I have sadly gone through my life in the belief that I have played all of the Pac-Man family titles. It wasn’t until quite recently I learned that I had missed playing Jr. Pac-Man in the wilds of the arcades in my youth. Thanks to the Arkadia Retrocade though I’ve had the chance to play the Atari 2600 port of the classic arcade game. A Player that frequents the arcade had found a box in the attic that had belonged to her Father and in the box were two Atari cartridges we didn’t have in our collection, Millipede and Jr. Pac-Man.
Was it worth the price the arcade paid for the cartridges?
Yes! Just for Jr. Pac-Man alone.
Jr. Pac-Man is a fantastic port (I’ve now played the arcade title through MAME) and though it came out after the Nintendo Entertainment System had secured its place as the dominate home gaming console, this cartridge in particular shows that the Atari still had some muscles to flex.
At the beginning of the game you are treated to a brief simplified musical melody from the 1983 arcade title. The first thing that impressed me was the size of the maze, it was easily double the width of the display, the screen panning up or down with you depending on your direction. The center cell/box holds four colored ghosts which the instructions inform us features three of the four usual suspects with Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and…Tim?
Besides the change in the maze size there are new rules for the younger Pac-Man as he travels the maze chomping up all dots in his path, your average dot will give you ten points for each chomp but there are slightly larger dots that are worth 50 points for eating. The dots now also slow Jr. Pac-Man down as he is eating them, which naturally can mean all the difference when you have a pack of ghosts hot on your trail. Thankfully Jr. Pac-Man is fast on his feet because when he takes a corner, one that is clear of dots he really pours on some speed.
There are no bouncing food items like cherries and pretzels in Jr. Pac-Man instead you gobble up bouncing ‘Toy Candies’, objects shaped like a tricycle, kite, drum, balloon, train, kitty, and a glass of Root Beer. These Toy Candies also change any dot they bounce over into a 50 point dot…so you want to let those run a bit through the maze so you can rack up big points but you also have to be careful as they will destroy any of the Power Pellets they touch!
Another thing to note about this port is the difficulty. Wow. Those ghost come out of the center like a cruise missile and it took me many games until I got my groove, you really have to conserve your Power Pellets and I more often than not gobbled up what ghosts I could easily reach and just headed straight for the dots to clear the board. I sadly saw the death animation of Jr. Pac-Man too many times, his pitiful death wail as he vanishes only to leave his beanie behind to mark his place of passing.
I definitely think that for all of you that still play your Atari 2600 regularly that you owe it to yourself to seek out the Jr. Pac-Man cartridge, it’s a very worthy addition to your home library. I bestowed the game four out of five stars because of the difficulty of the title, it’s brutal but still fun.