Jr. Pac-Man

Atari 5200

Review by Jeff Cooper



Graphics: 9

Sound: 7

Gameplay: 8

Overall: 8

I'm sure there are any number of reasons that unreleased "classic" videogames went unreleased. Consider the unreleased games for the Atari 5200. Many of the titles just didn't cut it. While I've never seen 5200 Tempest, for example, Atari had announced the game as forthcoming and had been working on it for what seemed like eons before it became apparent that it would never come out. I'm guessing that Atari concluded that 5200 Tempest just wasn't very good. Atari also pulled the plug on various projects before they were ever completed; Sport Goofy serves as one example, and Miniature Golf another. Years ago I explored the prospect of buying a Miniature Golf proto and was told by the seller that it wasn't even worth the $15 he was asking because it was mainly a bunch lines and basically wasn't playable.

Probably the most desirable of prototypes for collectors fall into the category of games that were more or less completed and ready for market but did not come out, mainly because of the videogame "crash." I'd wager that 5200 Junior Pac-Man falls into this category. Junior, along with Xevious, Track and Field, Millipede, and a couple others, were announced as forthcoming 5200 titles around the time that Atari announced the 7800. As is commonly known, when the Tramiels bought out Atari in 1984, they put the 7800 on hold and they put the 5200 to death.

It's a shame, because Junior is a top notch product. The prototype that I picked up many years ago is very close to the arcade counterpart, featuring the beanie-clad Pac, the cheery music, and the smooth-scrolling, ever-changing mazes of the original. I think Junior really had a niche in the Pac-crowded 5200 library because the game really does have a different feel to it. As most gamers know, the prizes (in this game little toys) bounce around the maze, a la Ms. Pac, but in their travels they turn regular dots into larger, high point dots that slow Junior down. If the prize bounces over to one of your power dots, it will destroy it. Since there is no instruction manual, we'll never know exactly why toys destroy power dots; it's another part of the tragedy associated with the videogame crash. But these new features add a lot to the Pac formula.

This game is virtually complete and, if you can get a copy burned, it is worth picking up. I say "virtually complete" because there are a couple of qualifiers. There are no cartoon intermissions in the game I have (I presume they were to be added) and there is one bug. If the player dies while the toy is eating a power dot, the power dot does not leave the screen. It just flashes rather oddly and then there is nothing the player can do to get rid of it. Run over it all you like--you can't eat it. This means, in sum, that if you die while a power dot is being munched, you can't clear the screen and your game is basically over. It's not that big a deal; you just have to be sure that you either prevent your power dots from being eaten or you keep yourself healthy while your power pill is being consumed.

Relative to the badly flawed 5200 Pac-Man and the improved but nevertheless so-so 5200 Ms. Pac, control in this game is remarkably good. I think the difficulty level, however, could have used some tweaking. Perhaps it's because I just don't know the strategies, but this one seems frustratingly difficult. The ghosts are extraordinarily intelligent and relentless, and the great escapes that make Ms. Pac so much fun are extremely difficult to pull off here. Still, I think that Junior Pac-Man (along the other completed 5200 projects killed by the Tramiels) would have been a solid seller if it had been allowed to see the light of day.


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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:27 PM