It’s time to kick-off this Atari ST PD series (in fact I’m rather late with this since I’ve been busy recently) and the first game out of the hat of suggestions is Pacman on E’s from 1994. This is the first sign that this game isn’t a commercial release – a shop-shelf game blatantly mentioning teh drugs would have caused the Daily Mail to explode back in the mid-90s. Release such a thing as an indie title, though, and no one pays the blindest bit of attention.
So, we all know what Pacman‘s like (well, I’d hope do, and if you don’t then commisserations and I hope you escape from your cave very soon) so is this game particularly different? Well, at first glance not really. This follows the basics of pretty-much every Pacman game ever. The player controls the eponymous yellow pill-chomper and has to clear all the pills on each level whilst avoiding the variously-coloured ghosts (yes, yes, I know they were officially “monsters” but they’ll always be ghosts to some of us) and grabbing bonuses.
So, what makes this game stand out? Well, the main thing is the presentation which is excellent. The graphics are well-drawn and colourful and full of character: a particular favourite for me are the fruits and various other bonuses which are animated (a banana cheekily peels and “zips” back up whilst waiting for Pacman to grab it). The music is also excellent with a variety of “techno” tunes (as I seem to recall they were known back then) playing in the background and on top of that there’s speech and various other sampled sound effects. It’s all lovely stuff.
Unfortunately, where this game falls down is in the gameplay. There’s been several changes made from the Pacman template which effect gameplay. The most notable is that when Pacman grabs a power pill not only is he now able to eat the ghosts for bonus points but he actually moves twice as fast. This unbalances the difficulty level. The fact that the ghosts don’t seem as devious as their arcade-original counterparts also doesn’t help, as does the fact they don’t turn into eyes and rush back to the centre when eaten but instead disappear and rematerialise in their lair immediately. The worst thing, though, is that several levels into the game I had that dreaded feeling that I wished the game would try harder against me and cause me to lose a life at some point. As soon as a game stops being a challenge it stops being fun and that’s what happened to this one all too quickly. In fact, whilst playing one game and having reached level twelve or thereabouts without breaking into a sweat I simply got bored and allowed the ghosts to get our round yellow hero. That’s not a good sign.
If you love Pacman but are terrible at it, or if you just want to see how to get the look of a Pacman clone just right then take a look at this game. But if you’re seeking out a challenge then I’d suggest looking elsewhere. I’ll leave the last word, though, to Keith Merriwell, the made-up Drugs Kaiser.