Games are Fun, but Keep First Things First
I hope Phil the No-Swear Gamer doesn’t mind my stealing his signoff for this heading, but I need to revisit briefly my review of Level 257, the new Pac-Man-themed restaurant/amusement center, which I visited recently.
In the museum display, there was a bare motherboard that had no notes or sign or anything indicating whence it came. I asked about it on Level 257’s page. A staffer named Natalie responded, saying I wasn’t the first to ask, and that she’d need to find out as she’s learning new things every day working there. The next day, she got back to me and said it’s from Mission Force, an Atari game from 1997.
I immediately searched DuckDuckGo for “‘mission force’ atari” but couldn’t come up with anything relevant. I did get a slew of results for a band called Fantasy Mission Force, with someone named Rob Crow listed as “performer.” So why did it come up so frequently? Because the name of the song is “Circus Atari.” Google produced no different results. A search of KLOV yielded nothing. Even AtariAge.com has no information about it. In all my searching, the closest I could find is a PC game called Mission Force: Cyberstorm, made by Sierra Entertainment in 1996. Now, I don’t want to nag Natalie about it, so at least for the time being, Mission Force as an Atari game will remain a mystery.
Also, I need to update my final rating. I had given Level 257 four out of five stars, citing the cost of gaming my only issue. Here’s the thing, though: without the gaming, it’s just a restaurant and a gift shop. Level 257 is all about the Pac-Man experience. Without the gaming, you just don’t get that experience. So I’m bumping my rating down to three out of five stars, and I will update my original post to reflect this change.
A Fake Pac-Man for the Mac
First, let me give you a brief history of my personal computing days. My first computer was a Commodore 64C, which I received as an eighth grade graduation present in 1988. In 1993, I bought an Amiga 600. One of the first things I did with both machines was look for a Pac-Man game to play, of course. In 2007 I switched to the world of Steve Jobs (that’s right, I was an Amiga user for that long) when I bought a MacBook as a Christmas present to myself, so naturally one of the first things I did was to look for some kind of non-MAME Pac-Man game; Pac the Man X was it.
Pac the Man X was developed by McSebi, who is either an individual developer or a development team; I haven’t been able to ascertain. McSebi’s answer to Pac-Man is a very nicely done modern “tribute” (as Macworld put it); in fact, McSebi was known for doing other so-called tributes such as MacDo, an OSX version of Mr. Do!, and Bub & Bob X, obviously a Bubble Bobble remake.
Downloading and Installing the Game
Now, you may have noticed that I referred to McSebi in the past tense. Well, there’s a reason, of course. If you go to McSebi Software’s web site, you’ll see no hint of any game other than a new tile-matching game called Connect M. There’s a disclaimer on the site saying the older titles are no longer supported. I do wish that McSebi would actually still keep the old stuff available for those who want it, though. The good news, however, is that you can still get Pac the Man X via archive.org.
Pac the Man X is packaged as an old-fashioned ZIP file: none of that DMG stuff. According to the limited documentation I could find, the game is a universal binary, which means it should work on an Intel- or PowerPC-based Mac. (If your Mac is from 2006 or later, it’s an Intel Mac.) As I’ve implied before, the game works on my late 2007 MacBook; it has worked with Leopard, Snow Leopard, and Lion. However, I could not get Pac the Man X to run on my mid-2011 iMac running Yosemite; I don’t know whether the game will work on Mountain Lion, but it requires at least Panther (!!).
In terms of how to play the game…well, it’s quite simply the classic game play that you know and love from Pac-Man: Pac-Man moves around the maze, attempting to clear all the dots, while ghosts chase him; Pac-Man can eat the energizers (“super pellets” in this game) to eat the ghosts (and the ghosts stay vulnerable for quite a while, too); and prizes appear in the maze. But as with many modern re-purposes, there are some differences.
First, there are no cut-away animations; you clear a level, and you go right to the next level. Also, from what I can tell, there are only 25 levels; clear level 25 and the game is over — and I mean legitimately over — no kill screen! (I say “from what I can tell” because I haven’t gotten good enough yet to find out; I’m going by videos I’ve seen on YouTube.) Unlike in the arcade games, the four ghosts have virtually no distinction other than color; they all move with the same speed and artificial intelligence. However, one thing that was held over from the arcade game is how eating the dots slows down Pac-Man slightly. But be careful, because if there’s a ghost on your tail, you need to get away from the dots fast — even the turning-the-corner trick from the arcade games won’t help you here. You may enjoy that challenge, though, along with the challenge of having paths that come to dead ends.
As you probably would expect from a modern Pac-Man remake, Pac the Man X offers a few new features. The bonus prizes not only give you extra points, but many also have power-ups. Among such power-ups are point multipliers, speedups, and temporary invincibility. Also, the number and position of warp tunnels varies — some levels have several on top and on the sides, others have no tunnels whatsoever. (And just like with the original, the warp tunnels will help you if there’s a ghost closely following you.)
The Best of Both Worlds
In terms of overall look and feel, it’s clear that McSebi wanted to incorporate not only the 1980 classic but also elements of Ms. Pac-Man. The bonus prizes — which appear seemingly at random times and with no rhyme or reason as to which one you get at any time — move around the maze as with Ms. Pac-Man, but you have to act fast: they disintegrate pretty quickly. Also, you can choose to play the game as Pac-Man or Ms. Pac-Man; if someone wants to play a game with you, then you can have both characters going at the same time. And just like with Ms. Pac-Man, the mazes changes periodically…well, by “periodically,” I mean “every level”! So if you’re a Ms. Pac-Man fan, you’ll probably appreciate the extra care put into this game.
The documentation I could find on this game is very limited and doesn’t really say anything about scoring, so I can only report on my observations. The scoring mechanics in Pac the Man X are a bit different from what you may be used to. Each dot will give you five points, as will each super pellet. Bonus prizes are worth anywhere from 500 to several thousand, and the points, frequency, and even choice of bonus prize are all seemingly random. For the first several levels, if you eat ghosts, you earn 200 points for the first ghost you eat, 400 for the second, 800 for the third, and if you manage to eat all four ghosts, the fourth ghost is worth…2,000 points! After around level 7 or level 8, the point values go up to 400, 800, 1600, and 10,000; and sadly, I’ve so far not done well enough to see if those point values increase even still. Every 25,000 points gets you a bonus life, and as far as I can tell from my own experience and from the videos I’ve seen, there’s no limit to the number of extra lives you can rack up.
Roll Your Own
It occurs to me that Pac the Man X incorporates features not only of Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, but also another game that is probably furthest from the minds of most people playing this game: K.C. Munchkin! from the Odyssey². No, really, hear me out! Pac the Man X comes with a level editor. You draw the paths, place the ghost pen (which is called a “citadel” in this game), determine how many super pellets you want and where they will go, and even where player 1 and player 2 start in the maze. You can choose the style of citadel, the background texture, colors, pretty much everything except the number of dots you can place. (Dots are automatically placed evenly throughout the paths.) What’s more, if you don’t like the default mazes but don’t feel like making your own, the game comes with several additional levels sets to futz around with.
Lost Opportunity for Yosemite Users
When I decided to review Pac the Man X for this blog, I did so under the impression that it’s a modern game, something you can get right now. You can imagine how surprised I was that it’s been unavailable for quite a while; the seven years since I first played it just flew by! If you have OSX Lion, you should be able to play it from the aforementioned link. And that’s another thing: it is upsetting that the only way to get the game is by hunting old links on archive.org. It’s a shame that McSebi doesn’t just keep the old games available for those who want it (and still keep the disclaimer that there will be no further support); I would have loved to have tried out MacDo and Bub & Bob X…actually, given that my MacBook is a bit on the old side, maybe I still can. But if you have access to a Mac with an old enough OS, I encourage you to give Pac the Man X a try; it’s a very enjoyable version of the Namco classic.
In the mean time, I might have some interesting news soon; let’s just say slightly reminiscent of my short-lived radio career.
Say…do you want to see Pac the Man X in action? Here’s a YouTube video! (And yes, that is the music from Pac-Mania; in fact, the name of the music selection is “Pac-Maniac.”)