Much as a hockey loving father would take pride in his kids shining on the ice, I find it extremely gratifying to watch my six-year-old daughter excel when playing video games.
She is in many ways my equal when we play Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga-I love it when she figures out a puzzle before I do-and she has already surpassed my facility with Canabalt, a simple iOS platformer that involves running across the roofs of collapsing buildings (try as I might, I cannot beat her high score of 4,995 metres, which she achieved casually one sweaty afternoon while standing in a roller coaster queue at Canada's Wonderland).
But my greatest pride? Her burgeoning Pac-Man skills.
Pac-Man & Galaga Dimensions, released last Tuesday for Nintendo 3DS, contains three Pac-Man games, including the original Pac-Man, Pac-Man Championship edition (which debuted to rave reviews on Xbox Live Arcade in 2007), and a cute 3DS-only side-scrolling platformer called Pac-Man Tilt in which Pac-Man runs and jumps and players use the device's gyroscope to tilt swinging platforms. It also features a trio of Galaga games, including the 30 year old arcade classic, an updated version dubbed Galaga Legions, and a 3DS-exclusive 3-D shooter dubbed Galaga 3D Impact that uses the handheld's motion sensors to shift and aim the camera.
After watching me play these games for a while, my daughter asked if she could have a turn. I thought she'd go straight for the Pac-Man platformer-which she would naturally liken to another of her favourite games, New Super Mario Bros. Wii-but I was mistaken. Her heart was set on the original Pac-Man. That's my girl, thought I as I handed over the 3DS.
I should note here that this version of the original Pac-Man is about as faithful a recreation as can be managed on a handheld. The mazes feel small-a necessary consequence of rendering a vertically oriented game on a horizontally oriented screen-but they are exactly the same as veteran players rememeber, and the 3DS thumbpad does a surprisingly good job of emulating the analogue feel of a classic joystick. Best of all, you can opt to make the game look and feel as though it's being displayed on a stand-up arcade box or tabletop machine. Choose the former and the maze will appear to gently slope away from you, gently curving at the edges as it would on an old cathode ray tube screen. Select the latter and you'll lose the slant but keep the curves. The arcade art running along the sides of the screen can be seen in both editions.
My kid chose the tabletop edition-my personal favourite for the last quarter century-and opted to play sans 3-D effects.
Her first few tries resulted in groans of frustration as Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde chased her down and caught her time and again. And when she finally managed to finish the first maze her squeal of joy was cut short by a look of incredulity as she said, "What? This is the exact same level as the last one, dad. Is this game broken?"
Despite her disappointment in the game's lack of variety, she kept at it. And once she hit upon the key to the game-waiting until most or all of the ghosts drew near before chomping a power pellet so that she could become the hunter rather than the hunted-she was hooked.
Just like that she was suddenly a Pac-Man pro. Her maze navigation and ghost avoidance skills improve daily. It's only a matter of time and practice before her nimble little thumb and digital-native mind make her a better player than I ever was or could hope to be.
One minor annoyance with the game, however, is that there is no local high score table. A curious omission, given that one of the reasons so many people played these games in their heyday was to see how they stacked up against everyone else. A single high score is posted at the top of the screen, but that won't let me track my daughter's progress as she slowly inches her way up to top my best score.
Also, there is only one user profile, and no way to reset it. That means once you unlock one of the game's achievements, it stays unlocked for good. That sucks some of the fun out of the experience in a household like mine, where one player ends up earning all the achievements first. (It's worth noting that other 3DS games, including Resident Evil: Mercenaries, also disallow players to delete data. Some see this as a sneaky way of making consumers think twice about purchasing a used copy of these games.)
These setbacks aside, my daughter and I have been having lots of fun with Namco Bandai's window back to the games of years past. She enjoys Pac-Man Championship Edition and the original Galaga as well, though she rarely spends more than a few minutes with them before heading back to Pac-Man.
I think tonight's bedtime story will be an embellished version of the semi-true tale of how Pac-Man's inventor was inspired by a partially eaten pizza pie. I suspect she'll be as tickled by that as she is the game itself.