Review: Pac-Man & Galaga Dimensions

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Pac-Man and Galaga are two games that have been re-released…and re-released…and re-released again…and re-released some more. Basically, if you own any video game playing device from the past 10-15 years, versions of Namco Bandai’s arcade icons are available to you in some form. Yep, they’re also now available on the Nintendo 3DS, too. Who woulda thunk it?

Pac-Man & Galaga Dimensions for 3DS is a compilation of six different games: arcade-authentic versions of both original games; the modernized remakes Pac-Man Championship Edition and Galaga Legions that have been so successful on Xbox Live Arcade and PSN; and Pac-Man Tilt and Galaga 3D Impact, two brand new games built from the ground up just for Nintendo 3DS.

Before going any further, you do know what Pac-Man and Galaga are, right? Just to cover my bases, let me briefly explain.

Pac-Man is a simple maze game in which you guide a hungry, yellow smiley face (that’s Pac-Man!) through a labyrinth filled with dots and fruit to munch on and ghosts that chase after you. Scarf down a power pellet, and for a short time you can eat ghosts too. Once you’ve eaten all pellets in the maze, you move on to the next stage and keep on chomping away until you run out of lives.

Galaga, on the other hand, is a fixed-axis shooter. You take command of a space ship which you can slide left and right along the bottom of the screen. Enemy aliens fly across in varying formations, firing down upon your ship while you try to kill off the pesky buggers and stay alive for as long as possible. The goal is to set an unbeatable high score…and then to go back and try to top that score!

The arcade original ports of Pac-Man and Galaga included in this set both play as they should, and in fact, the Circle Pad works out beautifully in place of a traditional arcade joystick. I’ve played some clunky versions of these games with D-pad controls before, but the smooth sliding motion of the Circle Pad is incredibly responsive.

Unexpectedly, these two retro games are thus far the definitive showcases for how 3D should be implemented in 3DS games. As usual, the 3D is useless in the other four titles (it’s not even active in Pac-Man Tilt, and for good reason), but in Pac-Man and Galaga it is utilized to perfection. Both titles offer multiple viewing options, including one with arcade cabinet borders and another set in the face of one of those cocktail table arcade machines. When you turn the 3D on, the play screen appears recessed from the edges of the faux cabinet borders, effectively simulating the sensation of peering through a real glass arcade monitor. It’s a subtle yet brilliant touch.

Pac-Man Championship Edition and Galaga Legions – sadly these are not the newer DX versions – are faithful ports of the excellent digital download console games from a few years ago. Both remain true to their arcade roots, and yet at the same time they re-energize the dated presentation and gameplay with modern touches and a neon lightshow aesthetic that brings the pixelated graphics and chip sound effects into the 21st century.

Pac-Man Championship Edition is far and away the top game of the whole collection. The perspective and core gameplay mechanics still apply, but the level structure is very different. Instead of eating all the dots in a maze and moving on to another, you are contained within one maze for an allotted time and you just keep on playing until time (or your life count) runs out.

Another key difference is the way dots are placed in the maze. Each maze is divided in half, and when you clear one half a special item appears that you must eat in order to spawn a new trail. The longer you survive, the faster the gameplay also becomes, and by the end of a round Pac-Man and his ghostly nemeses are zipping back and forth at an exhilarating pace. These minor tweaks bring another layer of challenge and excitement to a familiar setting, and once you start playing you won’t want to stop.

Similarly, Galaga Legions mixes up the original formula by removing the fixed movement and taking the gameplay into more of a bullet hell shmup direction. Gameplay still takes place within a fixed screen, but aliens now swarm in greater numbers and from all sides, and you now also have full freedom to move your ship up, down, left, and right.

The catch is that you still can only shoot upwards. To pick off enemies flying in from behind and from the sides, you have to place stationary satellites that provide support fire in the chosen direction. Dropping a satellite with the X button orders it to shoot up; Y to shoot left; A to shoot right; and B to shoot down. You will also have the opportunity to suck a mass of Galaga into a black hole and turn them into a legion of allies that floats behind your ship and arms you with a screen-filling spread shot. The one downside is that the frame rate dips noticeably during peak moments of screen activity.

As for the two newcomers, neither captures the same level of “just one more game” addictiveness as the other four, but each uses the 3DS hardware in a unique way and both are enjoyable additions to Namco’s mini video game museum.

Pac-Man Tilt pulls the iconic dot fiend out of his 2D maze home and places him in an exciting new side-scrolling world that combines basic platforming with pinball. The Circle Pad is used for basic left to right movement, but you must also tilt the 3DS itself.

Throughout each of the 20+ stages, you encounter obstacles and contraptions that require the environment to be tilted. By tilting the screen sharply, Pac-Man will roll into a ball like Sonic the Hedgehog and crack through stone blocks or slip into narrow tubes. When launching from pinball flippers or bounce pads, the tilt direction sets the launch angle, and in certain puzzles you may also need to rotate a seesaw plank from one side to the other or roll a metal ball into a switch blocked off by an electric gate.

The puzzles designed around the motion controls are very clever, and fortunately the tilting is not overused. It compliments the standard controls in an intelligent way without ever being forced upon you like a cheap gimmick.

Then there is Galaga 3D Impact, an on-rails shooter that takes its cues from the free Face Raiders app that comes pre-loaded on the 3DS. You ride along through intergalactic environments from the perspective of the space ship’s cockpit, and in typical Galaga fashion alien invaders fly at you in formation.

You can use the Circle Pad if you so desire, but the game is meant to be played via the 3DS gyro sensors. To aim, you treat the 3DS like a viewfinder, pointing it around in front of you to steer your ship’s targeting reticle in the appropriate direction.

For some reason, the calibration can get thrown off at times, forcing you to aim and hold the 3DS in an awkward position in order to compensate. But for the most part the experimental control scheme does perform nicely and will hold your attention for the duration of the 5-stage campaign. Of all the games, this is probably the one I am least inclined to go back to. But that’s just because the others are so damned addictive. Galaga 3D Impact is a fun game in its own way.

Individually, every game in this collection is deserving of a standalone Nintendo eShop release, each featuring unique gameplay characteristics, dedicated online leaderboard space, and seperate achievement medal lists. Pile them all together, toss in a 3D Pac-Man animated cartoon short, and the result is a six-pack of arcade gaming goodness.

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Pros:
+ Cool 3D arcade cabinet effect in Pac-Man and Galaga
+ Pac-Man Championship Edition is supremely addictive
+ Pac-Man Tilt and Galaga 3D Impact demonstrate effective motion controls
+ Six fun games in one arcade package

Cons:
– Frame rate slows down during heated moments in Galaga Legions
– Galaga 3D Impact suffers from occasional calibration issues
– Galaga Legions and Pac-Man Championship Edition ports aren’t the newer DX versions

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Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Namco Bandai
Release Date: 7/26/2011
Genre: Arcade Compilation
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!