AGH Atari 2600 Review:

by Ebivision

How many times have you looked at the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man and shook your head in wonder as to how this game ever got released? Most of us were just so eager to play a home version that we gladly overlooked the game's faults. Many classic gaming enthusiasts even point to this game as the beginning of the end for Atari. One has to wonder if things would have been different if Eric Bacher had worked for Atari...

Pesco - "what Pac-Man should have been" crowed the attendees of Classic Gaming Expo '99 where Eric and his company Ebivision debuted this fantastic game. Building on the experience he gained when he released Alfred Challenge at the previous year's World of Atari show, Eric set out to "right one of the major historical wrongs" in videogame history. Simply, he decided to build a better Pac-Man. And build he did! Eric actually created a picture perfect version of Pac-Man for the 2600 right down to the finest details including true-to-arcade gameplay and best of all, NO FLICKER!

Unfortunately due to legal issues, Eric can't presently release Pac-Man as much as he'd like to. So in an effort to get his creation into the public's hands, he made some changes. Pac-Man becomes Pesco the Fish, 4 Ghosts become 3 Crabs, dots turn into plankton, a whole new maze is created and *presto*... Pesco lives!

Pesco box pic

Pesco is undoubtedly one of the finest games ever created for the 2600. The gameplay is truly superb and the attention to detail leaves little to be desired. Pesco consists of 9 levels of gameplay, but be warned getting to the last level is no easy chore. As you guide young Pesco around the maze, you have to evade Tribock the Crab and his two henchmen. You start the game with four lives and one objective, to clear each level by eating all of the plankton. You will also encounter four special clumps of plankton that glow in the dark and flash. This variety of plankton has more protein and gives Pesco extra power, allowing him to turn and eat the crabs. From time to time, special bonus seafood will also appear in the maze including seaweed, shellfish, and starfish. As you advance to the next level, the crabs move faster and become less vulnerable to the special plankton. This makes getting to the final level quite an accomplishment. In fact, Eric is offering a free game to anyone who can finish level 9 and then answer some questions on his web-site,

There are several details and issues that Eric addressed that help make Pesco a valued addition to anyone's game library. The most important, in my opinion, is the collision detection. Forget about dying when one of the enemies barely touches you. In Pesco the crabs must be halfway on top of you before you perish. On a related note, speed of movement through the maze is correct - when moving through the plankton, you move slower than the enemies, but in areas where there is no plankton, you stay ahead of the enemies. The enemy AI is right on target also. The crabs actually have some intelligence when pursuing you instead of just wandering around the maze in pre-defined patterns. Finally, the control is tight, as it should be in a game like this. When you push on the stick the response is immediate which makes taking those sudden turns an easier task.

One factor that needs to be looked at when rating a game like this is the design and packaging of the game. While this usually isn't a consideration when dealing with a new Playstation or PC game, it certainly adds to the appeal of new games for classic systems. In this area, I'm happy to say that Eric and his Ebivision partner, Igor Barzilai have set the standards by which all others must be measured! Pesco comes with a full-color glossy label on the cartridge which is superior to many of the ones used by Atari and other companies back in their heyday. The color instruction manual presents a short story about the adventures of Pesco along with the basic player's guide. Pesco even comes packaged in a full-color box which fits in nicely with other games in your collection and includes promotional cards for the company and its other games. Attention to details like this are important to classic game players and collectors, and Ebivision really shines in this area.

As with any game there are some drawbacks, however with Pesco they are very minor. The most noticeable is the lack of sound. Other than the noise that Pesco makes when eating the plankton, there really isn't any sound in the game. I'm not going to criticize to harshly in this area because it's very possible that there are other factors involved like a lack of coding space due to the cartridge size. Add in the fact that this game is 100 times better than anything I could hope to achieve in my lifetime, and you can see why I'm being lenient.

Some other minor complaints include the nine level limit in the game. I would think since the maze is the same, that after completing the ninth level (yea, right) the game could just keep repeating it and continue on. Again, I don't know the behind the scenes reality of making this happen so I can't be too critical. Finally, the box is a bit too flimsy. It seems to be made of thick paper stock but I'm actually afraid to handle it too much for fear that it will get damaged. I don't know a solution to this problem, I just know that it makes me nervous.

Pesco is an Atari 2600 owner's dream, a GREAT game in a GREAT package. The amount of work that went into this game is surely immeasurable. Pesco will defintiely keep you coming back to play over and over. When was the last time you found a 2600 game you could say that about? Here's something to think about: If Eric had released this game package right before Atari released their verion of Pac-Man, there is no doubt that he would be a very wealthy man today.

Title Pesco
Publisher Ebivision
System Atari 2600 (VCS)
Graphics 8
Sound 6
Gameplay 9
Overall 9
Reviewer John Hardie

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