May 22nd, 1980, a date with will go down in infamy. The introduction of a semi-eaten pizza turned into a gaming icon. Sure Mario is huge, and Master Chief kicks ass, and Crash Bandicoot did something for Sony's first PlayStation, but Pac-Man is the Don Vito Corleone to all future gaming mascot's Fredo, Lefty Ruggiero, and Johnny Dangerously. Sure, they may have been something, some mascots are still something, but Pac-Man is something bigger. Way bigger. Marlon Brando waistline bigger. And like any good mobster, he has survived many an assassination attempts in his history, most notably with Atari and their Atari 2600 home console version of Pac-Man.
He's one of the more recognizable game icons in the history of videogames. He's been in games where he has legs, where he's in 3D, where he's a kid, where he's a superhero, where he's a baby jammed into a pinball/video arcade machine, or running around in drag, or uncovering semi-pornographic images! There are even some weirdos that turned him into an unrecognizable collection of yellow lines, a caterpillar, and other various WTFs. But through it all, Pac-Man has survived, and continues to rake in the cash and it looks like Namco still holds him as a pillar of their company, even with the new company name, NamcoBandai. But could it be, someday, that they make something like a Dynasty Warriors: Pac-Man, and could it even be good?
The allure and attraction of Pac-Man has sent many off-shoots into the gaming world. But how do you change or rip-off the game to get somebody to play your game instead of a real honest-and-for-true version of Pac-Man? I remember visiting one of our multi-removed cousins way back in the early 1980s, and we talked about playing Pac-Man, but when we called the ghost monsters Inky, Pinky, Blinky, and Clyde, she corrected us! "There names are Otoboke, Kimagure, Machibuse, and Oikake." Otoboke, who the f*ck is Otoboke!? We thought she was crazy, and she thought we were crazy. Many years later we found that the pizza joint out where she lived had a bootleg version of Pac-Man. Introduced to bootlegs before I knew what a bootleg was. My brother Chainsman and I still get a chuckle about Otoboke. Otoboke. What the hell is an otoboke!?
Sorry, Pac-Man, say "Bye" to your Sac, man.
The second coming of Pac-Man was, ironically, a hack-job that turned Pac-Man into Ms. Pac-Man. Midway became impatient with Namco's next Pac-Man game, and purchased a game called Crazy Otto from General Computer Corporation, and swapped sprites to turn it into Ms. Pac-Man (source: Wikipedia). Of course, this "illegitimate spouse" of Pac-Man wasn't authorized, but Namco decided to release it under their banner. Good move, as Ms. Pac-Man went on to become even more popular than Pac-Man (and one of the most popular games in video game history), with different mazes, the bonus fruits now bounced around the maze, the cool sounds (even if it wasn't the"waka-waka" eating noise, it turned into more of a chirping noise because the Missus "ate like a bird"), and new intermission story of the Pac Love Story: Ghost chases Pacs. Pacs chase Pacs. Pacs mate off-screen. Stork drops baby. Baby Pac is small. Cue "The Shark".
After Ms. Pac-Man came Pac-Man Plus(1982), which was Pac-Man re-worked with bonuses such as Coke cans, and odd things that would happen when you ate a power pellet, like disappearing ghosts, shrinking ghosts, only 3 ghosts turning blue, and ghosts with little green flags on their heads. Not necessarily exciting, but it was definitely different.
Jr. Pac-Man: A chomp of the old block.
So Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man had a kid, eh? Sure, Baby Pac-Man(1982) came out before Jr. Pac-Man(1983), but is Jr. Pac-Man a Baby Pac-Man, just a little older? Does it matter? Probably not, although Baby Pac-Man isn't that good, and Jr. Pac-Man is really good. Jr. Pac-Man's playfield is large, so large in fact that the screen will scroll from left to right, revealing 6 power pellets and no cross-through tunnels to escape to the other side of the maze. With the bigger maze, there is much more running around to do, more to eat and, thankfully, still only 4 ghosts.
Jr. is a bit smaller than his parents, and he's got a propeller hat (that actually spins! -ed.), and is all that remains of you after you get chomped by a ghost. The sounds are a mixture of Ms. Pac-Man and some regular Pac-Man thrown in. Like the Missus, the bonus objects like a kite and a tricycle bounce around the screen. They also do something else when they follow a path that leads across small dots. It turns those dots large, and ups the points to 50 pts per instead of 10 pts. The drawback is since Jr. is small, eating the big dots slows him down because they're so fekkin big. Like all Pac games, there are intermissions, apparently they tell the story of an odd puppy love story between Jr. and a Jr. Ghost Monster. Weird!
You can't really blame anybody for making different versions of a classic videogame that literally ate money. They sort of remade Casablanca, so why not? Pac-Man is a videogame character, but possibly more recognizable than Richard Blane is these days. But what do these "remakes" or the new "re-imaginings" bring to the table? How enjoyable are these titles? The one thing most of them share is eating pucks or dots, running away from ghost monsters, be they named Shadow and Speedy, Machibuse and Oikake, or Webster and Charlotte. The ones that do not involve this mechanic- or any of the fun involved with it, for that matter, are Professor Pac-Man, a quiz game, and Pac-Land. Pac-Land does have eating dots and ghosts, but it's a combination of Mario Brothers and the Pac-Man cartoon from the 80s, and Pac-Man is a round Pac-Manish head on top of legs, not the pizza-looking guy. If you forget the cartoon, that's a good thing. Don't bother reminding yourself, unless you enjoyed that Star Wars Christmas thing. I could see Prof. Pac-Man being some sort of drinking game, but I recommend the drink to be cyanide or gasoline.
Pac-Man: the way to succeed (left) and the way to suck eggs (right)
There are a couple of titles that evolve Pac-Man and its gameplay, Super Pac-Man (1982) and Pac-Man & Chomp Chomp (Pac&Pal) (1983). Super Pac-Man throws in a maze with doors, keys, and large edible targets, 4 power pellets to activate ghost eating, and two throbbing yellow pellets that turn the player into Super PacMan, who can zoom around the mazes eating everything but the ghosts (doors included). Along with the intermission scenes from prior Pac-Man games, there is also a bonus board where you are tasked with eating as many foods as possible within the time limit, earning points for each second left on the clock. It's a pretty good take on the PacMan games. Pac-Man & ChompChomp, however, is a game that sort of misses the boat. It takes the fun and the maze design of Super Pac-Man and threw it out that proverbial window, when the window was closed. Run around the maze flipping over cards, grabbing fruits, and gaining power-ups like the tractor beam from the Galaga series, or smoke screens from the Rally-X games, all while avoiding the ghosts, and having your dog Chomp-Chomp (again, from the Pac-Man cartoon) wandering around picking prizes up that you can eat. The Pac&Pal version of the game has a gumball with eyes wandering around the maze instead of Chomp-Chomp. Either version you play or find, you'll play it for the amusement, then drop it like a hot potato.
Most every other title simply swaps out maze walls, colors, sprits, hearts, music, even caterpillars and aliens from their original presence as a ghost, a dot, or PacMan. Pac-Mania (1987) strays from the 2D formula and tries 3D, and it's sort of a loss. You can now jump over ghosts, of which there are now more than 4 chasing you down in the game. "Let's have fun with PacMan. Let's Go To Block Town." If a game asked you to do this, would you really want to, sober? The version in arcades I always found were dimly lit screens covered in pizza sauce, dust, or apathy, and nobody every played them. The way they got cleaned off was from the lone person playing and cleaning the buttons a little bit, which were always in some various states of stuck. Nobody ever played it long enough to give it a fair shot, I'll admit I'm one of those people. But I think the fair shot would be unfair to the player, unless it's an Elvis Presley-like shot, right into the picture tube.
Pinball is cool, Pac-Man is cool. Put them together and you get 31 Flavors of Awesome, right?
Baby Pac-Man (1982). I had only really scene this one at a Showbiz Pizza Time Theater somewhere around Paramus, New Jersey. Aside from that, I had only recalled ever playing it until my brother introduced me to emulation and reintroducing me to the wonderful and terrible titles of my youth with MAME. Baby Pac-Man is an entirely different beast, it's a pinball-videogame hybrid, one of only 2 that I know of, the other being Caveman. Baby Pac-Man was a game I saw randomly over the years, and as cool an idea as it was, but it saddens me to say that it sucked intense amount of bad. The stunted pinball playfield was awkward, the power pellets not really present, dying in the game because the ghosts were so damned fast. I know the introduction of the "cute kid" Pac-Man was inevitable, like that annoying redheaded kid in Diff'rent Strokes, but it already happened, and it happened to be awesome: Jr. Pac-Man.
Of course, if Baby gets a pinball, it means the Godfather, Pac-Man, has a pinball machine which, of course, he does! And it's pinball, not some wacky hybrid (above, right). The title of the game.. wait for it.. is.. Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man (1982)? What? Doesn't Pac-Man deserve his own damned machine? The game is basic pinball, which a small attempt at the Pac-Man videogame with the colored circles in the middle of the playfield. Sorry, guys, it didn't really work. The newer Visual Pinball (unlicensed) and Pac-Man Pinballs (Mobile Phones, right) pinball tables are much better than the physical Pac-Pinballs. Pac-Man Pinball Advance (GBA/2005) isn't great, but it's better than the machines as well. Kudos for trying, though. Me and my fellow pinball players appreciate what you guys were trying to do.
With the success of Pac-Man and the spin-offs, of course there would be the "darker" side of Pac-Man. That would be the bootlegs, as mentioned above (remember Otoboke?), and the pirated hacks or re-imagination or reworking of the in-game graphics, sound effects, and sometimes even the hardware. The hardware? No shit? Try jamming Pac-Man into a machine like, say, Galaga, and our beloved Pac-Man becomes an off-color, ill-sounding, oddball of a curiosity. It's still Pac-Man, but man is it weird to see and hear something like this. Pac-Man gets chased by Urchin, Romp, Stylist, and Crybaby, and their nicknames are Macky, Micky, Mucky, Mocky? What? Who? Who's been putting Ritalin in the Kool-Aid again?
Above: Galaga Man?
Crap-Man: Pirates, Hack-jobs, Bad Moves
Pac-Hacks. Pretty much stealing the game or slightly modifying the game, and releasing it as your own. For instance, somebody turned Pac-Man into a game called Piranha. This one turns you into, well, a piranha, that can be killed by an octopus. I thought piranha lived in fresh water, and octopus lived in oceans? The octopus enemies come out of a fishbowl, and the walls in the game are few and far between. This would be good, but your controller is still a 4-directional stick, so doubling back to eat dots you missed can be a pain in the ass, as the ghosts, erm, octopi, are still programmed to follow the maze, with or without walls. Let's face it: they are better at traversing a maze than you are. To top it off, and this is more aesthetic than anything else, when you eat a power pellet, and eat an octopus, it rushes back to the fishbowl as- a fekkin' SPIDER?
Crap (left), Crap (center), Crap (right)
Piranha isn't the only Bad-Pac out there, not by a long shot. Caterpillar, Hangly-Man, Joy-Man, NewPuck-ManX w/Hearts, New Puck-Man X, Ms Pac-Man Championship Edition starring Zola-Puc, Puckman Pockimon. That last one, Puckman Pockimon, even used women to entice you to play, and somehow used Pokemon as well, although how they did that, I have no idea. The women were the bonus for clearing levels instead of getting an intermission scene like the Pac-Man games. But keep your zippers up on this one:
On the home front, after Pac-Man 2600, mentioned above and with some help from the game ET, nearly destroyed gaming with a couple of well-aimed shots by a miniscule team (one man), an extremely low budget, and an even smaller deadline. Pac-Man was a slow-mouthed moving thing which, as a kid, I thought looked pretty bad but I enjoyed it. As a kid. Now I sometimes wonder why I liked Pac-Man for the 2600. The flicker of the ghosts made it look like they were constantly running from Pac-Man like he just scarfed down a power pellet, and the color change when you actually did eat the power pellet (a set of four blinking squares!) was so subtle, you didn't really notice it. Then I realize, I was thinking like a kid, no wonder I liked it! I didn't mind playing a game where Pac-Man looked like an animated piece of shit with an eye. Now, history looks at it as one of the worst arcade-to-home games of all time. Sure, the kids with Colecovision bragged about Pac-Man for their system, which of course was better, but the install base of Colecovision wasn't nearly that of the 2600 so, again, history looks at the Coleco version as better but not many people saw it. Ms. Pac-Man on the 2600 was an extraordinary leap of quality, and it's hard to imagine both games coming out for the same system: the sounds, graphics- everything was just better. Even the intro song mimicked the arcade version fairly well. Not perfect, but it did the job. There are still some hobbyists out there that are making better versions of Pac-Man 2600 than could have been imagined way back when in the bowels of Atari 2600 HQ.
Pac-Man 2600 (left), Ms Pac-Man 2600 (center), Pac-Man Colecovision (right)
The arrival of the Nintendo Entertainment System brought us an even better looking version of Pac-Man to our homes, and the subsequent titles for the Genesis, SNES, NeoGeo Pocket, all did justice to Pac-Man in some form or another. For some reason, they all seemed to botch the sounds. The dawn of the PlayStation (PSX) in 1994 introduced the home gamer to 3-D game worlds. Not 3-D tricks like current 2010 movies are using and/or abusing, but a world where you can wander around with your character and are not limited to a specific line or pattern on the screen. Sure the game is left to right, or forward and back, point A to point B, but the character had just that little bit more freedom that gave another, well, dimension to the game. Pac-Man World (1999) brought that gameplay, and it was actually pretty good. Certain parts of levels would lock you into a maze that reminds you of the 1980s classics. These "sections" had to be completed to continue on in the level. These games spawned a couple of sequels, and good enough for Ms. Pac-Man to get in on the action with a few titles featuring her in her own 3-D world. The 3-D Pac-Man games milked the idea dry by the end, but it was a successful reintroduction to the goodness that is Pac-Man, coupled with the introduction of the NAMCO Museum Collections and their re-introduction to Pac-Man games with arcade-perfect versions of Pac-Man, Ms Pac-Man, Super Pac-Man, and a plethora of Namco arcade goodness.
Namco even eventually tossed Pac-Man onto the back of a kart, and pushed out Pac-Man World Rally (2006), to hop into the genre that Mario Kart (1992) started, Diddy Kong Racing (1997) perfected, and everybody else copied. The bad part of the kart racing games would be dilution of the brand, something that Mario would never feel, but Crash Bandicoot, The Muppets, and maybe even the mighty Pac-Man could feel/
Retro Gaming, Jakks Pacific, 25th and 30th Anniversary
The demand for retro anything that became a phenomenon of the late 20th Century has thankfully coninued into the 21st and has brought back the old Pac-Man titles and a new appreciation of Pac-Man games. Does a game released in 1980 being brought back in 1996 really mean "retro"? I suppose so, being brought back in 2005 would probably be more retro than anything else, which Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man were, on the Xbox Live Arcade service. Ms. Pac-Man was even the "launch" title for the eXBox Arcade service, before the 360 was brought to us.
Aside from the retro gaming, there was also a desire for retro arcade feel. Enter Jakks Pacific and the Plug and Play games. They build arcade-quality games into a semi-arcade quality joystick that can run on batteries and plug directly into the RCA inputs of your television. It feels good to play these games with a fairly decent replica of an arcade joystick, even if it is more of a novelty than anything. For those of us with not enough room or money for an actual arcade cabinet, this suits us just fine. Reasonably priced between $20 and $40, and a good stocking stuffer for Christmas time. A blatant plug, sure, but they are worth it. If you have the space, there are even full size arcade machines available for your den, game room, play room, office, anywhere.
Jakks Pacific: Yes, please
2007-2015 Four Tokens Media