Welcome back to Games That Time Forgot, where we take a look at games that are often forgotten or lost to time. When it comes to iconic video game characters, none have been around as long or are arguably as well known as Pac-Man. Since his debut in his self-titled game back in 1980, the yellow ball has gone on to spawn numerous video games, TV shows, and merchandise. While Mario may often be seen as the Mickey Mouse of video games, Pac-Man is very clearly the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, though unlike Oswald, Pac-Man didn't really fall into obscurity and has been able to move and evolve with the time, arguably a lot better than most early 80s game characters. But, when you have a character that has been around for a little more than 40 years, the laws of averages are going to show up, and you're going to get some thing that may not be fondly rememered or liked. And today, we are looking at one of those games: Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures.
Yes, Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures is one of those games that really does fit the mold of this series, in that it is rarely talked about, few people remember it, and it's been mostly lost to the ether. But I remember this game from my childhood, and none of what it was particularly good. After one of my really big mess ups, my parents took away my video games for about a month. However, after a couple of weeks, my parents decided to let me play a game that they had recently bought just because, which was Pac-Man 2. They must have known something about it was bad, because while it felt nice to play video games at first, after spending thirty minutes dying because Pac-Man couldn't step over a rock, I gave up and decided to read or something. Every since then, I've tried playing through it, and while I got closer and closer, I never really beat it, and I finally gave up on in when I was in my 20s.
But you know, that was years ago, and things have changed. Games that I loved when I was younger don't hold the same appeal to me now, and things that I wouldn't have given a second glance are now some of my favorites. And with Pac-Man having recently celebrated his 41th anniversary (at least in Japan) as of the time of this writing, I figured why not give this game a chance and see whether time has been kind to it, or if this is one of those instances where younger me was onto something. So let's pack our power pellets and our slingshots (that latter bit will make sense later, trust me), let's talk about Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures. Waka-waka.
Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures, or as it's known in Japan Harō! Pakkuman (which translates into Hello! Pac-Man), was released in Japan on August 26, 1994, with the game coming to the US in September 1994 for the SNES version, and the Genesis version coming out a month later, as did the European versions of the game. As you might be able to see with the title, the whole Pac-Man 2 moniker was thrown on here in the West, most likely to get more people to buy it, which is an odd thing to do considering this is technically the 12th game in the Pac-Man series, so a little late to the party there, Namco. Then again, I suppose it's no different than Capcom naming the 11th game in the Street Fighter series Street Fighter III or Sega naming the 18th 2D Sonic game Sonic 4 and making that epsiodic before they realize no one liked it, but I digress. Heck, this isn't even the first game to be named Pac-Man 2, as supposedly there was an arcade game in the early 80s that was called Pac-Man II, but that game was supposedly axed as there is no record of it releasing.
But if there's one thing that's odder about this game than the name, it's who developed it. Obviously, Namco proper developed it, but as part of the game's credits, there's also a group listed as Mandrill Club, and that's it. There's no way of knowing who they are or who was part of it, they only worked on one other game besides this, and any search for them will get an IMDB page about a completely different Mandrill Club maybe. They're not even on the default Wikipedia page, but rather on the Pac-Man Wiki, and the only way I can confirm that is by beating the game. So unlike the last few games I've done where I can give some backstory about the game's development, I can't really do that because information on this game is hard to find, which in this day and age should almost be impossible.
So to summarize, what we have here is a game that was released at a time where Pac-Man was starting to fade as a brand (keep in mind the much beloved Pac-Man World wasn't set to release until 1999), was pushed as a direct sequel to the much beloved original, and it was partially developed by a studio that is harder to find than Jimmy Hoffa drinking out of the Holy Grail while riding the Loch Ness Monster in the city of Atlantis. As a infamous 90s feline would say "what could possibly go wrong?"
One of the big things about Pac-Man 2 that was pushed heavily was the "innovative" emotional system. How it works that Pac-Man would move an interact with the enviornment, and based on what happens he can get happy, angry, sad etc. This in turn would help with navigating the world, solve puzzles, or even result in some funny defeat animations. In theory, this sounds like an interesting idea that could spice up gameplay. The problem with theories is that they don't always work in execution, as Pac-Man 2 sadly proves.
Pac-Man moves on his own throughout the game, with the player only controlling a reticle for a slingshot, which can be used to hit obstacles in the world or Pac-Man himself plus some power pellets, and an arrow that can tell Pac-Man to look at something or move in a specific direction. The problems with this control scheme quickly become apparent when you realize that A) trying to move a reticle with a d-pad is not the best thing in the world, and B) Pac-Man doesn't listen a lot of the time. That's because depending on Pac-Man's mood, he may do what he tells you or if he's in a sad or angry mood, he may promptly ignore you and do something that you didn't want him to do, leading to him ending up in a defeat situation (like getting crushed or scratched up by a cat), which then causes him to get even more depressed and sad. These defeat situations can be hilarious, but they get old really quick after seeing them repeatedly, especially when they can be avoided IF ONLY PAC-MAN ACTUALLY LISTENED TO YOU, AND STOP TRIPPING OVER THE SAME GODDAMN ROCK! I KNOW YOU'RE PISSED PAC-MAN, BUT IF YOU MAYBE LOOKED DOWN AND STEPPED OVER THE ROCK LIKE I TOLD YOU TO, YOU WOULDN'T BE GETTING HIT WITH THE SKATEBOARD! Sorry, lost my cool there. But this kind of frustration is common, and there's really nothing that you can do about it.
You're probably saying to yourself, "well Goof, just make him happy and it'll be easier!" And yes, the game does even tell you that Pac-Man will listen better if he's happy. But the problem with that is that if you make him too happy, then he won't listen to you either, because he'll become a smug little bastard that can cause just as much trouble a he would if he was depressed or angry. This means that you have to strike a balance between making him happy, but not too happy, which often involves trying to get his attention away from something that would "kill" him, throwing a Power Pellet at him to fly around the screen (which you have no control over), or hitting him with your slingshot. And if any of that sounds terrible, that's because it is.
Look, if it wasn't obvious at this point, I'll just say it outright: I don't like Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures. I tried to give it a chance, but the game just doesn't work, on multiple levels. It spends way too much time trying to be wacky, which while it is admittedly funny to see Pac-Man get hit in the face with a door, it stops when I don't have any control. Seriously, if the game was designed so that I as the player had direct control of Pac-Man, this game would have been a lot better. A lot of the frustration could have easily been avoided, and while it wouldn't have made for a better game, it would have helped a bit. Instead, Namco wanted to be unique and make it into an interactive TV show, and because of that we get this mess.
To the game's credit, it does tries to ease you into it; at first. The game is structured like episodes of a TV show (which is funny because there was a Pac-Man TV show), with each level being a short little adventure. After the game does a tutorial that gives you the basic controls, you're thrust into the first level which is getting milk for Pac-Baby. Doing so is pretty easy since you can either explore in a straight line and get some collectibles by going left, or you can just grab the milk by going right to the barn. You may get hurt or attacked by ghosts, and it may be annoying to get hit by stuff, but for as much as I don't like this game, I do give developers kudos for at least attempting to get the player used to the control scheme and gameplay.
That kudos is quickly taken away when you get to the second area and have to suddenly do hang gliding and minecart sections. Suddenly that easygoing playstyle is thrown out the window as the game decides to throw you into the deep end, and now you have to deal with ghosts throwing boulders, telling Pac-Man when to jump in the minecart section or telling him when to go up in the hang gliding section, with you starting over if you mess up. Which spoiler alert: you will do a lot. Even as someone who cut his teeth on games like Devil May Cry 3, Ninja Gaiden and Ghosts N' Goblins, the hang gliding section in this game remains to this day one of the most frustrating sections of any video game I've played. And you have to do it and the minecart section to beat the game
So yeah, it's very clear that I don't like this game. But how did others feel about it at the time? Let's find out.
Sales numbers are a bit hard to find for Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures, and so are reviews honestly. However, the few reviews I did discover gave the game mixed reviews, with some critics like Nintendo Life giving it a 5/10, saying of the Wii U release "Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures is something of an oddity; in some ways it's really charming and the twee Saturday-morning TV soundtrack (along with Pac-Man's chatty exclamations) finish off the presentation nicely. However the gameplay can be frustrating, mainly down to the lack of control and many puzzles being tough to figure out (not all are logical). This can make for long periods of walking around shooting everything in sight in the vain hope of making a discovery that moves the plot forward." Which is a lot nicer than anything I could say about it. As fot the impact, outside of a sequel (?) to the game called Pac In Time, there hasn't been any other mention of it, outside of a Wii U Virtual Console release.
As for why it's forgotten, the easy answer could be because Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures isn't a very good game. But honestly, putting aside my feelings, I feel like there's a little bit more to this, two things specifcally. The first thing is the name: Pac-Man 2. Making your game in a series a numbered entry is meant to symbolize something important, an evolution of the series. People have an idea of what Pac-Man is, so when you call your game Pac-Man 2 and it is nothing like the games people grew up with and are familar with, it doesn't matter how good it is because people didn't ask for it. It's like going to a restaurant, ordering a steak, and then getting salmon instead; sure the salmon may be good, delicious even, but it's not what you wanted, and that is still going to be with you throughout the whole meal.
But even if it wasn't marketed as a sequel to the original Pac-Man, that doesn't compare to the easily the biggest problem this game has, which is fixing a problem that doesn't exist.......kind of. Let me explain: remember how games like Hey You, Pikachu! and Star Fox Zero were heavily criticized for their control schemes and how they didn't work all that well, the former using a microphone that didn't work, and the latter making you use the Gamepad to aim and shoot? Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures is kind of in the same boat, in that it uses a weird and not entirely effective control method, effectively fixing a problem that Namco themselves created. In reality, they could have easily copied adventure games at the time and either made it a static screen that you point and click on stuff in the enviroment, or let the player control Pac-Man directly. Instead, they decided to be "innovative" and make Pac-Man move on his own and adding a slingshot to stop, thus fixing a problem that they themselves made.
And yes, I know someone is going to respond with "there's nothing wrong with trying new things" or "the controls in the game were fine when you got use to them!" And both points are true. There's nothing wrong with a series trying new things, and going back to Star Fox Zero, I found myself enjoying the game quite a bit once I got used to the controls. But that's the thing: for both of those points to work, the game design has to make sense and work in some way, and Pac-Man 2 does neither of those. Yes, it's great for games to try new things, but not at the cost of what made them great in the first place. And sure you can get used to the controls, but that's still a very big ask of your players, especially in a medium that is interactive like video games. It's the one thing that sets video games apart from movies and books, and if you make it harder for your average player to get into it, then you blew it.
And that's the best summary I can make about Pac-Man 2: a missed opportunity. Which is a real shame, because despite all my complaining, there are some good elements to it. I thought the music was okay, the graphics and animation are great as mentioned before, and though it can be difficult at times, its short length and some realtively easy puzzles would make it a perfect contender to get new people into adventure games. But because of bad controls and elements of unnecessary chaos, the most Pac-Man 2 can ever be is a forgettable dumpster fire of a game.
......I hate this game more than I thought I would.
Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures is one of those games that trips over itself to be unique and different, but in doing so fails to be the one thing a video game should be, which is good. While I do applaud the developers for trying to be unique, nothing comes together and ultimately falls apart. And while I'm sure the game would have been a little bit better with a traditional control scheme and not marketing it as a numbered sequel, I really couldn't imagine a world where it would be an amazing 10/10 greatest game ever made contender, though it would still be better than the what we got.
Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures isn't the worst game I've ever played, but it is not very good, and I don't see myself playing it again anytime soon. If you really want to experince it, just look up a Let's Play on YouTube or just play the first couple of minutes, because there is nothing here worth playing. And if you want something Pac-Man related that isn't an arcadey maze game, go find the first two Pac-Man World games; they aren't amazing, but they are both solid games and a hell of a lot better than this game.