noct's Pac-Man & Galaga Dimensions (Nintendo 3DS) review

An excellent package for a system that desperately needs it.

3DS box art (cropped)

 Pac-Man & Galaga starring in a brand new game on a new console... What year is this?

As a gamer that lived through Pac-Man Fever, I just have to say how crazy and wonderful it is that these games are still relevant and hold up as well as they do in 2011.

First of all, let's discuss what this is and what it isn't... P&G Dimensions could easily be seen as yet another shovelware attempt to slap the "3D" or "Dimensions" moniker onto some existing content, and in some respects that would be correct, although the base content of this package is so outstanding that it's tough to be angry at the shovel.  

For the most part, P&G:D is exactly what it looks like; a compilation of sequels and remakes of two of Namco's oldest and most adored IPs. The hidden surprise here is just how fantastic these games are and how addictive and playable they still are in our modern age.

This collection contains 3 flavors each of Pac-Man and Galaga, as well as a bonus 3D animated feature that shows us what the heinous old Pac-Man TV show would look like if it was created today. The animation is nothing spectacular, and of course, the story and universe of Pac-Man are not exactly the deepest well to draw from, so don't expect much from this "bonus". Of course, the amount of people who will even watch it, much less buy this game for its inclusion, are probably too few to even count. The funny part is that the intro/attract movie that plays when the game first boots up is actually far more entertaining, and has fantastic 3D effects. Moving on.  
First on the menu are the Pac-Man games, with the original coin-op, the excellent CE "remake", and the new "Pac-Man Tilt" among the choices available to you. 
Pac-Man, eatin' ghosts!

As far as the original Pac-Man goes, there's not a lot to really say here; it's Pac-Man, and from what I have seen in the limited amount of time I spent playing it in this compilation, it's a fairly accurate emulation of the original coin-op. The only thing worth really noting here is the presentation of it. The good news is, the presentation is for the most part, spectacular. It controls well, it looks and sounds sharp and crisp, and the game plays exactly as it should. As far as features go, you can pick from either the standard coin-op or the cocktail table, and you get nice little borders on the edge of the screen displaying the art from each respective cabinet. The 3D effect is used VERY nicely here, as it puts a little bend to the screen to give it the impression of being played on a CRT monitor, and there is also a sense of depth between the borders of the machine and the screen, which sits noticeably lower and looks great. Pac-Man and the ghost horde do stand out of the background a little bit as well, and while it's subtle, it looks very nice.  

You can also choose to play with no border and just see the game itself with no artwork, which is a nice inclusion. The thing worth mentioning here is
that the aspect ratio of Pac-Man is a lot different than the 16X9 aspect everything has these days (it's almost wide-screen rotated 90 degrees), so there is quite a bit of real-estate wasted here, just like if you were playing it on any television or computer monitor. In short, when you play this game accurately sized to a display this's really freaking tiny.   

Next up, and one of the main reasons to buy this package in my humble opinion, is the outstanding Pac-Man Champion Edition. I won't bother reiterating what makes this game so amazing, but to put it short and sweet, it's Pac-Man for a newer age. It gets crazy hectic as you play, and it is actually even twitchier and more nerve-wrenching then the original or its 10 million spinoffs and sequels. It looks gorgeous, it controls fantastic, and the 3D looks great. Again, it's a somewhat subtle effect that primarily just distances the characters from the background, but a few things do jump out of the screen (mostly text and timers), and it helps this already great looking game look even better. Anyone who has ever had an even remotely passing interest in Pac-Man should give this one a shot; it improves on the original in every way possible while still completely maintaining the vibe and game play that we grew up loving. 

That said, the only issue here (and it's unfortunately a big one), is that this isn't the DX version... CE was followed up by the excellent "Deluxe Edition", which just refined and improved on CE in every way possible. Unless it's some kind of rights dispute, the only reason I could see not placing that here is that they intend on releasing it separately, and that's unfortunate, as it is definitely a better game. This game is still fantastic, but it hurts a little knowing there was an improved version they could have gone with instead.  

Last up on the PuckMan side is "Pac-Man Tilt", one of the two completely new games in this package. Unfortunately, it's the weakest member of the team, and feels like the worst cash grab on the cart. It would be completely arguable in my book to call this game shovelware, and I have a sneaking suspicion that not only was it made to be shoveled onto this compilation, it may not have even been a Pac-Man game when it started development. Basically, they took the animated Pac from the cartoon/Pac-Land world (the one with legs), and shoehorned him into a Sonic the Hedgehog clone. They then distinguished it from that blueprint by stripping out any and all charm, detail, or graphical flourish those games had, and throwing in terrible gyro controls in their place. This game consists pretty much of just running to the right, while tilting the DS to give you more acceleration and limited interaction with certain background elements (some platforms sway with the movement of the DS.)

There's nothing really "wrong" with this game, as it controls well enough and there are no alarming problems with it, the trouble is just that it's insanely derivative, boring as all hell, and straight up looks like garbage. There are virtually no environments to speak of outside of some neon Pac-Man icons and a few moving platforms, and the entire game is just one big snooze fest. On top of not being particularly good, it just doesn't feel like Pac-Man, and is nothing more than an attempt to place a known character into a game where they don't belong strictly for name recognition. What's even worse here is that you would expect the two new games on this cart (this and Galaga 3D) to you know, BE IN 3D, and this one does not even give you that option. Obviously the developers thought it would be too difficult to utilize the 3D effect while you were tilting the system around, and while that makes sense, I for one would have rather they ditched the motion controls and did something with the 3D. In short, this game is a minor diversion that you may play for a few minutes just to check out, but you will quickly forget it is even in the package. It became apparent to me pretty early in that collecting "pellets" loses a lot of its charm or excitement when you're not being chased by ghosts.


Now we move onto the Galaga side of things, where in my opinion we fare much better overall. First up is of course, the original arcade-classic, Galaga. It's basically the same story as with Pac-Man in that it’s a faithful emulation of the original hardware, with some subtle 3D effects, and the same border and screen options given to you in P-man. It looks and sounds perfect, the control is fine, and there is not a lot to really say other then there is a reason this game is still being played 30 years after it was released. It's simple in concept, but difficult as hell to play, has awesome pacing, and is easily one of the greatest coin-ops ever to grace the arcade.  

The only negative thing I could say about this port is that it feels a little slow to me. It doesn't really hamper the game play, and it might just be that the version in my MAME cabinet is of a different build or manufacturer, but it feels a little off to me, almost sluggish. Regardless though, it holds up, and with the added 3D effects, it's a treat to play it.

Next up is the remake of Galaga released on XBL last year (by the same team who did Pac-Man CE), Galaga Legions. I'd honestly never played this before, and all I can say is wow... This team ( Namco Bandai ) surely knows how to do a remake of an iconic game. I'd say that overall PMan CE is a "better" game and truer to the original then Galaga Legions is, but Legions is still an excellent shooter, and has rapidly become my favorite part of this compilation.



Legions doesn't necessarily come off "feeling" like Galaga, but it's still an excellent game that anyone who enjoys a solid shooter should devote some time to trying. In short, Legions tasks you with fighting off swarms of Galagas just like the original and it's sequels did, the difference now being that rather than them slowly soldiering into play one group at a time, they materialize in these "swarms" of ships that act more like a solid unit or a hive-collective. It may not have the greatest graphics you have ever seen, but watching these dozens of ships move around in unison is just awe inspiring, and I never tire of just watching the fluid dance they do across the screen. Often times there are so many enemies that they will quite literally fill the majority of the screen, leaving you a tiny little spot to maneuver in while you try to take them down. It's chaotic, hectic, and downright awesome.

Outside of the dramatic shift in enemy movement, Legions also changes up the traditional Galaga shooting by splitting your single-ship setup from the previous entries into a three-ship team that can be independently controlled. Your stick still controls your fighter, and you still hold down a single button to shoot (although this can be toggled to an automatic fire in the options), but to effectively use your team-ships, you have to press one of the four face buttons to detach them from you. Wherever you are on the playing field when you hit a button is where the ship is dropped, and the choice of button determines what direction the ship faces. The segmented ships can also be sent back to your fighter at any time by pressing the left-shoulder button, which then doubles or triples your shot respective to how many of your external ships are currently "attached' to you. It seems a little daunting at first, but you quickly fall into step with the game and handle dropping your team-ships every few seconds to better position them for the firefight.

This game just looks flipping sweet, and it makes the crazy action seem even more hectic when you're firing in multiple directions. Outside of it sometimes being a little difficult to see what you are doing with the insane amount of activity on the screen, it's for the most part responsive, fun, and one heck of a challenge. They do a nice job placing this game into the Galaga franchise by allowing you to capture new ships to increase your firepower just as before, the difference now being that they aren't your ships being captured. Every so often, a swirly little black-hole-thing will show up on screen, and once you have done enough damage to it, it will suck up any enemies present, effectively making them your own personal armada. It looks awesome, and it is just as thrilling as when you got that double-ship in the original game. The only issue here being that there seems to be a pretty small limit on how many ships you can gather, and often times I've seen what looks like 100 ships get sucked into the hole, only to see 12 or so come back out and join me. It can also become pretty difficult to keep them alive, as unlike the detachable ships in your unit that they cling to, captured ships die if they contact another Galaga. This seems like it would make sense, but it doesn't in terms of the gameplay, as you can normally drop your other ships anywhere and not worry about them colliding with enemy ships. Regardless though, it's a fun new element to the game, and it definately helps give a Galaga-vibe to the crazy multi-directional shooting action this game normally offers. 

Overall, I just can't express how much I love this game and enjoy watching its beautiful dance. Galaga has always been one of my favorite coin-ops, and this feels like a solid, respectful sequel that I'm happy to have in the franchise. That said, from what I understand, just like Pac-Man, there was also a Deluxe Version of this game released, and again, they have decided not to include that version here. I have never personally played Legions DX, so it's not as glaring an omission for me, but again, it reeks of double-dip action coming, and that kind of stinks...

Lastly, is the newest entry in the Galaga franchise, "Galaga 3D Impact". Similarly to Pac-Man Tilt, this game feels like it was just shoveled out there to pad this compilation. It doesn't feel like Galaga, and outside of having some similarly styled ships, and a "capture" mechanic, it seems to have nothing to do with the franchise what-so-ever. Ok, so what is it? Welp, it's a rail-shooter. A very straightforward, painfully charm-less rail shooter with serviceable graphics, barely there controls and repetitive, unexciting game play. This game also tries to shoe-horn in motion-controls, though thankfully you can bypass them with the stick if you choose to. There strangely does not seem to be a way to shut-off the gyro stuff, and it can get in the way while playing, which the devs obviously noticed since they included not one but TWO giant buttons on the touch screen for resetting your view.

There's nothing particularly "bad" about this game, it just feels dated, vapid and shallow, with the same four or five boring, repeating enemies and stagnant dead backgrounds that look sorta like they were ripped out of a "CD-ROM" game from ten years ago. Unlike "Tilt", this game does feature 3D in addition to gyro-controls, although it doesn't make any great use of either feature. You'll see a depth to the backgrounds to some degree, and the enemies do "pop" a little bit I suppose, but it's nothing exciting to look at, and it doesn't do anything to make the experience any fresher or more exciting than it was twenty years ago when it was called "Sewer Shark".

The only even minutely interesting part of this title is that you have an alt-fire "capture" shot that can absorb the essence of enemies, which will either unlock a new weapon or power-up existing ones. It's an interesting feature although it muddies the game play in my opinion, as I am constantly spending more energy trying to capture ships then shoot them, and the game does a piss-poor job of telling you what you're colecting or what enemies can actually be captured. There also does not appear to be any kind of level select option, so you have to start over from scratch on every play. For a portable title, that's not acceptable to me; I want to be able to vary my experience a bit, and without that option, I just won't be playing this particular game very often.


Wrapping up, I think this is a very solid little compilation of games here, especially if you look past the two crappy new games shoveled into the mix. I would strongly recommend this package, with the only caveat being that I fear we'll see a sequel with the deluxe versions of these remakes, and in that event there wouldn't be much reason to own these versions. That said, on a machine starved for content, this could be exactly what you are looking for right now. These are excellent exciting games that lend themselves perfectly to quick little stints on a handheld machine. If you already own Galaga Legions and Pac-Man CE (or their respective deluxe versions), I can't see recommending this just for the 3D options, but if you have no other way to experience these remakes, or simply want portable versions of them, this is an excellent addition to your limited 3DS library. 
This is a great compilation overall, I just wish they had pulled the two new titles out and replaced them with one of the 8 million other sequels these games already had. (A 3D Pacmania would have been welcome, as would Galaga 88). Oh well, maybe we'll see those on the Deluxe Edition if this one sells well enough. I've got the fever, do you? 


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