Microsoft has always been known to package entertainment software bundles from time to time. The first Microsoft Entertainment Pack for Windows was a great success probably because most people were charmed by anything more complex than Minesweeper or Solitaire. Being into gaming even then, I had to shake my head every time I saw that package rise up to the top ten in sales. These days, however, the masses seem to have progressed to more sophisticated titles like Rollercoaster Tycoon or The Sims. All old tricks are new again in the Pocket PC arena as Microsoft prepares to launch the Arcade PocketPak.
Do not, however, be fooled by Microsoft’s new development muscle. What with the addition of developers like Bungie, the FASA license and publishing rights over well-known franchises like Age of Empires, it seems Microsoft could easily craft the mecca of gaming for the Pocket PC. In reality though, this collection is merely a set of Namco emulations of old arcade titles. The ones included here are Dig Dug, Ms. Pacman and Pacman.
Like all emulations of old arcade games, each title comes with the original arcade code so everything down to inserting coins is faithfully emulated. Each one of these titles also comes with very impressive options. Care has been given to make these games compatible with the Pocket PC operating system. For example, you have absolute control over key mappings. Moreover, the ability to save and load is included for each title and unlike common console trappings; you can save at any time you wish. The ability to tweak how many lives are available, at what score should extra lives be awarded and other gameplay functions round out the extensive control you have over the emulated game.
All in all, Dig Dug seems to be the most radical title here. Its colorful graphics and bountiful amount of sounds transfer easily to the Pocket PC platform. At no time did I think the screen was too small or performance was too lacking. Dig Dug was one of the few titles I played avidly when I was young. It was easy enough to grasp but like all great games, extremely hard to master. One of the tricks to Dig Dug is to pump up your enemies once or twice and then detach to deal with other ones. Because you can only handle one enemy at a time, you have to time it so that the first enemy is deflating while you are inflating the second enemy. However, this becomes too hard to pull off on my iPaq mostly due to the button issues but I think in general, people will have a tough time handling it with the cramped buttons of a PDA. When I first played Dig Dug, it was on the C64 and if my recollection serves me right, the music was a lot better. Although the rest of the sounds are emulated to the tee, the music seems a little off-key.
Pacman is actually one of the titles that is now stored at the Smithsonian as a hallmark to gaming. I remember Pacman was probably the first game I played when I was three years old. It is also faithfully re-created here. However, Microsoft is really pushing it since this title was an exclusive promotion awhile ago with new Pocket PC purchases. I had gotten a hold of that game and to be quite honest, both seem to almost identical. Audio and visual components are extremely loyal to the original arcade.
One game I didn’t really get a chance to play was Ms. Pacman. To most people, Ms. Pacman is going to be almost the same as Pacman. And I know the casual gamer will decry that this is a duplicate of the original Pacman. I too thought the same thing but I went on to research about what actually changed in the sequel. First, Ms. Pacman features several boards including various trick areas where the ghosts can easily trap you at both ends. The ghosts also travel slower at the horizontal tunnel that connects the board from one side to another. Bonus items, represented traditionally by the manner of fruit, appear on screen like the original Pacman but in this rendition, they are able to move around. Finally, Ms. Pacman has a visual bow on her to make her more feminine and since you will be noticing this change most, I guess it is the most significant.
Altogether, the games are well designed. The emulation of each original Namco game is not only completely faithful to the original version but contains a host of features that is sure to keep most arcade junkies up for hours. I also particularly liked the key mapping function and wished that every Pocket PC game from now on would have something like this. Instead of calling buttons something uninformative like “Button 1”, you assign each action to icons representing the button. The menus are also extremely legible and because of their size can easily be manipulated by stylus or fingers. Sounds can also easily be toggled off and task switching can be done at any time. The programs themselves range from 200k-300k making the footprint size about the size of a regular Palm OS game.
There is nothing for me to complain about with respect to the games themselves. There is one time in Pacman where I managed to pass through a ghost but I guess this cannot be blamed on the developers. When I was in kindergarten, I remember inviting my friends over to play on my C64 and I impressed them with my knowledge of BASIC (which is quite intriguing in retrospect, considering I had one friend who didn’t even read). Playing these games remind me of my early childhood spent smashing on joysticks. I took up Pacman after my father, who probably quit for good after being taken to the hospital for severe hand/arm spasms. There is one complaint people may have about this package and that would be the price. Pacman, as I said before, was already released as a promotion. To people who already have this title, Ms. Pacman and Dig Dug alone might not be enough to persuade them to sink in $34.95. No doubt, these titles are premier quality and they translate wonderfully to the Pocket PC platform. But prices this steep might steer people away to more economical choices like the ongoing Mame projects. For those willing to spend that much money on PDA software, there is no doubt that if you even have the slightest interest in Pacman or Dig Dug, you will be absolutely thrilled with your purchase. It is games like these that keep the emulation scene thriving. For some reason, their utter simplicity and colorful graphics continue to appeal, long after their initial release.
[10/10] Program size
[13/15] Learning Curve
[ N/A ] Multiplayer