One of Nintendo's most significant curios just snuck out on the Switch
Chapter and versus.
There were few highlights at Nintendo's 2003 conference - its lasting contribution to the annals of history is perhaps how it provided the dour set-up to the popular gaijin 4koma meme - but there were some flashes of inspiration. One of the more interesting announcements was Pac-Man Vs, Nintendo EAD's own take on Namco's long-running series that embraced the tangle of wires that was the system link, whereby Game Boy Advances could be tethered to a GameCube for a new kind of multiplayer.
Well, it was a new kind of multiplayer back then. The asymmetrical multiplayer (now there's a term you likely haven't heard in some time) was famously resurrected for the Wii U in what would end up being one of Nintendo's less successful consoles. For all its failings commercially, I had a huge soft spot for Nintendo's Wii U and its parade of eccentric games - things like Nintendo Land, which to this day still gets dusted off whenever friends assemble at mine.
So I've always been kind of curious to see where it all began, and rewind back to 2003 when Nintendo first started exploring the idea. But it's been a bit difficult to - Pac-Man Versus, despite taking centre stage at Nintendo's 2003 conference, never enjoyed a full release. It was instead bundled somewhat unceremoniously with R: Racing Evolution, and came out with such little fanfare that it passed me by. That, and conjuring up enough Game Boy Advances and link cables for the unholy tangle that was a system link session has always been a massive pain in the arse.
A port popped up on the Nintendo DS' Namco Museum, and now the whole thing's turned up on the Switch as part of its own Namco Museum, an 11 game compilation that's just gone live on the eShop for the fairly steep price of £29.99. Still, they're decent ports that come with the bonus of being able to play in Tate mode when undocked, meaning you can put your Switch on its side to make the most of all that screen real estate, and it's a beautifully packaged collection of games with the likes of Galaga '88, Dig Dug and SkyKid leading the way.
The real prize has to be Pac-Man Vs, though, given that this is the best version we've had to date. It's perfectly possible to play on a single Switch, though there's a free download on the store that'll enable you to link up with other Switch units and play the way god - or Miyamoto, in this case - intended, with one screen given over to the entire maze while the other hosts the ghost's more limited view of it all.
Is Pac-Man Vs any good, though? It's interesting enough, and you can sense that spark that set off a fairly destructive wildfire within Nintendo as it pursued the idea to its own dead end. There's an attraction to asymmetrical multiplayer that's undeniable, and it's exciting seeing it applied to Pac-Man's time-honoured formula. And, most importantly, it works. The idea's simple - you're either chasing as the ghosts or being chased as Pac-Man, with the roles reversing whenever Pac-Man's caught ensuring there's a nice balance to it all - even if there's never much meat added to those bones.
For amateur Nintendo historians like myself it's a fascinating curio, but its merits as a game have certainly faded: Nintendo moved the idea on in more substantial ways throughout the Wii U's life (and if you haven't played Nintendo Land, where the concept is made to really sing, then I implore you to do so!), while Pac-Man's benefitted from a meatier remix in the form of Championship Edition.
Is it worth £29.99 to try it out? I've certainly paid more to sample less enjoyable parts of Nintendo's history just out of curiosity, but I couldn't recommend you do the same. Still, there are plenty worse ways to spend that kind of money on the eShop right now, and I can't think of any that are quite as significant as this is, in its own curious way.