The Many Faces of . . . Jr. Pac-Man

By Alan Hewston

In 1983, Bally Midway introduced Jr. Pac-Man as the seventh Pac-Man game to date. For classic gamers (or maybe just me), this may be the third most famous variation, of course, after Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man. The video game crash of 1984 probably hurt it's chances of being a big success, both at the arcades, and at home - as Atari never bothered to released the all-but-finished 5200 and 8 bit versions. The only thing apparently missing are the intermissions (chase scenes) between some levels.

As the son of Pac-Man, Junior dons a spinning propeller beanie and like-father-like-son is trapped in a maze being pursued by the ghosts, Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Tim (looks just like Clyde). You now have 6 energizer pills, and you'll need them because of the unique challenges added to the Jr. Pac-Man mazes. Basically, the maze is now twice as big as the screen! and the bonus prizes create problems wherever they go, culminating in the potential elimination of a power pill. The exit tunnel has also been removed (no loss there).

A set of 7 new prizes introduced for Junior, (in increasing point value) are a tricycle, kite, drum, balloon, train, kitten, and beer glass. I believe the glass remains for the duration. The prizes now create a trail, as any dots they contact transform into super dots. These are worth 5 times the point value, but just as the dots slow you down from full speed, these super dots really slow Jr. Pac-Man down. This is often deadly, but fortunately, the Super Dots all disappear if you do loose a life. The prizes bounce around the screen (just like in Ms. Pac-Man), but not in a preset path (pattern). In fact, in addition to their randomness, the prizes are actually heading for the energizer pills (and sometimes they almost head right for them). The prizes continue to show up after so many dots have gone, but no prize enters after all the power pills are gone, at which point a prize already bouncing around now appears to head towards you. When a prize touches a power pill, both are destroyed in an explosion, and of course, if this is off-screen, the action is put on hold - so that you can see and hear it for yourself. Talk about kicking you when you are down.

Because the maze is twice as big, only half is visible on the screen. Junior remains on screen at all times, but the action scrolls left and right, following Junior, to display the entire maze. Thus one quarter of each maze is to the left and one quarter is to the right of the center section. The scrolling really adds to the challenge - not only might you forget what dots you need to eat, but you do not know where all the ghosts are at, until you find out that one is coming right at you from off the screen. Also like Ms. Pac-Man, each of the 7 levels is a unique maze, which are then randomly selected for levels 8 and up. Levels 6 and 7 only have 4 power pills.


(Level 7 - the dreaded boxed-in 4 corners.)

Arcade Game Designed in 1983 by Bally Midway

Classic Platforms: Atari 2600 ('86) & Commodore 64 ('88? Andrew Davie, Thunder Mountain) , plus the unreleased versions ('84) on the Atari 5200 & Atari 8-bit.

Categories: Gameplay, Addictiveness, Graphics, Sound & Controls

Have Nots: Atari 5200 (38)
Those darn sticks. The Gameplay is enjoyable (8), and includes all of the mazes exactly as in the arcade. A pause is added, but then the 5200 sticks make it too easy to die while trying to toggle it. There is a two-player option, and the addition of a kids difficulty allows the game to be learned, until your skill increases. Just like its 8-bit cousin, the intermissions from the arcade were not included, but may have been coded on a different version of the prototype. The Graphics and Sound are both crisp (8) - nothing is lacking. The Controls (7) take a big hit because this IS a maze game, and you are forced to use some sort of 5200 controller. A Masterplay Interface in use could earn a perfect 10, and a medal. The Addictiveness is very good (7), but again, the Controls impact this score.

Bronze Medal: Commodore 64 (39)
The C64 release does not pay the arcade game enough homage. Although you will enjoy the game, the Gameplay is missing or messed up the 2 major features that make Jr. Pac-Man stand out from other maze games. There is no scrolling, as each maze is one full screen - weird as the C64 was supposed to be great at scrolling. The prizes come out and leave a trail of super dots, but they are too fast and usually head straight for the power pill that they seek (randomly chosen). Then for some unknown reason, the prizes keep on coming, non-stop every 6 seconds, provided there isn't one already out. OK, so for this added difficulty (a prize on the screen nearly all the time), there are 8 power pills provided, but only if the prizes don't get to them first. Typically, 2 or 4 of them are right near the ghost cave - making easy pickings for the prizes to destroy. So, a brand new paradigm must be ingested before you plan your strategy for this version. It is really NOT Jr. Pac-Man. The 7 mazes do not look like the arcade at all, save for level 6, which is a wicked variation of the boxed-in 4 corners maze. The mazes vary with either 4, 6 or 8 power pills. The game speed is actually a bit slow, but the ghosts are too fast, relative to Junior. There are not many straight-a-ways, so turns and crossroads are aplenty - of trouble. There is a "Turbo" speed option, which works like the Pac-Booster from NES, where you rip through the screen twice (?) as fast, but everything else is the same speed. Turbo is not really a kid's option, but it does make it easier to succeed, if you have the reflexes.

Despite the poor translation of the Gameplay, from the arcade, the intermission screens were included in precise detail. Too bad the scenes "They Meet", "The Gift" and "They Escape" are all titled the same "They Escape". Dooh! There is a pause feature added, two-player option, and choice of which of the 7 different starting levels (mazes), including the correct sequence of prizes - but that's about all that it has going for it. A bug in the code allows a prize to be passed through, so I was a bit harsh and scored the Gameplay as fair (5). The Graphics and Sound are superb (9), the best at home. The Controls are excellent (10). The C64 version is only available on disk, and since I just traded away my only original, you can understand why I only gave the Addictiveness a (6) - it's a decent game, nothing more.

Silver Medal: Atari 2600 (40)
The 2600 luckily earns a silver due to major problems on the above versions. But, then this is a fantastic bit of programming for the 2600. Hands down - it is one of the best 2600 games of all time. It has everything that made the arcade version a keeper, regardless of the 2600's limitations. There is both a child's version, and a normal version to begin on each of the 7 mazes. Upon completion of maze 7, the familiar intermission music plays for about a 20 second break. Unfortunately the Gameplay is only decent (6), as the scrolling is up and down, and not left and right; the mazes do not resemble the arcade (but maze 7 is pretty close to the dreaded boxed-in 4 corners). The Graphics are cool (7), but pale in comparison to the other versions, mostly due to the power pills, dots, walls and super dots all being the same color. The screen is very smooth scrolling, and there is almost no flickering. With only about 1/3 of the maze visible, one could argue that the graphics are worse, but I did not penalize this feature, as it actually intensifies the challenge added by having a partially visible maze. The Sound is nice (8) and is not lacking. The Controls are flawless (10), and can't be beat. The Addictiveness is outstanding (9) and you'll play it over and over.

Gold Medal: Atari 8 bit (43)
Once again the Atari 8-bit reigns supreme. The Gameplay is very nice (8), essentially the same as the 5200, complete in every way, save the intermissions. There is an irritating glitch (feature), like the C64 where Junior can run through the prize and miss it. I assume that the 5200 version has this as well, but I got frustrated with those sticks and have not yet played it to death. The 8-bit version is much easier to toggle the pause. The Graphics and Sound are both crisp (8), again, nothing is lacking. The Controls are perfect (10), and the Addictiveness is fantastic (9), and will bring you back again and again. This game is only available on disk, as Atari did not release it or its cousin on the 5200. Credit goes to "Glenn the 5200 Guy" for preserving this code for game-lovers like us.

(Come back next month when I plan to review the many faces of Mario Brothers aka Mario Bros. for the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 7800, Atari 8-bit, Apple II and Commodore 64. Alan Hewston can be reached at Hewston95@stratos.net)

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