Watch out, arcades of the world, Gaming Hell is looking to root through your dumpsters in search for default dip-switch settings! Our review for this one was conducted on a few different versions- mostly Pac-Man Museum + on the Switch and MAME- but there was a disparity between MAME and other official versions, that being the score extend settings. Museum + and the Arcade Archives version default to lives being given out at 30K and 80K only, while MAME defaults and the Arcade Restoration Workshop listing for the dip-switches point to lives being given at 20K, 70K and every 70K thereafter. Which is the one true default? We, uh, don't know. No Pac & Pal manual has made itself evident on the internet to illuminate the situation, so while we started playing the game in MAME to get screenshots with the MAME defaults, we switched to the other setting afterwards. Maybe some of those older screenshots made it to the final product, who knows, this is being written while the article is in the 'oh God I haven't written enough I've got to hash something together before Ed reads this' phase of production on my writer cohort's end. But it felt pertinent to point it out. For some reason.

It's about time Pac-Man made his debut on Gaming Hell, don't you think?

Obviously, that means we're going to cover his (probably) least well-known arcade endeavour!

Let's go back a bit first and explain some Pac-Lore, specifically a part that interests me the most, the arcade sequels. Back when Pac-Man Fever was both a medical condition and a hit single by Buckner & Garcia, there were two very specific kinds of follow-ups to Pac-Man- Bally Midway-created ones and Namco-created ones. The Bally-Midway ones, possible due to Namco partnering with the company for Western distribution, were a response to Pac-Man's overwhelming success in Western arcades, to the point where they made a threatening flyer about unlicensed hacks and bootlegs, and they wanted more. Why wouldn't they? They weren't the only ones either, leading to General Computer Corp- due to an agreement with Atari to show the original manufacturers their speed-up / game enhancement kits rather than make them illicitly- showing Bally their Crazy Otto hack that would become Ms. Pac-Man with input from Namco, but that's a story best told by former GCC designer Steve Golson... But it also lead to a slew of other Pac-Man-tied games that were a bit too much for Namco. Pac-Man Plus, Jr. Pac-Man, Professor Pac-Man, even pinball games Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man and Baby Pac-Man... Some of these are very obvious cash-ins (with Professor Pac-Man being an infamous flop) but Ms. Pac-Man and Jr. Pac-Man (also by GCC) in particular go for refinement of the working formula rather than overhauling it, probably because they're essentially based off the Pac-Man code and modified from there. That's not necessarily a criticism, as Ms. Pac-Man is a beloved arcade game, just an observation (although Pac-Man Plus is a real piss-take, honestly, just look at the few changes they made!). In any case, Namco put their foot down and cut off ties with Bally-Midway after they pumped these out.

What was Namco's approach then? They took way longer to make their Pac-Man follow-ups, and in the early eighties there made just two that stuck with the maze game formula- Super Pac-Man and today's subject, Pac & Pal. I'll just briefly go over Super Pac-Man as its design seems to have informed Pac & Pal at least a little- rather than having to hoover up 244 dots (I didn't count them myself, that's from The Pac-Man Dossier) in each maze, you have to eat 31 fruits which are locked behind doors you can open either with a corresponding key found in the maze or busting the doors open with the Green Power Pellet that turns you into a giant-size Pac-Man (making the ghosts cower in fear, a nice touch). There's plenty of other new features here too- the ghost behaviour is altered to be less pattern-heavy, giant Pac-Man can use a super-speed button to zip around the maze, the bonus fruit is replaced with a small slot machine you stop rolling by picking up a star, bonus boards are now present similar to the enemy-free boards in Rally-X with no ghosts but a ticking-down bonus timer- and it adds up to making a significantly-different game from its predecessor. It certainly shows the difference in direction Namco took with Pac-Man follow-ups compared to Bally-Midway and GCC, a total upheaval of the concept rather than iteration upon iteration... Personally I never quite clicked with Super Pac-Man in the same way I did with Pac & Pal as we'll see, but it was important to mention as it set the scene for today's game and what these earlier Namco attempts at following up on Pac-Man looked like.

Speaking of, a year later in 1983 Namco released Pac & Pal which would be their last maze-chase Pac-Man game until 1987's Pac-Mania, and it acts as an iteration of sorts upon Super Pac-Man but takes it in yet another direction, resulting in a pretty unique Pac-Man game. The lock-and-key system of Super Pac-Man is retained with the keys replaced by playing cards but the item number is reduced even more with mazes starting with six items to collect (two of those being power-ups!) from the locked-off areas of the maze, eventually getting to a maximum of ten, oh my. Furthermore, you can't just grab all the cards immediately- only three doors can be opened before you have to grab at least one item to open another. After the absurdly over-the-top giant-size Pac-Man from the previous game, the power-ups are a little pared-down but still quite different from the rest of the series- now you get different power-ups depending on the board such as the Galaxian flag-ship, the Rally-X car or another Pac-Man (?), but they essentially give you the same weapon, a short-range projectile that stuns ghosts for a decent amount of time. This won't send them back to the ghost pen like previous games, so you'll want to be careful not to have them sit somewhere inconvenient (you can pass by them when stunned at least) but you do get the advantage of being able to hit ghosts ahead of you and even through walls now! Your other major defensive tool is a covered-over upside-down-T-shaped area of the maze with unique properties- ghosts can only pass through it horizontally making the vertical intersection fairly safe and they'll also be slowed down just like the wrap-around tunnel in the original game (with you only able to see their beady eyes). Luring them in there though, you're on your own on that one but it's something to implement in your game-plan to stay alive. I can't say for certain that the ghost behaviour is vastly different from the original game- they definitely still alternate between 'scattering' to their own corners then moving into 'chase' mode with their own behaviours, with mode changes being indicated by them stuttering for a moment like in Super Pac-Man- but knowing the basics of their behaviour in previous games does give you an advantage.

However, the star of the show is the Pal of the title, the little green cutie-pie Miru. A friend-shaped orb with an adorable red bow on her head, she wanders around the maze just like the ghosts but won't harm Pac-Man on contact. Instead, once Pac-Man opens one of the gates by picking up a card, she'll make a beeline for the item you unlocked and steal it, the cheeky sod! Alarmingly, she can also steal power-ups if you unlock their door and you certainly don't want her doing that. She'll actually be weighed-down by her stolen goods but she'll try and drag it to the ghost pen and remove it from play without you getting any points for it, but if you intercept her before she does you can get reap the benefits. As you clear boards and get further in, Miru gets faster when carrying objects and the playing cards may unlock doors further away from where you find them, so keeping tabs on her (as well as the ghosts) adds a layer of complexity to proceedings. In particular, you can use Miru to your advantage- she usually takes the long way around to the pen when she's grabbed an item so her movements are easy to predict in order to intercept her or make an item more convenient to grab in that moment, plus she can end a board early if you're pinned down by ghosts. While the Pac-Man who timer-scams away lives to eat another day, this also means you miss out on an ever-increasing Perfect bonus at the end of the round for eating everything, so you might want to use Miru to finish things off as a last resort, unless you're that greedy. Her inclusion is a neat little wrinkle in the game and how you approach mazes, and it helps that she's as cute as a button.

The sum total of these new mechanics and changes create an odd game in the Pac-Man style for sure, and I can understand why some would prefer the older games... But I'm a real fan of this one. In some ways the game is easier to get into than other entries- you have in theory way less items to worry about per board even if the total increases as you get further in, Miru can help you reach the next round if you don't mind taking a points hit, the power-ups are a bit more effective at taking ghosts out for longer, and so on. Furthermore, you might think that the reduction of power-up items on each board would make the game more difficult, but while they're less plentiful, the projectile nature of them makes them a lot more effective at taking ghosts out of the picture, and for longer than previous games too. They also play into a bit of risk-reward- you can rack up nearly 10000 points by using the power-ups consecutively (the score-increase from hitting multiple ghosts per power-up stacks if you grab the second one, so you can get 1600 points per ghost on the second use) but you'll either have to wait to use them near the end so you won't have as much to do while defenseless, or risk doing the whole round without any defense beyond the covered area of the maze to maximise your profits. Faffing about chasing after ghosts with power-ups also means Miru could snaffle some points under your nose if you're a bit too unlock-happy with the doors, and while that's small potatoes compared to the points multiple ghost-stuns get you, points is points after all. Even worse, she might end the round before you get to use your power-ups!

That said, you're kind-of constantly juggling a few different factors as you play- which doors you've opened (meaning both where you can escape to and which items you can grab), whether you can open any more or have to grab items before you can, where both the ghosts and Miru are in the maze, whether Miru's nicked anything and where she's headed, that sort of thing. As a result, it's a nicely-paced and balanced game that simultaneously has you trying to keep up with multiple threats and elements to take advantage of while also being that little bit easier to get into than the original game, at least for me. As a result, I was able to really pretty stuck into it! The thing is, the original Pac-Man, I will freely admit, is a little before my time (not being alive during its heyday gives me a good enough excuse, right?) even if I absolutely acknowledge its place in video game history and that there's plenty to get stuck into in terms of learning the ghost patterns and strategies. Playing it again for a little research for this article, I did start to get more of a sense of how to play well (don't expect me to get to Round 256 anytime soon) but when it comes to maze-chase games, I prefer to look a little further along the timeline if you get me. Pac & Pal, then, adds enough to the genre with its own unique foibles and twists that I found it really engaging and moreish, with multiple screenshot sessions ending with 'go on, one more run', always a good sign.

As for points to criticise, one similarity this one shares with Super Pac-Man that I wish it didn't is the lack of wrap-around tunnels- you kind-of miss them if you play the original Pac-Man or Ms. Pac-Man before this one, it makes the maze feel a little cramped and claustrophobic. The t-shaped intersection does fill its role as an escape route but being able to get from one side to the other a little quicker would've been nice. Also, I must admit I'm not a huge fan of the bonus board where you have to uncover playing cards to find dollar signs and not the Blinky which ends your run. It's a little weaker than something like Galaga's Challenging Stage or even the bonus boards from Super Pac-Man. At first they seem completely random- sometimes you'll uncover Blinky at the first card, others you'll avoid him entirely- but as explained in this Arcade Archives stream (thanks for the heads-up, Lee!) there's actually a system behind it. Counting down from top to bottom and left to right, each card corresponds to a possible value on in the 10s part of your score (1-9 then 0), and Blinky is always hiding behind the one that matches your score when you enter the bonus board. It's just a little dry is all, the only real flavour being that Miru's location (for a points multiplier) isn't as simple to predict. The skill-based bonus boards of Super Pac-Man are definitely my preferred style between the two, so maybe they should've just brought those back instead!

One definite area of improvement is the presentation, it's a surprising highlight of this one. It doesn't do anything too fancy and keeps the maze in the inky darkness it's known for, but it works with what it has with the adorable design of Miru and the new stunned ghost animations. They may no longer turn into a pair of disembodied eyes but now the different weapons cause them to spin wildly, get scared, start dancing furiously, that sort of thing, it's a neat little touch. More than that though, the audio for the game's been given a real boost, as this is the first Pac-Man game with music playing during gameplay! It's a very catchy tune as well, and while I'm sure some players will miss the incessant wakka-wakka-wakka of old, that's replaced with the slightly-too-loud noises you get from holding the weapon button down so you're still catered to there. Sadly, one strange omission is that the 'coffee break' sequences from previous games are gone entirely, which is a bit of a shame as a little pantomime with the ghosts and Miru would've been fun. Still, there's plenty of charm and character present here for a game of this vintage, with the music really adding to things.

Overall, I have a pretty big soft spot for Pac & Pal, and I hope taking a look at what it does differently from the rest of the Pac-Man series helps show you why I like this one. It has its own flavour among Pac-Man games, both the ones that came before it and the ones that came afterwards- in terms of arcade sequels, Pac-Mania and Pac-Man Arrangement (the first one) would take the original Pac-Man template and run with that, adding things to the existing framework like new maze layouts, dash pads and jumping instead of taking anything from Pac & Pal which is something of a missed opportunity perhaps. It's completely understandable, though- the original Pac-Man worked and sold well, while Pac & Pal is more of a footnote in the series' vast history that, judging from its lack of rereleases until the late 2000s (more on that later), probably didn't make a huge splash in arcades. I can get why, but I really got into this one- you can clear boards pretty quickly when you know what you're doing, but it also has you juggling a few different variables at once and has an interesting approach to power-up usage that really differs from others in the series, so there's something to dig into with this one if you give it a try. Fortunately the game is a lot more easily-available now than it used to be thanks to its inclusion in more Namco collections and an Arcade Archives release too, so if you've never played it before or never even heard of it before, you should take the chance to do so, it's a solid little maze-chaser that deserves a little more attention.

For giving Pac-Man a cute little buddy, Pac & Pal is awarded...

In a sentence, Pac & Pal is...
Probably my favourite arcade Pac-Man game.

And now, it's that time, folks!

First and foremost, we really have to address the Western release.

Pac-Man & Chomp Chomp is a localisation of Pac & Pal that gets rid of Miru and replaces her with Chomp Chomp, Pac-Man's dog from the 1982 Hanna-Barbera cartoon series. This doesn't really make any sense- why is Pac-Man's dog taking point items to the ghost's lair? Is he some kind of double-agent?- but that's pretty much all that's changed, it's purely cosmetic. Unfortunately, information on where and how this was released is thin on the ground, but at the absolute minimum we can confirm it's not some weird bootleg hack- it's listed in Namco Video Games Catalog 1978-1984 under this name (thanks to chattercentil for finding this) although the exact region this catalogue was released in is unknown. Via the Pac-Man Wiki, I found Arcade Archive's Pac-Man and Chomp Chomp section (totally different kind of Arcade Archives, we'll see them in a minute) which includes a photo of a Namco seal for the game indicating it's for Beneleux only, which has lead many to believe this variant was a European exclusive. However, there are multiple unsourced claims about the game's distribution in the West that will not be reprinted here for fear of spreading misinformation. Whatever the case may be, this version of the game has never been rereleased in any form, as all future releases use the Pac & Pal version instead. Quite right too, Miru's clearly better than Chomp Chomp, fight me.

Let's have a look at some home ports!

There's, uh, not a lot actually, but gotta go through 'em.

First, something we can't play- Namco History Vol. 3 on Windows '95 from 1998. This is part of a series of Namco rereleases on Windows computers from the late '90s and is a neat collection of Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Super Pac-Man, Pac & Pal, Dig Dug and Dig Dug II, complete with little art galleries and desktop accessories like icons and mouse pointers. I had no luck getting this to work so I can't show you much else, but here's the GameFAQs entry, here's a video showing the gallery and here's the ISO on Internet Archive.

... That's it for '90s ports. No, really. Pac & Pal never made it to the Namco Museum series on PS1.

It was only in the late 2000s that the game started to reappear with any kind of regularity, so let's waste no time and just blast through these.

The Wii ports are found on Namco Museum Remix from 2007 and Namco Museum Megamix from 2010.

These are notable for including a menu in-game for adjusting lives, score extends and screen size, plus there's two-player alternating play.

It also has an adorable cabinet shaped like Miru, aww!

Between those two is the Xbox 360 port, included in Namco Museum: Virtual Arcade from 2008.

Nothing fancy here beyond being able to adjust the number of starting lives and a cute border based on the flyer.

Next, we have two museums to visit. First, Pac-Man Museum from 2014 for Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Steam.

These ones probably require a little extra text so we can't whip past 'em, what a shame. The first Pac-Man Museum was developed by Mine Loader Software, a Chinese company who mostly seem to do porting work including the Taito Memories series on PS2 and it's... Eh. It's a pretty basic set with a Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures-themed interface (you can unlock characters and items from the show) but simultaneously has the best and worst version of Pac & Pal. It has the most complete set of dip-switches of any version so far- lives, score extends and difficulty- plus a round select feature letting you start from any round you've already cleared. The problem is there's no alternating two-player, no resizing of the screen (what you see above is what you get, better find your binoculars) and the PC version I was able to play runs these games like a turd with stuttering and the music speeding up and down at random. Pretty sure my creaky gaming rig should be able to run a 1983 arcade game better than this. You won't have the opportunity to find out though, it's been delisted and essentially replaced with the + version. Oh, one more thing, there were Wii U and 3DS versions planned but they were cancelled due to 'delayed development', ominous.

The other museum is, uh, Pac-Man Museum +, released in 2022 for the Playstation 4, Xbox One, Switch and Steam.

So this sure sounds like it should just be an upgraded version of the previous rerelease, but this iteration, developed by longtime Namco collaborators Now Production, is actually completely different. Most of the games from the first set are back (except Ms. Pac-Man, who was also removed from other games in this set due to ongoing legal issues) with a few more added but the Ghostly Adventures theming is gone, replaced with a customisable arcade that features a jukebox with unlockable music, a Gashapon™ machine (hey, they insist on the ™, not me) for getting new figures for decoration, a vending machine for more furniture and each game has goals to unlock more to make your very own arcade that is filled entirely with Pac-Man games. You also have to earn in-game coins to play until you achieve every single in-game goal for a free pass (good luck with that one, bozo, you'll be grinding Pac-Man 256 for a while) but the game is very generous with them at least. As for Pac & Pal itself- unlocked by playing Pac-Land twice- this version has screen resizing but no tate option on Switch and has no dip-switch options. Ouch. I've also had the sound glitch out on me a few times while playing (you can at least pause to fix it) but still, not great. The one bonus here is that the instruction card is translated, albeit only as part of the border art with no way to zoom in, which is a shame because it's amazing.

Most of these options are sub-optimal, then. The closest to a definitive version is the 2022 Arcade Archives rerelease on Switch and PS4.

As with all of Hamster's rereleases, this is not stuffed with extra features but it has enough- the original Japanese arcade version (no Chomp Chomp version for you), a Hi Score Mode (get the highest score on one single credit) and a Caravan Mode (you have only five minutes of gameplay to get the highest score possible) with online leaderboards for all modes, plus a few basic visual options and filters, dip-switches, a manual and so on. There's a couple of extra settings including an added round display option (the game never actually tells you what round you're on, surprisingly!), a fix to a score-display bug once you break the million barrier and an explanation of the difficulty dip-switches (apparently they were marked as unused in documentation but do alter difficulty which you're allowed to adjust as you please here). The completeness of the dip-switch options, plus the ability to rotate the screen for tate playing on the Switch puts this above most other versions! It's not perfect unfortunately as it does have some audio crackling issues with the music- while real PCB footage seems to show that there is a little audio crackle on the real board (specifically as the song loops), the Arcade Archives version seems to have it slightly more than intended. Can't win 'em all.

I'm not sure where else to put this but two other games have call-backs to Pac & Pal's music!

The DS version of Pac Man Vs. included in Namco Museum DS has a remix of the whole Pac & Pal soundtrack by Manabu Namiki!

Also, the Pac-Man: Championship Edition de-make in Namcot Collection / Namco Museum Archives Vol. 1 uses the Pac & Pal theme for its results screen.

One more miscellaneous thing- the Japanese Famicom version of Pac-Man and several other contemporary home ports use art from the Pac & Pal flyer for the box art. Cute

I couldn't find anywhere else to put that really important fact in here, you see.