By Melissa Minners
When I was a kid, I loved watching my Dad play softball. His job had organized a softball team and he played the catcher position. I didn’t get to accompany him often, but when I did, we always made a night of it, going to the local eatery, buying hot roast beef sandwiches and checking out the video games. It was then that I was introduced to Pac-Man and we’ve been great friends ever since.
Pac-Man was developed by Namco and distributed in the United States by Midway. The game was created in Japan by video game designer Toru Iwatani. Originally released as Puckman in Japan, the name was changed to Pac-Man for the US release for some less than obvious reasons – folks were afraid that people might change the name into a vulgarity (think about it).
At the time of its release, most of the arcade games to be found were either of the pinball variety or shooter games like Asteroids, Tempest and Space Invaders. The graphics weren’t very well developed and there wasn’t much to look at. Pac-Man presented something a bit different on two fronts, gameplay and graphics.
Basically, Pac-Man is a little round yellow guy who is all mouth and perpetually hungry. The object of the game is to guide Pac-Man through the maze as he eats dots which gain you points. But don’t get caught by the ghosts who haunt the maze (Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde) or your turn will be over. Eating special power dots will allow you a brief respite from the ghosts and you will be able to eat them as well. Fruit will periodically appear near the center of the maze and eating it will earn you a lot more points. Once you have successfully eaten all of the dots in the maze, you move on to the next level.
Of course, with each level, the ghosts gain some speed, making maneuvering the maze a bit more difficult. But the intensity of the pace is rewarded with comical intermission action after certain levels featuring Pac-Man and the ghosts in humorous situations.
Whether it was the different style of gameplay or the newer style graphics, one thing is for certain, Pac-Man became a video game sensation, eventually becoming one of the most famous arcade games of all time. The popularity of Pac-Man led to over 30 officially license spin-off games (we’ll get to some of those later), a board game, a card game, numerous clone versions, a cartoon series and even a popular song. Pac-Man Fever reached number nine on the Hot 100 Billboard Charts in 1981.
It goes without saying that I was obsessed with Pac-Man. So, it wouldn’t be surprising to discover that I was a huge fan of Pac-Man’s first spin-off game. Ms. Pac-Man hit the arcades in 1981 and had similar game play, but with some very interesting new additions. First, there are four different mazes that appear in different colors, adding new dimension to the game. Second, there are two warp tunnels for more stylized maneuvering around the maze and avoidance of the ghosts. Third, the fruit that appear in the maze move around, bouncing through the maze and making it more challenging to gain extra points by eating them. The orange ghost’s name is Sue instead of Clyde – this is the female version of the game so that makes sense. The intermissions between certain levels follow the relationship developing between Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man.
I was in love with this game – and very good at it, passing levels in the arcade with abandon. And then I heard the best news – Ms. Pac-Man was made available for our newly purchased Atari 5200. Score! That was a game that received a lot of playtime as my brother and I tried to top each other in levels.
Shortly after my parents purchased Ms. Pac-Man for the Atari 5200, I saw a new and rather innovative incarnation of Pac-Man. Baby Pac-Man strove to unite the best of arcade games by merging video game play with pinball action. The gameplay starts off in the same vein as the original Pac-Man until you hit one of the warp tunnels. That’s when the pinball action comes into play as you earn extra points on the pinball machine just below the video game screen. Another difference to this game is that the ghosts much more aggressively, faster, and more randomly, making it extremely challenging to escape them as you travel through the maze. And you won’t get any help from power dots in the beginning of the game – those have to be earned in the pinball section. What a fun game. Sure, it was difficult, but it was different. Baby Pac-Man has the distinction of being one of only three video game / pinball machine hybrids.
Then came the miniature games and you know my brother and I simply HAD to have a miniature version of Pac-Man. Distributed by the handheld game wizards, Coleco, this game was a miniature replica of the video game found in arcades, down to the miniature arcade console and joystick. Much fun to play with despite the lack of graphics and the annoying sound.
For years, we were satisfied with the games we owned or could play in the older arcades as newer games began to phase out the Pac-Man machines of the 80s. And then, in 1999, I received a promotional disc for a new Pac-Man based game created for the Playstation. Pac-Man World featured our favorite dot-eating hero in a 3-D gaming platform. There were some similarities to the old game, but the 3-D platform allowed for new moves very reminiscent of characters like Sonic the Hedgehog and the Jersey Devil. This was a new dimension of Pac-Man with even better graphics than the games of old and numerous levels and worlds to play in. I was in heaven. Of course, at the time, I was poor and couldn’t afford to buy the game, so I kept playing the demo until I couldn’t play it anymore. So sad.
Years later, I was walking through one of the numerous arcades found on the Jersey Shore and guess what I found – a throw back Pac-Man machine. You just knew I had to play it! I squealed with delight – yes, I squealed, so what! The machine was only a quarter to play – that’s right, in this day and age with video games costing a dollar or more, I am dating myself by admitting that I remember when arcade games could be played for hours on one quarter. Oh, how much fun I had. Years older and Pac-Man can still bring me a delightful thrill as I make my way through each maze.
Pac-Man is a game that will never grow old. Mention this game to anyone and they will definitely know what you are talking about and will have played some incarnation of it. Generations later, Pac-Man is still an arcade favorite and will be for generations to come.