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Pac-Man Fever
Review By:  Jared Black
Developer:  Namco
Publisher:  Namco
# of Players:  1-4
Genre:  Party
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card, Multitap
Date Posted:  10-24-02

Given his status as one of the biggest icons in the industry, it was only a matter of time before Pac-Man began branching out into other genres like Mario has. Thus Pac-Man Fever, a party game in the Mario Party mold has arrived. Unfortunately if Pac-Man Fever is any indication he'll forever be playing second fiddle to Nintendo's main man.

To be fair, the gameplay is handled uniquely and feels somewhat fresh in an otherwise stale genre. At the beginning of each turn all four players participate in a mini-game. The order of finish in that game determines how many spaces each player gets to move during that turn (vs. rolling dice in Mario Party), with the ultimate goal being to finish first. So it's really a race to the finish, compared to Mario Party's goal of collecting the most stars. Board spaces include token spaces (used to buy mini-games for play by themselves), springs (forward or backward a number of spaces), ghosts (steal tokens), Challenge (challenge another player for tokens), and other spaces similar to other party games out there.

The mini-games feature a wide range of different types, but in the end they're all similar to other party games out there too. They include Button Matching games (press the buttons shown on screen), Shooting games, Collecting games (get as many of an object as possible), Sports games (Homerun Castle is my favorite), and finally Driving games (race while collecting fruit). The settings and objectives are different, but in the end there are no mini-games that stand out as really being innovative and unique to the genre.

Pac-Man Fever is really nothing more than a watered-down clone of Mario Party, albeit with a couple of minor differences. This is no more apparent than in the character roster. Playable characters include Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Reiko (Ridge Racer), Astaroth (Soul Calibur), Tiger (Tekken), and Heihachi (Tekken). Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man are certainly are certainly strong characters (even without a lot of personality), but the rest are certainly no match for the likes of Donkey Kong, Wario, Yoshi, etc. I realize that Namco doesn't have a roster of characters as strong as Nintendo, so I'm not really holding that against them too much.

What is a shame is that on Namco's own roster there are stronger characters that could've been included. Where's Klonoa? Where's the guy from Dead to Rights? Mr. Driller? Any leads from Tales of Destiny or Xenosaga? Namco's roster will never match one from Nintendo, but any of these choices would've been better choices then some of the ones included. Heck, they could've just thrown them all in there…it's not as if they play that differently anyway. Overall the roster is acceptable, but for a "Battle of the Namco Stars" it sure is missing a lot of important characters.

The graphics are pretty simple, but that's to be expected in a party game (and esp. in a Pac-Man game). Colors are vibrant, objects are sharp, and each game board is diverse. Unfortunately, with only three different generic boards to choose from Medieval, Space, and Tropical) there's not a lot of room for graphic variety. There's nothing wrong here, but it also isn't that impressive.

The sound is similar. The music is light, airy, and upbeat, as you'd expect in a party game. Sound effects are pretty basic as well, but follow the Pac-Man motif and fit in well. Again, nothing wrong here but also not that impressive.

HIGHS:

  • Unique approach in the genre, with mini-game performance determining the number of spaces moved in a turn.
  • Sound and graphics are pleasant and functional, which is what really matters in this genre.
  • Enjoyable mini-games, and not really a dud in the game.

LOWS:

  • Roster selection is somewhat sparse, even among Namco's own franchises. I don’t understand why they didn't just throw all of them in there, given the relative weakness of some of the characters. Fewer, and weaker, characters than Mario Party.
  • No mini-games stand out as being innovative or different from what we've seen before.
  • Gotta have a multi-tap to really enjoy it to the fullest.

FINAL VERDICT:

It's not as if this isn't a good game, because it is. I appreciate the different approach to moving around on the game board, and I think that with some tweaking this could become a major Namco franchise. Mario Party is the king in this genre though, and almost every element is weaker here. Fewer boards, fewer characters, the need for a multi-tap, and less overall personality makes for less fun.

If you don't own a GameCube, have a multi-tap already, and have several friends you can play against often, then Pac-Man Fever might be worth picking up. Otherwise, there's really no reason to get it. Party games have never been good single-player games, and Mario Party 4 is the superior choice (without the need for extra hardware) for multiple console owners.

Overall Score: 6.1

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