While online play is great and an essential part of any successful multiplayer game in 2018, nothing can beat the experience of playing a game with friends in the same room. Everything from the trash talk to the tension of a good match is heightened when players share a physical space together, and it’s for that reason that unique local multiplayer titles really standout. One of the greatest examples is Namco’s Pac-Man Vs., which is still a blast today despite the fact that the GameCube original came out 15 years ago on December 2, 2003.
A unique collaboration between Namco and Nintendo, Pac-Man Vs. was developed exclusively for Nintendo GameCube. Unlike the vast majority of titles for the system, it also required players to have a Game Boy Advance in order to play it. This unique design choice made it one of the major selling points for the Game Boy Advance link cable, alongside Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles and The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords.
It was designed for four players and delivered a very different spin on the classic Pac-Man gameplay. The player with the Game Boy Advance gets to control Pac-Man, while the rest of the players control ghosts with GameCube controllers. The goal is familiar: Pac-Man attempts to eat all of the pellets while the ghosts try to defeat their opponent by running into him. But it’s also the perfect blend of old and new.
Local Multiplayer Doesn’t Get Better Than Pac-Man Vs.
Pac-Man Vs. is one of the first asymmetrical games to appear on a Nintendo system and that makes it unique. While this type of multi-screen gameplay has become more common thanks to the Nintendo Switch and Wii U, it was much rarer at the time. The ghosts all have a limited 3D view of the board (which can be extended by eating fruit) as seen on the television, while the Pac-Man player with the Game Boy Advance can view the entire screen (which sports a classic 2D graphical style like the original arcade game).
It’s a brilliant piece of gameplay design, as it not only balances out the gameplay (it’d be far too easy for the ghosts to win if they always knew where Pac-Man was), but it also explains why the ghosts in past Pac-Man games didn’t just corner him immediately. Due to its local requirements, matches often devolve into screaming contests as the ghosts try to cooperate in order to take down Pac-Man, while the other player boasts whenever they are able to outsmart their opponents. It’s a complete blast, and to make things even more chaotic, the Pac-Man becomes invisible once there are less than 25 pellets left.
However, this unique gameplay of Pac-Man Vs. wound up being both a blessing and a curse. The requirement of a GameCube link cable and a Game Boy Advance made the asymmetrical experience possible, but it also greatly limited the target audience for the game. As such, those that wound up playing the party game had a blast with it, but a large percentage of people simply couldn’t justify purchasing a game, a link cable, and a handheld system if they didn’t already own them.
It also wasn’t released individually but as a bundle with the middling 3D platformer Pac-Man World 2, which had originally released a year prior. Nobody seemed to have any confidence in Vs. selling well, so it never really had a chance to become anything more than a novelty at the time it released.
Pac-Man Vs. Has a Renewed Legacy
Thankfully, both Namco Bandai and Nintendo have kept the legacy of Pac-Man Vs. alive over the years. Back in 2007, the game was included in Namco Museum DS, and last year it was released for Nintendo Switch as part of Namco Museum. Both of these versions retain the asymmetrical gameplay in different ways, as Nintendo DS owners use their own screens to play while two Nintendo Switch systems are needed for the latest version to work.
While the system requirements are hefty, only one person actually needs a copy of the game for players to play it. This is thanks to the Nintendo DS’ download play, and Namco putting up Pac-Man Vs. as a free download on the Nintendo eShop. It may have taken over a decade, but finally more people than ever before are getting to experience the true brilliance of the multiplayer title. Nintendo Entertainment Analysis and Development’s design might have been ahead of its time, but the technology has finally caught up.
So, the next time you’re looking to have some local multiplayer fun on Nintendo Switch, I highly recommend checking out Pac-Man Vs. as part of the Namco Museum. Not only is the core gameplay an absolute delight, but there are six different maps that all offer up a slightly different challenge for players. It’s truly one of the high points of the Nintendo GameCube’s game library, and some smart preservation has allowed for new generations to still enjoy its genius asymmetrical gameplay.