As unlikely as it may sound, Pac-Man suits up as a short order cook in Pac-Man Pizza Parlor, a Diner Dash-esque restaurant management game from Namco Networks that brings a touch of arcade game nostalgia to a decidedly casual genre.
The story, told through comic book panels, introduces us to Cathy, a young woman whose father runs the local pizza joint. After a ghost gets into some mischief and causes an accident, the old man hits his head and loses his memory, leaving him laid up in hospital and unable to run the shop. He mumbles something about putting a quarter into the Pac-Man machine. Cathy pulls the old machine out of storage, pops in a quarter, and out pops Pac-Man ready to help run the shop.
The restaurant is divided into two sections: the front-end counter where Cathy takes customers’ orders and serves the food, and the back-end food preparation area where Pac-Man puts together the orders. Players get to control both Cathy and Pac-Man.
As customers arrive and place their orders at the counter, the items needed to complete each order appear in Pac-Man’s area and you’ll need to click on them in turn to have Pac-Man collect them all. The food then pops onto the counter for Cathy to serve. You’ll start off simply with one-step drinks (coffee and soda), but will soon progress to foods that require multiple ingredients (such as tomato salad, which involves Pac-Man first racing over the lettuce, then the tomato) and various kinds of pizzas and other hot dishes.
In typical time management game fashion, you’ll have to earn a certain amount of cash to be able to advance to the next day. In between levels you can use the cash you’ve earned to purchase upgrades for the restaurant, like speedier shoes for Cathy, more space to put things, different costumes for Cathy, and aesthetic decorations for the restaurant. At the end of each week, you’ll play an unremarkable match-3 mini-game to represent Cathy searching her Dad’s house trying to find an item that will jog his memory.
In terms of game design, Pac-Man Pizza Parlor has all of the important bases covered. You can cue up moves in advance, and easily cancel them by right-clicking. There are even numbers that appear next to each customer that let you know the order they arrived in so you can prioritize which ones to serve first.
There are plenty of little homages to the Pac-Man arcade game, like snippets of the classic Pac-Man music theme woven into the soundtrack, and the fact that ghosts will sometimes appear in the kitchen and you can earn extra cash if Pac-Man eats them – either by waiting until they turn into fruits or eating enough yellow power pellets to turn them blue.
The game is fun, but never really approaches the fast-paced insanity of other time management titles (or the Pac-Man arcade game, for that matter). In fact it wasn’t until level 40 or so (out of 50 in the basic story mode) that I began to feel seriously challenged thanks to a combination of moving conveyor belts that can trap Pac-Man along the top or bottom of the screen, mazes that become harder to navigate through, and ghosts that actually start moving – albeit only to one square away and back – meaning you have to be more alert about where Pac-Man is at any given time.
It’s worth noting though, too, that completing the first story mode unlocks an Expert mode that is significantly more challenging. There’s also an Endless mode to round out the package.
Pac-Man Pizza Parlor won’t go down as a classic time management game in the same way that the original coin-operated Pac-Man is considered an arcade classic. The upgrades aren’t very creative, and some of the arcade references – like Pac-Man’s ability to eat ghosts – doesn’t have a huge impact on the gameplay. Nevertheless, there are a lot of levels to enjoy and time management fans should definitely check out the demo.