much from the sound in this game and I wasn't shocked one way or another. The sound is good enough to be acceptable, but too poor to be exciting. Well, scratch that, the sound quality itself wasn't that bad, just uninspired. I know it's just a Pac Man game, but even goofy games should have fun sounds. The first Worms game was not at all serious but (other than being really fun) it had a great sound track. I know that may be like comparing apples and oranges, but I like the sound to either immerse me in the game or have me humming some hokey tune as I play.
The effects aren't any better. They too fit the "not bad but still not good" category. They are very clean sounding and appropriate for the actions taking place; they just aren't very exciting.
This game would have been better suited as a mini game to something larger. It is sort of fun at first, but the different yet repetitive levels get old very quickly.
Unlike the original Pac Man, the pellets are not scattered throughout (most) of the levels right at the start. You must run and touch a flower that will make them appear in that general area. Whenever a flower is touched all the other flowers on the screen disappear. So you've got to be quick and beat the other characters to them. Along with the flowers and pellets, powerups are randomly placed, or flown in by this little fairy guy, in each level. Some of them are useful, like the magnet that makes the pellets get sucked close to you or the multiplier that makes your score increase at a faster rate. And some are just fun, like the barbells that let you beat pellets out of your opponents. Others just seemed useless. There is a foot that is supposed to make you faster but doesn't seem to give too much of an advantage and some other one that shrinks everyone (including yourself) just making things annoying for everyone.
The levels are all basically the same. Grab as many pellets as you can before either time runs out, or someone hits the required score. After taking either 1st or 2nd place in a few levels like this you have to face the ghosts (they are in all the other levels too but in these you face them alone). You get a set amount of time to get all the pellets (which are pre-placed in the level) while trying to avoid the ghosts. The problem with these levels is that it is almost not worth the time to avoid the ghosts. They don't "kill" you when you hit them, instead they shake you up for about 2 seconds, which in most cases is not enough time to really hurt you. After defeating the ghosts you move on to a new set of levels and do the whole stupid thing over again. Trust me, it is fun to play every so often, for about 5 minutes and no more (which is why it would be a decent mini game).
Multiplayer plays exactly like the single player mode with live people replacing the computer controlled characters. But my philosophy with most games is that it is more fun to play with others than by yourself. The same holds true here. You won't play for too long, but it is a little more fun to go head to head with a friend.
This game isn't that bad, it just has no real staying power. If you keep it on your hard drive long enough to beat it there is really no reason to play again. After getting through the first set of levels you have seen them all.
People who downloaded Pac-Man All-Stars have also downloaded:
Pac-Man World 3, Ms. Pac-Man: Quest for the Golden Maze, Pac Man, Pac-in-Time, PacManWorlds, Pac-Man: Adventures in Time, Super Mario Pac, Pac PC II
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