I don’t believe in making New Year’s resolutions. To me, New Year’s Day is just another day that, for some bizarre reason, people make a big deal about simply because the number attached to a year increases, and our calendar resets to a new month based on duodecimal overflow. (Not that I’m complaining about a day off, however…) To me, every day is worthy of such celebration. Every day you’re on this earth you get opportunities to change for the better, to experience new things, to learn, to visit new places, to get that dream job, to find the lost chord, or even to achieve that high score.
Having said that, however, I did make not so much a New Year’s resolution, but more of a New Year’s “It would be nice if…” I thought to myself, “It would be nice if I could take two house high scores at Underground Retrocade this year.” I try to go there at least once a month. Shortly after my most recent posting to this blog, I made my first trip of the year, thanks of course in part to the gift certificate to the Retrocade that my wife gave me for Christmas. It was pretty late in the day, around dinner time; usually I try to go early in the day but I was just too damn busy and, unfortunately, missed seeing several gaming friends who were there. But I played some of my favorite games. Beat my high score on Asteroids Deluxe; finally cracked 100,000 on Millipede without using the continuation option; advanced ever so slightly on Kangaroo (I keep telling myself that I hate that game so much, yet why do I still play it); got a decent score on their Burgertime machine, a feat that proved elusive the whole time they had it despite my rather good progress on the same game at other arcades; beat both my score and highest rank on Gorf; and I figured, hell, let me see what I can do with Jr. Pac-Man Turbo, the game that was the reason I first went to Underground Retrocade in the first place.
If you’ve been following this blog regularly, you know about my history with Jr. Pac-Man Turbo. Long story short, for a short time I almost had the house high the second time I ever played the game, and had the #2 score in the word on aurcade.com for a very, very brief time, eventually falling to #13 as more and more people were scoring higher. On the night of Underground Retrocade’s grand reopening in West Dundee in 2013, I played the game some more but kept finding myself getting cornered on the seventh maze, the root beer maze. Yes, I had cleared it many times before, but it was pure luck that I was able to do that. I looked up, and there was something familiar about the face belonging to the guy watching the Galaga machine next to me. Ahh…it was Fred Ochs — his picture was on the Jr. Pac-Man Turbo machine as the current high score holder!
I tried playing a couple of more times, still kept getting trapped on the root beer maze. At this point, Fred was a little ways down talking to some other folks. Next time I was on the seventh maze I caught his attention and waved him over. I said, and I quote, “Fred, how in the hell do you survive this maze?!” Unlike many high-scorers in the gaming world whose egos are so inflated they refuse to share their secrets for fear of being dethroned, Fred actually very freely offered his strategy, with no “This is for your eyes only” disclaimers. And now I’ll share it with you!
See those boxed corners on the outer edges of the maze? That’s where I would always get trapped, and I have a feeling that’s where many other players often come to their deaths (assuming they’re able to get that far in the first place!) as well. On the left and right sides, you have a little box inside a large box on the top and bottom, with a rectangular box in the middle. There are only three barriers separating those parts of the maze from the middle portion of the maze, meaning that once you’re in there, it’s hard to get back out.
But see that little section highlighted in turquoise? That’s the safe part. Actually, anywhere in that box is usually pretty safe. A ghost may follow you into that box, but if that happens, it’s usually easy to get out; if more than one ghost comes in, well, then not quite as easy. But usually this is the safest move: after you clear the middle part of the maze (and be sure to grab the root beers for 5,000 points a pop!), head to that middle box. The ghosts will most likely end up in the boxes above and below you; if you’re really lucky, all four will go into one box.
I’ve found that your position in the safety box usually dictates the ghosts’ moves. If you enter the bottom portion of the center box, the ghosts tend to enter the large box at the bottom; if you enter the top portion of the middle box, the ghosts go to the upper box. Once the ghosts are in a larger box, your position along that turquoise path will dictate whether the ghosts tend to hang out on the outer edge of their occupied boxes or on the inner parts, near where the energizers are. Once in a while, a ghost or two will escape from one of the corners and track you down in the middle, so be careful.
Now, what Fred did not tell me — I had to learn this for myself — is you absolutely have to be patient. You can’t just hastily go into one of those boxes and try to clear the whole thing in one swipe; it might take several attempts to clear just one corner, especially if you’re not on a “turbo” machine. What I found works best for me on the turbo machine is, as soon as all the ghosts are on the outer edge of the maze inside their boxes, I hightail it to the other end of the maze: if I’m in the boxes on the left, I get over to the right side (or vice versa) and clear whatever I can from one of those corners; if a majority of the ghosts are in one box, I make my way to the opposite box on the other side: if they’re on the upper box on the left, I’ll head to the lower box on the right. Also, what will help you is if you’re trying to clear a box and there’s at least one ghost on the outer edge, get an energizer right before the ghosts come all the way around the box — even on a later maze when the ghosts no longer turn blue, eating an energizer will force the ghosts to reverse their paths; just hope that your timing isn’t so that it’s not when they would go back on their own!
So Does This Strategy Work?
I do feel bad that I don’t have more graphics — especially video recordings — showing this strategy in action, so hopefully my words were helpful. I just don’t have any good screen recording software — hey, that costs money!
Of course, I’ve mentioned specifically the “turbo” version of Jr. Pac-Man many times in this blog, including this posting. This strategy also works on the standard version, although the caveats I’ve mentioned are about twofold with the regular, non-turbo variation. Execute the strategy with care and you’ll be pretty happy, just as I was when I got this score:
There it is: 541,880; turbo version, of course. Fred Ochs’ score at the time: 534,400. I’m not saying this to brag; rather, I’m saying that because I’m just freakin’ honored that I was able to (just barely) beat his score: Fred is a helluva gamer, a force to be reckoned with.
It occurred to me when I checked the high scores to see if I did indeed get the house high that it was my first trip of the year to Underground Retrocade, and already I achieved half of my New Year’s “It would be nice if…” list; maybe just one more trip and I won’t have to go back again this year.