Before I start talking about Pac-Man 99, I should probably note that I’m pretty irresolute when it comes to Namco’s flagship mascot. For what it’s worth I appreciate and fully understand why Pac-Man is significant to video games at large, I just don’t…enjoy playing it a whole lot. OK, perhaps that’s a bit of a strong opinion, I have fun enough playing it for a round or two but its gameplay loop doesn’t hook me in the way that something like Galaga or Street Fighter II does. There was a long while where I couldn’t discern the appeal of arcade games, but as I’ve gotten older I totally “get” mastering the mechanical side of games. That being said, the only thing I can come up with is that Pac-Man’s “not for me” and I’m OK with that. We can’t like everything, right?
So why would I even bother playing Pac-Man 99? First of all it’s one of the rare benefits of Nintendo’s mostly bereft online service, but more importantly sometimes tweaks or a straight up reimagining could potentially change the way I think about something to where it clicks with me in another fashion other than fundamentally. I’m always up for challenging my preconceived notions with something like this, especially knowing I don’t have to buy in to do so. The worst that could happen is I’d remain ambivalent towards Pac-Man and just put the game down and move on with my life.
Spoilers for the rest of this post – Pac-Man 99 didn’t move the needle for me in any way, shape or form.
Apparently developer Arika has concocted a tried-and-true formula in helping publishers turn their classic games into competitive battle royales. No doubt it’s an interesting niche to find yourself in, but now that we’re on our third iteration of this concept I’m not going to be surprised by anything that comes out of the pipeline from here on out. The one thing Pac-Man 99 has going for it that prior games did not is its brevity. I love both Tetris and Super Mario Bros., but I feel like both of their 99 iterations can drag on a bit. Not that Pac-Man moves at a brisk pace, but you are constantly on the move so targeting opponents or changing your power-up settings aren’t things I toyed with when I played. Instead I just hunker down and play it like the survivalist game that it is.
The game plays like you’d expect it to: you gobble up pellets while you careen non-stop around a maze filled with fruit bonuses and power pellets to give you the edge on ghosts. Next to the escape lines are a line of small ghost silhouettes that you attach to the real thing (can I call a ghost a real thing!?) so that they follow them like a train. As you nab power pellets and eat them in a chain it sends what the game calls Jammer Pac-Men to your opponents screen. What that means is there are silhouetted Pac-Men littered across your board that will slow you down when speed across them. The arc of Pac-Man is to dodge out of the ghost’s way, so even a small deterrent like a proverbial speed bump can mean the difference between life and death.
There’s some nuance to it in that you can wipe them off your screen by eating a power pellet or remove the red jammers that completely stop you by nibbling on a fruit. Not only can you select opponents which would mean more to me if I were a stronger player but some boosts that Pac-Man can have when he eats power pellets. I didn’t delve into this a whole lot because I was more concerned with surviving and wasn’t really interested in learning how to do it all in earnest because, well, Pac-Man doesn’t light my world on fire.
I admire what Pac-Man 99 does a hell of a whole lot…it’s just that the underlying game it’s built upon doesn’t interest me enough to enjoy it. I like the concept of the 99 games and I wouldn’t be mad if more were developed. I’d be more inclined to stick with it if it were based off of games I do like. Or if it tweaks games I don’t like in such a way that I find them engaging I’m down. But it didn’t happen with Pac-Man 99. And that’s OK.
DEVELOPED BY: Arika | PUBLISHED BY: Bandai Namco | PLATFORM: Nintendo Switch | RELEASE DATE: April 7th, 2021