Full disclosure: I'm not the world's biggest Pac-Man fan. Oh, I like the character well enough, and I love Ms. Pac-Man to death, but the Namco-made quartermuncher that started it all? It kind of bores me, if I'm allowed to be honest.
In fact, I'd much rather play any of the Pac-Man clones described below than the arcade classic that seemingly inspired their creation.
Crush Roller (Neo Geo Pocket Color)--OK, so this ADK-developed title, a remake of a 1981 arcade game called Make Trax, isn't a total rip-off of Pac-Man. After all, rather than tasking players with clearing each screen of something, Crush Roller tasks them with filling them with something. Paint, in particular. That's easier said than done, of course, thanks to the baddies, which look a bit like Dragon Quest slimes to my eyes, that chase you as attempt to "paint the town red" (or whatever color you're given for a specific stage). These baddies don't always play fair (they're often a smidgen faster than the paint roller you control), and as a result the game can be teeth-gnashingly frustrating. Still, I enjoy playing it now and then, and I have a feeling most people who have even a passing interest in Pac-Man would (mostly) enjoy it, too. If you'd like to see this Neo Geo Pocket Color game's packaging, by the way, you can do it in this old post of mine: "It's just a little Crush (Roller)."
Devil World (Famicom)--Although I like all of the Pac-Man clones included in this post, I like this one the least. Sure, it sports some great, early-Famicom-era (or early-NES-era) graphics and music, but its gameplay is a tad more complicated than it needs to be, in my humble opinion. Instead of having players focus on eating dots and avoiding enemies à la Pac-Man, Devil World has them perform those actions while also collecting crosses and bibles as well as staying far away from the crushing ropes that ring each maze-like stage. Speaking of which, the stages in Devil World are a lot more convoluted than those found in Pac-Man, which can lead to confusion and even death if you're not careful. In Devil World's favor, its cover art and the contents of its instruction manual are stellar and are worth owning on their own. (Bonus round: read my overly succinct Devil World review.)
Lock 'n' Chase (GameBoy)--At first glance, Lock 'n' Chase appears to be a lazy and uninspired Pac-Man clone. Hell, the protagonist looks like everyone's favorite spherical dot-muncher with a dapper fedora plopped onto his head. Thankfully, Data East's title differs from Namco's in a few other notable ways--chief among them being the former's larger, scrolling levels. Also, the levels in Lock 'n' Chase are far less symmetrical than the ones in Pac-Man, which I guess could be a positive or a negative, depending on your personality. Another feather in the snazzy cap of Lock 'n' Chase: its baddies all sport police hats. Unfortunately, the lack of color in this GameBoy port hurts its replay value by making it difficult to tell one screen from the next. If you can overlook that fact, though, you'll probably get a kick out of this portable Pac-Man homage.
Onyanko Town (Famicom)--This Micronics-developed and Pony Canyon-published Famicom cartridge belongs in the same camp as the one that houses Crush Roller. Onyanko Town looks great (although not as great as Crush Roller, it has to be said) and offers up an adorably appealing premise--which puts you in the paws of a mama cat who has to track down her kittens and safely bring them home--but it also tends to be beyond aggravating. That's due in part to the title's often-enormous stage layouts and in part to the extremely slow speed at which the mama cat moves. Add in a background tune that gives new meaning to the term "earsplitting," and you have a Japan-only release that's sure to turn off a large chunk of the population. I consider it a favorite Pac-Man clone anyway, though, because I'm a sucker for games starring pixelated pups (the majority of Onyanko Town's enemies) and felines.
Painter Momopie (GameBoy)--There are a lot distressingly overlooked Japanese GameBoy games. Astro Rabby is one. Burning Paper is another. And then there's Sigma Entertainment's Painter Momopie. It may not be quite as fantastic as those other two efforts, but it's just as fascinating. After all, how many games have you played that have you paint the floors of cozy-looking kitchens, bedrooms and the like while avoiding mice and ghosts and other creatures? None, I'm sure. Plus, Painter Momopie's soundtrack is nearly as heart-warming as its homey setting. The same can be said of its outer box and its instruction manual. Another reason I'd recommend Painter Momopie to anyone who's open to playing a GameBoy cart in this day and age: it's almost assuredly the most relaxing (or at least stress-free) of all the Pac-Man clones discussed in this post.
See also: all of the "five overlooked games you need to play as soon as possible" posts I've published so far