Shortly after Pac-Man was announced for Super Smash Bros., two Pac-Man releases showed up on the Wii U Virtual Console (with discounted prices to boot): Pac-Land and Pac-Man Collection. Excited and curious, I purchased both. After spending some time with each, I found myself oddly fascinated by Pac-Land…
Originally Released: 1984 (Arcade) / 1985 (Famicom) / 2014 (Wii U Virtual Console)
Version Played: Wii U Virtual Console
As far as I know, this Virtual Console release marks the first time the Famicom version of Pac-Land was made available in North America. Cool! However, when I first started playing the game, my initial impressions were not unlike this Miiverse post:
While far from the strangest game I’ve ever played, the controls are certainly something else. You use the B and A buttons to move left and right, and the d-pad to jump. Even stranger, if you go into the Virtual Console menu and change to player 2, the controls will swap to a more traditional method, with the d-pad being used to move and A/B to jump.
Visually… the game is definitely an early Famicom release.
While some of the backgrounds wouldn’t look out of place in an Atari 2600 game, the sprites are at least more of what you’d expect from a mid-80s Famicom title.
The game initially follows a pretty traditional platformer structure (run left to right, don’t fall in pits). You can jump on top of enemies and use them as platforms, but if you touch them from the wrong angle, DEATH. After a few stages of this, the game switches things up a bit and has you travelling backwards, from right to left. Here, as the above Miiverse post states, you can suddenly jump infinitely, making the game feel not entirely unlike Balloon Fight. It’s definitely an odd change in the formula, but a welcome one.
From the strange controls to the minimalist visuals to the changes in gameplay, the Famicom port of Pac-Land was quite a bit different than what I was expecting. It can be quite frustrating at times, but save states help ease the annoyances, and despite Pac-Man’s somewhat strange physics and slippery handling, the game is still playable today.
I found the game strangely compelling and ended up playing quite a bit of it last night. It’s definitely rough, but if you’re interested in Pac-Man or Famicom history, this version of Pac-Land is worth checking out.