If there's one thing to come out of the eighties and early nineties, it's... well, okay, it's crappy Australian soap operas. But if there are two things to come out of the eighties and early nineties, they're crappy Australian soap operas and an overabundance of Pac-Man clones.
Yes, for a good fifteen years or so it seemed that every software company out for a fast buck considered the way to go to be throwing some ghosts, some dots, and a dot-eating hero into a maze and rushing the resulting product to stores faster than they could scream "unoriginal!". Many of these games were good, many more were bad, and perhaps the largest number were simply mediocre.
And this brings us to HacMan II, a freeware offering which climbed into the arena and confidently announced "Me too!".
HacMan II is a Pac-Man clone with a twist. Many twists. More twists than you can shake a twisted stick at. Like many inferior Pac-Man games, it features a single board layout which never changes over the course of its 100 levels, but unlike a lot of these other contenders, you'll hardly notice.
You see, the game starts off sedately enough with a slow paced first level that in most ways copies the Namco original, but every level from the second onwards introduces a new wrinkle. Some of the changes are just audial or visual, but there are a great number that effect the play mechanics in unexpected ways. Ghosts with a variety of special powers, changes to the controls, dots that require you to run over them two or more times, puzzles, new power-ups and invisible walls will all face you as you move through the game. You never know what's coming next!
Despite its very dated looking appearance, HacMan II is a challenging and interesting game. When you first start to play, you'll burn through the initially accessible 69 levels from a sense pure curiosity to see what's next. Level 69 presents an impass, though - you can't start on level 70 or above, so to see the final 30 boards, you'll need to practice and then fight your way through. When you really start to do this and your HacMan skills improve, the challenge becomes one of score, of clearing as many boards as you can in a single game, and of course to see that elusive final level.
The graphics in HacMan II mimic the original Pac-Man, although the board is wide rather than tall, to match the aspect ratio of an Atari monitor or television. Many arcade games used tall monitors, and I applaud the decision to tailor the gameplay to the Atari screen, rather than to leave oodles of unused space on-screen.
What I do not applaud, however, is the actual quality of the graphics in this game. If you're going for a straight port of an arcade game then I can understand the duplication of its primitive graphic style. HacMan II however is not a straight port of Pac-Man. It features enhanced gameplay and sampled sounds, and would have benefited had David Baggett taken on the services of a dedicated graphics artist. It has to be said that in some cases the visuals are just a little bit worse than the arcade original.
Sampled sounds are used as spot effects throughout the game, and some of the more unusual levels also feature additional samples. None are too objectionable and they add to the overall feel of the game.
HacMan II can be an addictive game, and it seems that a lot of thought has gone into the difficulty curve. The ability to start on any level from 1 through to 69 means that you won't bore from repeating the same levels, while still leaving the challenge of 30 rounds to discover, for the experienced player. The speed of the game increases as you progress through the rounds, but for those who find the sluggish pace of the early levels a little tiresome, a turbo key has been provided.
A great feeling of accomplishment comes from figuring out how to complete a particularly puzzling round, or just from beating those with a high difficulty level.
A high score table is provided, and the top scores are saved to disk, so you can challenge your friends to a HacMan tournament.
Finally, another nice idea is the "skip" key. If there's a level that particularly annoys you, you can simply hit the space bar to move to the next one. This can be done three times in a game.
If you can get beyond the rather dated look, HacMan II can provide many hours of dot-munching fun. The price was certainly right on this game, it was completely free, and it takes the whole Pac-Man concept in a few new directions. Not a perfect game, but a worthy addition to any disk box.
Note:  That whole Berlin Wall thing being nothing more than a historical footnote.
Graphics : 4
Sound : 7
Gameplay : 8
Overall : 7