In recent years, The Lego Group has undergone something of a transformation. Something clicked for the company with as much clarity as two classic 2x4 studded bricks snapping together; adults like this stuff just as much as kids.
This realization has led to a new category of Lego, branded occasionally as ‘Adults Welcome’: clad in sleek black boxes and with eye-watering piece counts and prices, these sets are for the young-at-heart more than the young. And brilliantly, this realization has coincided with Lego realizing that video games franchises are also worth its time.
These two shifts for Lego have resulted in some fun sets for kids, like the Minecraft, Mario, and Sonic ranges. But scattered around these releases are larger, more intricate sets for adults – the Mario 64 ? Block, the Lego NES and Atari, a set based off Horizon Zero Dawn, and a giant model of Bowser. And today, Lego unleashes its best bit of gaming nostalgia yet.
Now, in fairness, regular readers of VG247 will know that I like Lego, and I like arcades. So, admittedly, I’m probably at the center of this set’s audience venn diagram. But seriously, look at it. This is Lego’s Pac-Man Arcade, set 10323.
This is a decent size model, a little over 30cm tall, 25cm wide, and 17cm deep. But, really, how this package impresses is in its feature set.
Much of the joy here is similar to that found in the lovely intricate dioramas and the brilliant folding mechanism of the Mario 64 Mystery Block set, but what’s different here is that the form factor relates directly to a coveted real-world object from when Pac-Man ruled the world: the original arcade cabinet.
Honestly, this little thing is perfect. Obviously, the original cabinet was full-sized; this has been given table-top proportions, meaning the more boring bottom half of the cabinet is missing. But that top half – what a top half it is. And in this Lego set, it’s packed with rewarding features.
When I say rewarding, what I’m really getting at is two-pronged. One, they’re fun to look at and play with - but two, and perhaps more importantly, they’re fascinating to build.
A lot of these touches are little. Anybody who fondly remembers arcade machines of the 80s and 90s remembers the subtle red glow of a white LED behind a semi-transparent red plastic coin plate – and that’s lovingly recreated on this cabinet. One of Lego’s light bricks sits hidden away in the set, and pressing the button that in real life is Pac-Man’s start button makes its coin slot light up with an authentic gleam.
The arcade stick itself is tactile and not static; you can tilt and shift it in place to pretend you’re playing. And atop the cabinet, a giant brick-built Pac-Man and two ghosts can be flipped with a switch – which changes the hunters to the hunted, turning the trio around and making the ghosts turn blue as if a power pellet has been consumed. Even the high score panel can be flicked between four different options.
The crowning achievement of the set is the play board, however. The maze itself is created with a slew of printed plate pieces, and behind it some fairly uncommon Technic elements and an all-new piece are used to create a moving element to the maze.
The Lego NES shipped with a TV that could scroll through part of Mario’s iconic 1-1. Here, Pac-Man and the four ghosts can actually travel around at least part of the Pac-Man maze when a crank on the side of the cabinet is turned – giving the appearance that the game is in motion.
In reality, the characters are just running a few closed loops that run roughly half of the game’s traditional play-area, but it’s compelling-looking for a toy – and a hell of a party trick. The mechanism is also a fascinating build that is built separately to the rest of the cabinet and then cleverly clicked into place.
The set is rounded out with a small Lego minifigure scale version of the cabinet, a lady who plays it, a gumball machine, and stool – a little representation of an 80s arcade. This hides away inside the set, but you can easily remove it to display it separately. This is the cheekiest bit of the set, really; I reckon a lot of people would buy this to get a City-scale arcade cabinet, but the only way to get it is part of a much more expensive set.
I adore this set, though. While pricey at £229.99 / $269.99, its piece count of 2651 doesn’t make this terrible value by any means – and it’s just lovely looking. I had a great time with the build, and this is a set that I’ll display prominently.
Probably the greatest hit against this machine, in fact, is Pac-Man’s popularity. You can pick up a real, playable tabletop Pac-Man Replica from Arcade1Up for less than this building set. You can get a three-quarter size cabinet that you can physically stand at and play for a similar price. But it’s also fair to say that half of the joy of Lego is building it, displaying it, and knowing that – improbably – something this awesome was built out of little plastic bricks.
So, yeah, I adore it. Perhaps the best review I can give it is to say it’s set my mind racing: what about a Street Fighter 2 cabinet? Or Donkey Kong? I’d buy more of these, for my sins – which is always a sign they’ve nailed it.