Review

Jr. Pac-Man

Reviewed by Martin Henely, Posted on 2009-07-04

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Developer: Atari Publisher: Atari
Release Date: 1987 Available On: Atari 2600

In 1981, Atari released Pac-man for the Atari 2600. It was decent but underwhelming compared to the arcade version, so in 1982 Atari followed it up with a significantly better port of Ms. Pac-man. Because of the popularity of these two games, there were many Pac-man clones released between that time and the videogame crash of 1984. And yet, after the crash subsided, Atari mined the Pac-man name one last time with Jr. Pac-man. On a system that by that time was saturated with such games, was there anything that made this one special? Read on to find out.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept of Pac-man, a group which I hope is very small, allow me to explain the concept. Pac-man travels around an arena filled with dots that he is trying to eat while trying to avoid being eaten himself by ghosts who are chasing him. Certain of the pellets called power pellets allow Pac-man to eat the ghosts for a limited period of time after he swallows them. Occasionally a special item will start to bounce around the playing field that can be eaten for more points as well. The objective of the game then is to score as many points as possible before losing all of your lives to the ghosts.

Both Pac-man and Ms. Pac-man follow this pattern fairly closely, although Ms. Pac-man did so in a way that looked better and was much more enjoyable to play. Jr. Pac-man adds some new things to this formula, however, which set it apart from its two predecessors. The first thing you will notice is that you are no longer confined to a single screen of dot-eating goodness. Instead, the screen scrolls vertically both up and down from your starting position. As a result, where Pac-man and Ms. Pac-man both had four power pills in the four corners of each maze, Jr. Pac-man has four in the corners and others in other positions evenly spaced throughout the entire maze.

The second major difference in this game is that it is significantly faster in pace than its predecessors. Both Jr. Pac-man and the ghosts move significantly faster in this game than in either Pac-man or Ms. Pac-man. This increases the necessity of split-second movements and quick turns and may take a bit of time to get used to. The worst part of this faster pace, however, is the fact that, from the very beginning of the game, the ghosts will not be vulnerable for very long after a power pellet is eaten, so you will want to make sure the ghosts are close before you munch the power pellet if you intend to use its power. Regarding the pace of the game, I should also note that eating dots slows Jr. Pac-man down a little while he eats them.

There are still the floating objects that you can eat for extra points in this game, but two changes have been made regarding them. The first change is that any dot that the object touches will become bigger. These bigger dots are worth more points than normal dots but they also slow Jr. Pac-man down more while he eats them to the point where you do not have to be concentrating as hard to notice the speed difference. Still, the extra points for those dots even that out in most cases. The second change, however, is something to be careful of. As the object bounces around, it will eventually aim itself at a power pellet. Should it find one, it will go kamikaze and take out both itself and the power pellet it ran into. This is not the end of the world for players who do not care about eating ghosts as much, but for those who are addicted to ghost-eating this will be a devastating change.

Graphically, the game is very reminiscent of Ms. Pac-man, perhaps a little better. The fact that this level of graphical quality could be maintained with both a scrolling screen and as fast a pace as the game employs without any slowdown of glitchiness is simply phenomenal, however. On the sound front, you have the typical Pac-man sound effects, although in a very nice-sounding form, but you also have musical themes that play before Jr. Pac-man starts a maze. These can be skipped, however, if you are anxious to get to the gameplay. Overall, this game is aesthetically very good, but one must also remember that standards were higher in the post-crash era.

Regarding game modes, this game employs the same four as Ms. Pac-man. Essentially, you use the game select switch to determine how many ghosts you want chasing you, anywhere from one to four being possible. This makes the game accessible for even the least experienced players but also capable of becoming difficult enough for the more experienced ones. Suffice it to say that this game simply reeks of replay value and has the potential to last a very, very long time.

So far as comparisons go, this game easily leaves the original Pac-man in the dust. Ms. Pac-man holds its own, but Jr. Pac-man edges it out as well, although it is scoring lower due to being released at a time when standards were higher. If scrolling screens and fast movement is too much for you, you should go for Ms. Pac-man. However, if you like the idea of fast pace and scrolling screens, then Jr. Pac-man is the Pac-man game to get for the Atari 2600. According to atariage.com, it is a fairly common game, although I personally had a very difficult time finding it. Still, if you can find it, it is well worth the search.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 8.5
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 8.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 9.5
Final: 8.9
Written by Martin Write a User Review

Reviewed by Martin Henely

973 Views