Pac-Man & Galaga Dimensions offers something old and something new. This anthology includes six games, the oldest of which hit arcades in 1980 and the newest of which are available here for the first time. Unfortunately, the two brand-new games fail to live up to the high standard set by their esteemed predecessors. And as rightfully beloved as the oldest games here are, it's unlikely that you're craving yet another release of those widely available classics. Pac-Man: Championship Edition and Galaga Legions round out this package, and they're exciting updates of the games that inspired them, but this isn't the best way to play them, and as great as they are, they can't justify this compilation's full price.
Spearheading this collection are two entirely new games. Galaga 3D Impact is an on-rails shooter in which you look out from the cockpit of a space fighter, blasting insect formations and stage bosses from a first-person view. You control the game by physically moving the 3DS up, down, left, and right to get enemies in your sights. You can also use the circle pad, but you can't move the reticle around quite as quickly this way, so it's not as effective. In addition to your standard lasers, you're equipped with a tractor beam, and by using it to capture enemies, you can gain new abilities or increase the power of existing ones. Eventually, you might have a force field, a bomb, a missile, and the ability to freeze enemies for a short time, provided you capture the requisite enemies to acquire each power.
Galaga 3D Impact's first-person perspective offers the most dramatic use of 3D in Dimensions, but the gameplay isn't quite as impactful. For much of its brief duration, Impact moves at a leisurely pace. A wave of enemies slowly soars across the screen; you blast them and wait for the next wave to appear. Your ship might be doing exciting things like flying through narrow canyons, but this all happens automatically. The novelty of its control scheme and visuals wear off quickly, and the gameplay isn't compelling enough to make this a game worth returning to time and again. The prospect of returning to it is made less attractive by the fact that you need to start at the beginning each time you come back to it. Each of its five stages only takes four or five minutes to complete, but some moments, like the boss of the third stage, can be a bit tough to overcome. The fact that you can't, say, back out to the menu from stage four of Impact to play some Pac-Man and then come back later to resume your quest from where you left off is a shame.
Pac-Man Tilt is a 2D side-scrolling platformer in which Pac-Man must jump and roll his way through a series of stages. Pac-Man isn't capable of leaping up to each ledge and over every chasm on his own, though. Navigating these stages requires you to not only control Pac-Man directly, but also to tilt the 3DS left and right, tilting the in-game world as you do so. Unfortunately, this mechanic never feels good or natural. You eventually adjust to using gravity to pull Pac-Man in whichever direction is currently down, but you never enjoy it. And when you drift into deadly hazards or fall into oblivion for the umpteenth time during the game's infuriatingly difficult final levels, you'll wish direct control of Pac-Man was enough to traverse these stages. Unfortunately, though, Pac-Man isn't fun to control either. On foot, his movement is sluggish. He can roll up into a ball, which lets him build up speed when rolling down inclines or be knocked around like a pinball, but the level design rarely makes good use of Pac-Man's speedy potential. You spend more time riding on slow-moving platforms and tilting cannonballs onto switches than hurtling through levels or doing anything similarly exciting.
The visuals are cheery but charmless, like an unconvincing clown at a birthday party. Obnoxiously happy, repetitive music makes this world even less enticing; meanwhile, the sound effect Pac-Man makes when you screw up, which makes it sound like he has a mild stomachache rather than like he just, say, walked into an electrical barrier, doesn't make this particular incarnation of the character the least bit endearing. If you're prone to motion sickness, you may find the experience even more unpleasant. The way background objects like castle towers tilt to remain upright independent of the foreground as you tilt the 3DS can be unsettling if you have a sensitive sense of equilibrium.
Also included are the original arcade versions of Pac-Man and Galaga. These games are timeless, and their faithful emulations here will evoke memories of pumping quarters into machines for anyone old enough to have had the experience. These games are charming reminders of the best the early years of video arcades had to offer; the colorful star field in the background of Galaga and the wokka-wokka sound effect Pac-Man makes as he gobbles up dots are examples of details that time doesn't diminish. The option to frame the screen with actual arcade cabinet artwork enhances the sense of nostalgia, but it's the simple and challenging gameplay that makes these classics worth coming back to.
Your returns to these games may be frequent, but they'll also be brief. Galaga and Pac-Man are games you play in short bursts, and once you've seen that inevitable GAME OVER screen a few times, you're ready to move on. A series of challenges for each game encourages you to accomplish certain goals ("Clear a stage without wasting a single shot!" in Galaga, for instance, or "Eat all ghosts 4 times within a stage!" in Pac-Man), but only the most skilled and determined players are likely to pursue all of them. Pac-Man and Galaga are enjoyable diversions, but they're not likely to hold your interest for long. These are, for better and for worse, the exact same games you've likely played countless times before, and as great as they are, you may not particularly feel the need to have them again on your 3DS.
Still, Pac-Man and Galaga are as good here as they've ever been. The same can't quite be said of Pac-Man: Championship Edition and Galaga Legions, though these are still two exciting evolutions of the arcade games that inspired them. In Pac-Man: Championship Edition, the basic concept is the same as in Pac-Man; you eat all the dots in a maze and avoid ghosts, and after you eat a power pellet, you can munch the ghosts to score big points for a short time. But unlike in the original Pac-Man, the maze here frequently evolves, and each mode has a five- or 10-minute time limit. As you get familiar with the mazes, you learn to chain together power pellets to eat the same four ghosts over and over again in a single stretch, which is eminently satisfying and pays dividends as far as your score is concerned. An infusion of neon invigorates the visuals, and the ambient music builds up deliciously as the clock ticks down. Championship Edition manages to simultaneously feel nostalgic and new. It's a terrific variation on Pac-Man.
CE plays as well here as in its original incarnation on the Xbox 360, but there, the addictive gameplay was made even tougher to resist by the inclusion of leaderboards for each of the game's six modes. Here, all six modes are available, but only one of them (the five-minute Championship mode) is tracked on the online leaderboards. And on the smaller screen of the 3DS, the exaggerated pixelation that made the sprites so much more eye catching when viewed on a television is lost.
Like Pac-Man: CE is to Pac-Man, Galaga Legions is an evolution of the original Galaga, though it represents a more significant departure from the game that spawned it. Your upward-facing space fighter is still met by wave after wave of space bugs, but that's where the similarities end. To aid you in annihilating enemies, you have two satellites that you can position anywhere on the screen and set to face up, down, left, or right. Effectively obliterating the insect hordes requires you to respond rapidly to visual cues that indicate where the enemies will enter from and what formation they will fly in, place your satellites smartly, and target the leaders of each wave to set off destructive chain reactions. It's a fast and absorbing game in which the seemingly chaotic surface--a screen constantly filling with beautiful laser blasts and explosions against abstract backgrounds that suggest rapid movement through deep space--belies the underlying order that keeps the action focused. As you play, the patterns that give the game structure become more apparent, and mastering those patterns and earning higher scores is an engrossing pursuit.
Unfortunately, like this compilation's version of Pac-Man: CE, this version of Galaga Legions doesn't quite measure up to the Xbox 360 original. Only one of the two modes is tracked on the leaderboards (in this case, the Adventure mode). And where the original offered a number of visual skins, this version includes only the default option. Still, Galaga Legions is a refreshing update to the included arcade classic, and an exciting game in its own right.
Pac-Man & Galaga Dimensions is an inconsistent package. As great as the two original arcade games are, you've likely played them before, and this release is far from essential. The more recent Pac-Man CE and Galaga Legions put exciting spins on the timeless gameplay of their predecessors, but this isn't the best way to play either of those games. And the two entirely new games fall flat. Despite the fact that there are six games included here, 40 bucks is not a good value for this compilation. Pac-Man and Galaga are timeless games, but they're not priceless ones.