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Retro Review : Pac-In-Time



Kalisto/Namco - 1994 - SNES

Overview:
Pac-In-Time is a puzzle platformer developed by Kalisto, and published by Namco for the Snes.  Pac-In-Time acts as a sequel of sorts to Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures (Hello! Pac-Man in Japan). In the game, Pac-Man’s nemesis, the Ghost Witch, has sent you back in time, to when you were a younger Pac Boy. To return home, you must navigate the game’s 51 levels, and defeat the games boss, the Gum Monster.

 

Gameplay:

While it follows the story line of the previous Pac-Man game (bringing back the Ghost Witch, and Gum Monster plot) the gameplay is very different from Pac-Man 2. Instead of controlling Pac via a slingshot, you now get to take full control of his movements. You also get to use 4 different abilities to help you navigate each level. Each of these 4 abilities can be acquired by leaping through one of the 4 colored rings that are scattered throughout each of the levels. The Yellow Rings give you a pellet gun, allowing you to fire Pac-dots at enemies; the Green Rings give you a rope, that can be used to swing on ceilings, the Red Rings give you a hammer attack, that can be used against enemies or to break walls and floors, and the Blue Rings allow Pac-Man to swim underwater, and also allow him to shoot a bubble jet from his mouth that can damage underwater enemies. Some levels begin with 1 or all of these abilities, but you often have to gather them to proceed. These 4 abilities are vital to help you collect the Pac-dots spread throughout the levels. The only way to open the exit door and move on to the next level is to gather all the Pac-dots in each level, indicated by the counter in the lower left of the screen. 
 

When it comes to the actual gameplay, that’s where we run into some problems.
To put it lightly; the game is broken. It starts off with a boring 4 minute cut scene  and then throws you right into the game. The game offers you little explanation of what to do (the occasional arrow points you where to go in the first level) or what each Ability does, (it took me almost 30 levels before I knew Pac-Man could pull items with the Rope Ability) and each level is full of glitchy design problems. If you walk against any wall in the game, you will stick to it, the swinging mechanic feels so odd and makes it extremely difficult to build any momentum, and the game is littered with poor level design and 1 hit kills, via: boulders, acid water and moving platforms (if even one pixel touches the top of you, its instant death) The game also has the normal Pac-Man ghosts, which are often hovering around waiting to attack you. The only way to damage these ghosts is to find a power pellet, and then jump into them. The problem is, once you grab a power pellet, they will often fly away, and out of your reach, returning once the power pellet effect wears off, to attack you again. It doesn’t help that each hit from them takes away 1/4th of your life. The game does have fruit and other foods scattered throughout the level that can restore your health, but are often clustered in one big pile, and put far away from the dangers of the game. 

 

One other big annoyance is that you sometimes have to find secret passages to activate switches or gain abilities needed to proceed. The problem is, once you find one of these secret areas, you have to find your way out completely blind, because the game doesn’t let you see the hidden path once you enter it (most games will make these areas transparent once you walk into them, so you can SEE WHERE THE HELL YOU’RE GOING!). This often leads to 5 minutes of jumping around, hidden behind screen, trying to find you way through, or back out. All of these glitches and poor levels designs don’t only make the game longer then it needs to be, but just make it tedious and no fun to play. 

 

Conclusion:

 As much as I wanted to like Pac In Time, I just couldn’t. Pac in Time is another one of those games that had interesting ideas, and the potential to be a good game, but just completely pissed it down their leg when it came to development. This was another one of those games that I ended up beating out of pure spite, rather than enjoyment. It’s always hard to take a game character and throw them into a new genera, and it can often end very badly. Pac-Man has had an especially hard time making these leaps; with Pac-Man 2 not being a very popular game either, and the Pac-Man World games often falling short. I will always be a big fan of the Pac-Man franchise, but I think when it comes to gaming, Pac should stick close to the maze. It’s a scary world out there for him, and I just don’t think he is tough enough to handle it. 

 

Retro Review : Clock Tower



Human Entertainment - 1995 (JP) - Super Famicom (SNES)

Overview:

 Clock Tower is the first in a popular series of survival horror games, and is regarded as the first of the genera. In it you play as Jennifer Simpson; an orphan girl that has been adopted along with her 3 friends by a rich, reclusive man named Mr. Barrows. Mr. Barrows resides in a large mansion known as Clock Tower; named after the imposing tower that resides in the center of the mansion. Shorty after arriving at the Barrows estate, chaos breaks loose when the girls begin to disappear. Soon, Jennifer and the other girls begin being hunted by a deranged little man armed with a pair of large, ghastly scissors. Jennifer now must solve the mystery of the Clock Tower if she ever wants to escape the Barrows mansion alive. 



Gameplay:

 For a survivor horror game, Clock Tower uses an interesting play mechanic. The game operates with a point and click system similar to adventure games like Monkey Island and Myst. You control a cursor and use it to command Jennifer’s actions within the mansion. You can move her; make her run or walk, or investigate doors and objects. Items can be collected and used via an inventory system by clicking and dragging the item to an area and clicking the action button. The rooms of the mansion will be full of searchable areas and when you scroll over an area that can be investigated, the cursor will turn from an arrow into a box shape. This system allows for plenty of exploration in the mansion and challenges the player to seek out the clues needed to progress. Finding the hidden items, discovering the areas to you can hide behind, and seeking out hidden passage ways. Unlike many adventure games of the time, the puzzle solving is often delayed due to the constant pursuit of Scissorman. Until you are able to shake your pursuer, puzzle solving and item collecting must be put on hold in order to survive. 



For both a point and click adventure and for a Super Famicom game, Clock Tower is still able to be a rather frightening game. The game sets a very dark and ominous mood from the very beginning with its haunting music and graphics. The dark Mansion hallways and dilapidated scenery begin to make the player feel on edge, even paranoid. And once young Bobby Barrows, the Scissorman, shows up, the player will begin to fear every new room, every new door, wondering if he is hiding somewhere within. The game will also randomly attack Jennifer when she searches certain areas. Sinks will pour blood or maggots, the T.V will show ghastly images, hands will burst forth from a mirror to attack. These actions are random, and are often a shock to the player. When these events occur, Jennifer is sent into a state of panic and fear. This is indicated by the color of Jennifer’s picture in the left corner. Blue means perfectly fine, yellow and orange mean danger, and when Jennifer’s background turns red, she could be killed by these horror events. Once one is triggered, the player must rapidly press the action button. This will allow Jennifer to fight back and survive the encounter. This is also how you must survive the attacks by Bobby. If Bobby engages you in attack, you must quickly tap the action button. If you fail, it doesn’t matter Jennifer’s color, she will be killed by the Scissor Man. 



One of Clock Tower’s most memorable features is its branching story and variety of endings. The path Jennifer takes in the game can change drastically by just opening one door, or picking up one item early. Each decision made leads you closer to one of the games many endings. 
Every room you enter and explore, the order in which you acquire items, the direction you travel first, all of these will drastically change the outcome of your play. Sadly for the player, many of these endings will turn out poorly for Jennifer. One of the best examples of this is the car that can be found in the Masions garage. Searching the car will expose a key, and after a few attempts the car will start and Jennifer can escape. While this is one of the games endings, it always ends in Jennifer’s death. There are only a handful of “good” endings; meaning ones where Jennifer survives the night, and getting the games best ending requires a perfect play. The problem is, there are really no clues or hints as to what the player must do to get the best endings. It really comes down to trail and error by the player, making the correct guesses and experimenting with the different outcomes. This can be one of the most frustrating aspects of Clock Tower’s game play. 

 

Conclusion: 
The fact that Clock Tower was never released in the US is a real shame (though luckily you can now play a translated version by downloading a rom). While it can be vague and a bit frustrating at times, Clock Tower is one the more interesting entries in the Survival Horror series. Its blend of horror and adventure game play mixes together smoothly, leaving you with a challenging and creepy game. Even with its 16-bit graphics, Clock Tower is able to put the player on the edge of their seat, and offers plenty of good scares. While the game won’t necessarily make you scream or hide under the blankets (I assume), it is still able to put the player on edge, anticipating their every move. The game is able to stay fresh for a long time, due to its random changes and  multiple endings. The games relativity short game play also makes it easy to pick up and play. Clock Tower is a definite must play for adventure game fans and survival horror fans alike. When it comes to SNES era games, Clock Tower is one of those gems that often get overlooked. Do yourself a favor, and download a rom. I’ll see you in the Cradle under the Star….

 

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