Ah, Pac-Man! One of the most long-standing and beloved mascots in all of gaming — and one who has, impressively, managed to remain relevant right from the first moment he appeared in arcades in the early 1980s up until today. Pac-Man Museum+ serves as a good celebration of the life and times of our rotund hero — though it’s not without a few flaws that are worth noting here and there.
First, let’s address one concern that people had when this collection was first announced: the fact that the arcade machines in the game run on an in-game currency, which naturally led people to wonder if this was going to be a microtransaction-riddled monstrosity. Thankfully, that is not the case at all; you start with 500 coins and each arcade game costs just 1 coin each, plus you get rewarded with coins for achieving pretty much anything in any of the games included in Pac-Man Museum+ — including the console titles that don’t cost coins to play.
Instead, Pac-Man Museum+’s coins are primarily there for you to purchase new decorations for your in-game arcade and play the Gashapon machine to acquire new figures to dot around the place. Essentially, they’re part of an overall metagame that ties everything in Pac-Man Museum+ together, making it feel less like just another compilation of retro games and instead more like a coherent experience that can best be described as “a game about playing games”.
So that’s all fine. One thing that may make some people a little grumpy, however, is that not all of the games in the collection are available right from the outset — some are locked behind a prerequisite of playing other games twice. And by “play” twice, it means “get a Game Over in” twice.
This is not too much of a problem when it comes to the arcade games, which tend to last for a couple of minutes apiece unless you’re a master of the games on offer, but when you’re expected to endure playing the dreadful Pac-Man platformer Pac In Time up until you get a Game Over not once but twice in order to unlock the excellent puzzler Pac-Attack — although more on that in a moment — that’s a bit much.
I guess the thinking was that it gives a bit of structure to the overall package and provides incentive to check everyone out — but I suspect most people picking this game up will probably want to jump straight into their favourite titles without having to faff around unlocking things.
Anyway, Pac-Man Museum+ contains 14 games in total: the original Pac-Man, Super Pac-Man, Pac & Pal, Pac-Land, Pac-Mania, Pac-Attack, Pac in Time, two versions of Pac-Man Arrangement, Pac-Man Championship Edition, Pac-Motos, Pac ‘n’ Roll Remix, Pac-Man Battle Royale and Pac-Man 256. This is a solid line-up, though there are a few omissions, some of which are easier to explain than others.
Ms. Pac-Man’s absence is due to the continuing copyright issues over the character and the game in which she appeared. Those familiar with video game history will know that Ms. Pac-Man began its life as an unofficial spinoff of Pac-Man before getting Namco’s blessing, but in more recent years the situation has become even more complicated.
When retro clone console manufacturer AtGames acquired the royalties due to Ms. Pac-Man’s original developer General Computer Corporation, Bandai Namco stepped in with a lawsuit. The case was dismissed in 2020, but the situation hasn’t become any clearer since, with the ownership of Ms. Pac-Man’s royalties still in some doubt, and recent re-releases of games in which she appeared — such as Pac-Land and Pac in Time in Pac Man Museum+ — replacing her with a new character called Pac-Mom.
So the absence of Ms. Pac-Man in Pac-Man Museum+ is disappointing, but understandable. It’s a bit of a shame we don’t have Pac-Man Championship Edition DX in here, too, though, as that’s an interesting “in-between” title that bridges the gap between the original Championship Edition and Championship Edition 2. Championship Edition 2’s absence is no surprise, meanwhile, because that’s still being sold separately, both as a digital download and as part of the Namco Museum Arcade Pac physical release.
Likewise, Pac-Man Vs. would have made sense to include, but since it’s already part of the Namco Museum collection for Switch, it was doubtless deemed impractical and/or undesirable to “double up” on games like this. Bandai needs to talk to Capcom about double-dipping, it seems.
Finally, it would have been nice to see the Mega Drive’s Pac-Man 2. This is an absolutely terrible game — it’s a point-and-click adventure where you don’t have direct control of the main character, instead only offering “suggestions” — but it would have been a fascinating curio to include in the mix. I guess Namco would rather forget this existed. And yet they’re fine with Pac in Time. Curious.
What is here in Pac-Man Museum+ is pretty good, though not perfect. All the games lack integer scaling on their visuals, which leads to noticeable shimmering when screens are scrolling or large objects are moving. Not a dealbreaker by any means, but it may well bother some people. You can customise the screen size yourself, but a simple “pixel perfect” mode would have been a straightforward addition, and is standard practice for emulated retro titles these days.
Likewise, all the games in Pac-Man Museum+ lack convenience features such as rewind and the ability to save your game at any time. Doubtless this is to deter cheating in the arcade games in particular, but most of the games do at least remember your position if you quit out of them in mid-game rather than waiting for a Game Over — this means you can stop mid-session and pick up again later if you have to drop everything and empty the dishwasher or something. (Correction: We previously stated only Pac in Time did this, but it seems most of the games do – Ed.)
Leaderboards are also poorly implemented. Rather than being integrated into the games themselves, they’re only visible from the main arcade menu, making it clunky and cumbersome to back out of a game, check your performance compared to the rest of the world and then jump back in. There’s also a completely useless “total coins earned” leaderboard available, which is nothing more than a measure of who’s been playing Pac-Man Museum+ the most.
Emulation of the retro games is, for the most part, pretty good — but Pac-Attack, which is one of the best games in this collection, suffered from some severe sound distortion issues at times on the Switch version, and washed-out colours throughout — your mileage may vary on the other versions, and the sound errors may have been an isolated incident during our testing of the game.
But so far as the washed-out visuals go, you only need to compare to the flawless version on the Namco Museum Collection 2 cartridge for Evercade to see the difference — it’s a real shame, since not only is Pac-Attack an otherwise fantastic puzzle game, it’s also probably the biggest pain to unlock in all of Pac-Man Museum+.
On the positive side, the other games in the collection are all really fun. It’s particularly nice to see Pac ‘n’ Roll Remix and Pac-Motos from the Wii’s Namco Museum Remix collection get another chance with a modern audience, since these are both fun games. Pac-Man Battle Royale is a bit tedious in single player, but shines in four-player competitive mode. Pac-Man Arrangement’s enormously varied levels make it a compelling play. And Pac-Man 256’s addition of roguelite elements to an endless Pac-Man maze makes it a monstrously addictive title that is, here, mercifully free of the chains of free-to-play mobile gaming where it originated.
It’s also really nice to see some authentic-looking arcade bezels on the arcade titles, including the original instructions in many cases. It’s particularly charming to see this on the original Pac-Man game, long before terminology like “power pills” and “ghosts” had become established and commonly accepted for the game!
All in all, this is a good collection. It’s a shame about some of the flaws and omissions — particularly the rather raw deal Pac-Attack appears to have ended up with — but perhaps the most troublesome issues can be patched. It’s certainly a decent celebration of the life and times of our spherical yellow hero — and the metagame element should keep you busy in the long term if the games included here aren’t already compelling enough!
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