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[Comments] (4) Pac-Man vs. Fever: After Sumana bought the Wii for our household, breaking my long sojourn away from the world of closed-source video games, I did some catch-up work. I looked online to see which Gamecube games people had really liked, and bought a bunch of used games cheaply. My research was cursory, involving the application of simple heuristics like "are the words in this top-ten list spelled correctly?" and "is this not a one-on-one fighting game?"

Which is how I ended up buying Pac-Man vs. (heuristic: a Pac-Man game designed by Shigeru Miyamoto?!?!!) before learning about its draconian hardware requirements. It's best as a four-player game, so you need four controllers. But only three of those controllers are Gamecube controllers. The fourth controller is another computer: a Game Boy Advance connected to the Gamecube (or, in this case, the Wii) with a special cable.

So that's a) a Game Boy Advance, b) a special cable, c) three Gamecube controllers (I had one), d) three other people nerdy enough to put up with all this for the sake of a Pac-Man game.

OK, it's just a game, I'm out five dollars, no big deal. (The disc I got is actually the bonus pack-in bundled with Pac-Man World 2, a game so awful that its main purpose in life is to drive down prices of the bundle for people who want Pac-Man vs..) But then I met Pat Rafferty. One day Pat was browsing through my Gamecube games looking for stuff to borrow and never give back. When he saw Pac-Man vs. he mentioned that he had played it, and that it had been one of the greatest gaming experiences of his life. What's more, at his parents' house in upstate New York he had a Game Boy Advance and the connecting cable.

I treated allegations of these "parents" who had exactly the now-obsolete hardware necessary to play Pac-Man vs. with the kind of skepticism I usually reserve for supposed Canadian girlfriends (and the supposed American girlfriends of my Canadian friends). I mean, if Lake Ontario had formed a little to the south, upstate New York would be Canada. Why wouldn't Pat show me his birth certificate?

It didn't help when after Pat's next visit to his "parents' house" he conveniently "forgot" to bring back the goods. But, recently, he reported that he'd made another trip, and this time he had the hardware. Pat also owns two wireless Gamecube controllers to my one, so now it was just a matter of finding two other players.

After some false alarms, we finally got it set up yesterday, at the Manhattan apartment of Pat's friend Kevin. By this time Pac-Man vs. had acquired Lucky Wander Boy-like status in my mind due to the difficulty of even playing it. But unlike Lucky Wander Boy, Pac-Man vs. is a really well-designed game.

Here's how it works. The player with the Game Boy Advance plays Pac-Man on the Game Boy Advance. Looks just like regular Pac-Man, except instead of four ghosts (or whatever), there are three. The other three players look at the television and each controls one of the ghosts.

On the television, each ghost sees a rendered isometric view of their part of the maze. The person playing Pac-Man can see the whole maze, because that's how you play Pac-Man. The ghosts have to coordinate to trap Pac-Man and clobber him.

In an event with great implications for Pac-Man continuity, the ghost who's able to clobber Pac-Man becomes Pac-Man for the next round. Whoever made the kill gets off the couch and swaps places with the person who has the Game Boy Advance. Eventually one of the players plays a good enough game of Pac-Man to exceed some point threshold, and they are dubbed the winner. Then you immediately play another round because it's real fun.

Was it worth it? Well, I don't know whether it would have been worth buying all this gear, but it was definitely worth patience in waiting for everything to come together. Now, if I could only get Four Swords to work...

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Posted by Susie at Tue Aug 31 2010 10:12

That sounds fun, but you'd think they could have made it easier to play.

Posted by Brendan at Tue Aug 31 2010 10:53

The best part about this story is that it sounds like something apocryphal that happened when you were ten.

Posted by kirkjerk at Tue Aug 31 2010 12:19

haha, I was just gonna mention "4 swords". I think I have 2 or 3 of the GBAs and wires needed for that.

Pac Man Vs is great, but there's not quite enough defense against the ghosts camping for the final few dots (even though the dots disappear on the screen near the end) Though that's a bit mitigated by the competition between the ghosts themselves...

Also the Mario speech is a little grating... "uh-oh, thisa looka not so good..."

There are some interesting historical and current and future potential for this kind of play: how teh Dreamcast had the mini-gameboy-like and dettachable VMU, to linking up GBs w/ a cable, and now DS's via Wireless (I think you can do that even across the Internet) to some hook ups of iPhones and iPads to allow similar ideas. (And if they ever do multiplayer 3D games... if you can live w/ the lower framerates, you can get as many viewpoints as you want, I think...)

There's a problem of focus, of course; players looking down vs at the shared space, and if you emphasize the former too much, why do you need the shared screen at all?

Posted by Alyson M at Tue Aug 31 2010 22:30

What a blast!! Speaking of Wiis, Atticus and Samuel have sent you some Miis. Notice that among family likenesses, they've sent a John and John. See if you can tell which is Linnell and which is Flansburgh of TMBG. The boys are devoted fans.


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