Review: Pac-Man Connect & Play 35th Anniversary Edition (includes videos)
Bandai’s Pac-Man Connect & Play 35th Anniversary Edition is one of those rare TV Games that sports an incredible low price with minimal sacrifice in quality. While not perfect, it does set a high standard for other TV Games to try and match. For those who just want to see videos of how each of the 12 included games performs, you can skip straight to the Menu and Games section of this review. Otherwise, start with Console and Control and read on from there to get the complete picture.
Console and Control
The Pac-Man Connect & Play 35th Anniversary Edition is a highly portable, self-contained unit. Pull apart the two pieces of the case and you’ll find the attached composite cables and a battery compartment. Four AA batteries are required, but not included, and there is no provision for using an AC adapter. The mono composite cables (yellow for video, white for audio) are fairly short at about 6 feet (1.8 meters), so you’ll either want to get extensions or settle for playing close to your TV.
I’ve read reports that the previous versions of this product had poor joysticks. That seems to have been addressed with this edition branded with the 35th Anniversary markings, so you’ll want to be sure to specifically get that model (assuming there was an issue in the first place). With that said, because of the interesting looking, yet unfortunate, shape of the shell, this is not really great for handheld use. If you use it on a table top like I’ve been doing, then you’ll find the joystick and buttons incredibly responsive for each of the 12 included games. It really does have a nice arcade feel.
Menu and Games
The colorful menu screen appears to be in an unusual resolution, but looks nice enough and packs in a good amount of information. The nice thing about the menu is that all 12 game titles fit on one screen, so it’s easy to select your game of choice with the joystick and A button. What follows then is an alphabetical listing of the 12 games and a short, direct feed video showing each one in action:
- Bosconian—Although little known today, this 1981 free-roaming scrolling shooter was technically impressive for its time.
- Dig-Dug—One of the more original game creations, this 1982 release tasks you with digging underground tunnels to try and inflate and pop various monsters.
- Galaga—This 1981 sequel to Galaxian (also included) is arguably the definitive Space Invaders-style shooter.
- Galaxian—Namco’s full color answer to Taito’s legendary Space Invaders (1978), this straightforward shooter from 1979 is still fun for a spin.
- Mappy—Although the music gets repetitive, this 1983 release ups the cute factor for its challenging chase-and-evade platforming.
- New Rally-X—This 1981 update of the 1980 original (not included) mixes oversized Pac-Man-like mazes and flag collecting with frantic racing and evasion and some much-needed defense via strategic use of a smoke screen. The update features slightly easier gameplay than its predecessor and minor graphical and gameplay tweaks.
- Pac & Pal—This 1983 release was a Japanese exclusive that used the same arcade hardware as Super Pac-Man (also included). It’s yet another Pac-Man variation with oddball additional features like unlockable items (by turning over cards), an assistant (Miru, aka “Pal”), and the ability to shoot (spit) a ray, smoke, musical notes, freezing rays, or min-Pac-Men (Pac-Mans?).
- Pac-Man—The 1980 classic in all its glory. It’s a shame Ms. Pac-Man (1982) wasn’t thrown in as well.
- Pac-Man 256—This is the infamous glitch-fest that’s the 256th, and final, level of the original Pac-Man game, and about the only way most of us game playing mortals will get to experience it. Unfortunately for us same game playing mortals, we have to beat the 255th level first.
- Pac-Man Plus—A minor 1982 update of the original, you’ll mostly find slightly altered visuals, some new power-ups, and slightly more challenging play.
- Super Pac-Man—A 1982 variation on the Pac-Man theme, Super Pac-Man does away with pellets in favor of fruits and prizes, and adds additional features like speed boosts and super power-ups.
- Xevious—Among the first top-down vertical scrolling shooters, this 1982 release challenges you to shoot both air- and ground-based targets. This is also the one game that makes use of the second button on the controller.
I’m not sure if these are emulations or just really good simulations, but I assume it’s the latter. As such, certain arcade patterns or exploits won’t work since the game logic isn’t the same. From a more practical standpoint, without me bothering to do an exhaustive and largely unnecessary 1:1 comparison between this and something like MAME, I can say that all of the games really do play, look, and sound great.
As you can tell from the videos, each game is an audio-visual treat. Frankly I’m baffled at how Bandai was able to get the quality they were out of this device’s lowly composite connection, particularly since other TV Game devices don’t come anywhere close. However they did it, I’m glad they pulled it off, because this is now a target for other TV Game manufacturers that use composite output to try and match. Of course, it’s not quite perfect, and you will notice the occasional off-sound, but overall, it’s really impressive.
Prices vary wildly, but keep in mind that the regular price is usually $19.99 (versus a list price of $24.99), and can often be had for as low as $14.99. At either price, it’s a steal, even if the joystick does get a bit creaky with heavy use. While I think I’m rightly critical of the superfluous Pac-Man pixel-shaped case design and too-short, hard-wired composite cables, I can’t think of much else I’d want changed. Even if you have emulation options or home ports you’re happy with, this convenient and flashy portable package is still something well worth a look. If you have friends or family that don’t have other options, yet still have an interest in classic gaming, then this moves from well worth a look to must buy.