Pac-Man All-Stars is the latest game in a classic series that peaked in the early 1980s. While the popularity of the early Pac-Man games has yet to be surpassed, there have been several recent attempts to modernize the classic pellet-chomping hero with varying levels of success. Unfortunately, Pac-Man All-Stars falls in the less-successful end of the spectrum simply because it isn't very fun.
To its credit, All-Stars tries to break new ground by using elements from the classic Pac-Man games in a completely different style of game. The game includes a single-player mode and supports up to four players in multiplayer mode over a LAN or on a single computer. Initially, you can take control of one of several characters from the arcade games, including Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Pac-Man Junior, and Professor Pac-Man, and other characters can be unlocked by successfully completing the game's storyline.
But rather than guiding the character through a series of mazes, you enter a series of 3D arenas to engage in a feeding frenzy that is vaguely reminiscent of the classic board game Hungry Hungry Hippos. Each level begins with one character in each corner of the screen. A new batch of pellets then appears, and the characters begin their frenzied munching to see who can accumulate a set amount of points first or who can get the most points in a set amount of time. Once a group of pellets has been gobbled, a few flowers appear in different parts of the arena, and when a character eats a flower, another flight of pellets appears.
While this free-for-all pellet gobbling forms the backbone of the game, there are a few elements tossed in to add some variety. In addition to a few pieces of fruit worth different numbers of points, Pac-people can eat the occasional power-up that gives them special abilities for a limited amount of time. Some power-ups, like the magnet or the super speed, make your pellet gobbling more efficient, while others, like the stun bomb and the thieves' mask, help you by putting the other players at a disadvantage temporarily.
No Pac-Man game would be complete without a gang of ghosts, so of course Pac-Man All Stars has a group of spooks that players must avoid while they gobble pellets. Unlike the arcade ghost monsters, which could inspire a dark fear due to their life-stealing capacity, these ghosts are only able to take away a few points and stun you for a moment, so they instead inspire the kind of dread you get when you realize the TV show you're watching is about to go to a commercial. The bigger obstacle in the game is the wizard's hat, which can have a variety of consequences if it's triggered. Some of the consequences, like the shrink ray, are merely amusing, while others, like hiccups or "bouncy bouncy," can cause complete mayhem in the game, as players partially lose control of their characters.
The game's graphics are adequate, although the levels tend to be fairly uninteresting, and it's difficult in the beginning to determine which parts of the level are at a higher elevation than others, which makes it hard to navigate efficiently. Pac-Man All-Stars does support several screen resolutions, and the characters and environments are colorful but simple. The few scripted story sequences included do little to tie the game together and could have been used more effectively. The sound and music in the game are appropriate, considering the arcade theme, but they both could have been more distinctive.
In the end, Pac-Man All-Stars simply doesn't live up to its potential. The idea of taking Pac-Man and his groupies on an adventure outside of their maze is immediately appealing, and it offers all sorts of possibilities not explored in Pac-Man All-Stars. Rather than leading the Pac-people on a journey through interesting open environments, you'll be forced to squabble over pellets with the other Pac-people in a series of static arenas that offer little more than bland backgrounds for pellet munching. Rather than providing appropriate opponents in the menacing ghost gang, Pac-Man All-Stars makes the ghosts nearly harmless and casts the other Pac-people as the real enemies. While this twist makes sense in the game's multiplayer mode, it makes less sense in the single-player story mode, and it takes away from the classic Pac-Man-vs.-the-ghosts theme.
Overall, Pac-Man All-Stars lacks the kind of clarity in design that made the original Pac-Man games a success, and it doesn't add enough modern elements to successfully stand on its own merits. The game's mishmash combination of Pac-Man parts results in something that could be entertaining as a novelty for short while, but stops short of becoming a game worth playing for any length of time.