Groans of anguish, at least from some quarters, greeted the debut of the Atari VCS edition of Pac-Man. It seemed to be just a shadowy, flickering echo of the Taito/Midway blockbuster that has made the whole country goofy about gobble games.

The computer version of the world's most popular maze-chase is bound to get a warmer reception from rank and file gamers than the videogame cartridge which preceded it to market. Not only is the play-action good, highlighted by a reasonable responsiveness to manipulation of the joystick, but the on-screen layout is much more similar to the pay-for-play machine. The elements that made the coin-op a classic are present in this 400/800 ROM cartridge, including multiple levels of difficulty, a variety of bonus prizes that rise in value as play continues, and differentiation among the four goblins who chase Pac-Man through the maze.

The publisher has responded to the challenge of producing a set of useful instructions for this widely known game. The full-color, glossy rules booklet which accompanies the cartridge is definitely one of the most attractive ever produced for a home game, and it has a lot of good bits of advice for Pac-Maniacs. The eight-page folder might not be the best approach for a totally unfamiliar title but it works perfectly for this game.

Of particular help in formulating strategy is the page headed "Pac-Man Experts Corner". Here, in chart form, is everything the thinking arcader needs to know about the various playfields that comprise the program for this "chase and be chased" contest. Shown is a picture of the bonus nugget which appears on each playfield, the value of the nugget in question, speed ratings for Pac-Man, Blinky (the fastest) and the rest of the goblins, the amount of time the goblins stay blue after Pac-Man chomps one of each maze's four power pills and the number of blinks a blue goblin makes before turning its normal color. A player armed with such data stands a much better chance of using his or her three Pac-lives more intelligently than arcaders who blunder blindly around the labyrinth.

The 400/800 Pac-Man still lacks a few of the frills of the original but the essence of the gobble game comes through in fine shape.