In my adventures collecting arcade tokens, I've come across a few that aren't directly related to arcades I've frequented but are crazy cool nonetheless. One such example is this Namco Pac-Man token, purchased on eBay from a Hong Kong seller. Considering its minty freshness, I'd guess that it was recently struck and hasn't been through any machines. This token directly appeals to my love of the Pac-Man franchise, with a cool cartoony Pac-Man on the front and an even cooler ghost sprite on the back. I just couldn't resist picking it up... and it gives me an opportunity to write this tribute to those iconic Pac-Man games that have been entertaining me for 30+ years.
I won't cover the Pac-Man legacy in its entirety. Even I, an obsessive Pac-fan, haven't played all the games in the Pac-Man library. Instead, I'll focus those that made the biggest impact on both my young and my aged psyche. Of course, we'll start with...
Pac-ManThe original Pac-Man was just a little before my time. By the time I was scurrying around the arcades like the little arcade rat that I was, Ms. Pac-Man conversions had all but replaced the original Pac-Man machines. But I've picked it up with a passion in recent years. There's something about the sound and graphics that personify the 80's arcade experience perfectly. I also dig the concept of a single maze for all levels; it turns the game into more of a man vs. machine battle for Pac-perfection. And the ghost logic wasn't randomized so if you're good enough, you can develop patterns to nail some impressive high scores. Cheesy? Yes. But memorizing those complex patterns isn't easy... I've only just started to work them out myself.
Ms. Pac-ManThis was the Pac-game of my childhood, a game that was so universally appealing that even my mom loved it. But strangely enough it turns out that Ms. Pac-Man, widely considered one of the greatest games of all time, has somewhat of a sordid history. Wikipedia relates the story: Ms. Pac-Man started out as a Pac-Man clone called Crazy Otto. Bally Midway, more than a little impatient for a follow-up to the original game, purchased Otto and modified it into the familiar Ms. Pac-Man. The problem? Midway was just the US distributor of Pac-Man, while Namco actually owned the rights. Allegedly, Namco claimed that Midway had released Ms. Pac-Man without its consent, to which Midway countered "Nuh uh!" causing legal chaos to ensue. (1)
Arcade-Museum.com says that this story had a happy ending (at least, this part of the story) because Midway allegedly made nice by turning over the rights for Ms. Pac-Man to Namco. (2) Fortunately, Namco saw the game's impact in the states and didn't squelch it. It has since become one of the most successful games of all time, even overshadowing its predecessor in many ways. I love it myself; there's nothing that brings back 80's arcade nostalgia like the blip-blip-blip sound of the pellet munching in Ms. Pac-Man. The variety of mazes keeps you frosty, while the occasional randomness of ghost-logic keeps you honest by short-circuiting the original game's vulnerability to patterns.
Super Pac-ManProbably the first thing you wondered when you saw the oversized Pac-Man in the first intermission of the original game was, how can I get that power-up? Oversized Pac-Man wasn't playable but all that changed with Super Pac-Man, the first sequel developed by Namco. With a super-sized power-up and a dynamic-looking arcade cabinet, Super Pac-Man seemed destined to be the coolest Pac-Man game of all time.
That is, until I actually played it. Super Pac-Man is a total departure from the Pac-norm, a game that relies less on skillfully outwitting ghosts and more on grabbing super pellets and smashing though everything in sight. I remember the concept being cooler than the execution, and as such, I'm not the biggest fan of Super Pac-Man. Still, this is a game that I really need to sit down and play to see if it has any substance.
Baby Pac-ManBaby Pac-Man was a total enigma when I was a kid. It was half video game, half pinball machine, and entirely intimidating. I never played it when I saw it in the arcade, I just stared at it wondering what in the world it was.
Fortunately, nowadays we have YouTube so we can actually see how this Frankensteinish monstrosity works. (If you're watching this video at work, keep the volume down as the guy lets loose a couple comical S-bombs.) It actually looks fun, especially the pinball part. But the video game portion is a little rough, with sub-standard graphics and gameplay that seems just difficult enough to be infuriating. Still, this is one game that's on my must-play list... if I can find it.
Jr. Pac-ManJr. Pac-Man is one of my favorite games of the series and one of the few Pac-Man games that I would call a true sequel. It keeps the basic gameplay of Pac-Man (eat up pellets in a maze, consume the ghosts with power pellets) and the enhancements of Ms. Pac-Man (different mazes, moving bonus icons, randomized ghost logic), and adds some new features to make things interesting. The most obvious is that the maze is actually two screens wide so the screen scrolls along with Junior's movements. But also, the bonus icons transform pellets into "super pellets" as they go past, adding some interesting complexity to the gameplay. Although the pellets slow you down considerably, they're worth 5 times the points. Do you avoid them or try to gobble up as many as possible for a high score?
Unfortunately, I doubt we'll be seeing this on a console anytime soon. Arcade-Museum.com states that, like Ms. Pac-Man (and Baby for that matter), Jr. was developed by Midway without Namco's authorization and was allegedly one of the games that led Namco to break its ties with Midway. (3) As such, I'm sure that trying to work out the licensing rights between the two companies for a re-release would be a nightmare. Oh well...
Pac-ManiaAfter a diversion into sidescrolling adventure with Pac-Land (a game that, although ground-breaking, is abysmally dull), Namco returned to the maze-navigating and pellet-chomping that made Pac-Man great in the first place. A lot had changed in video game technology in the 7 years since Pac-Man was released, so Namco upgraded the game into the 3-dimensional Pac-Mania.
Pac-Mania wasn't truly 3-dimensional in the Virutal Reality sense, but it did add a new angle to the game by showing a 3/4 aerial view of the maze and giving Pac-Man the ability to jump over his spectral enemies. The mazes were fun, the side passageways were more fleshed out, and cool power-ups kept things interesting. You could also rack up the points by eating another power pellet before your first one wore off, keeping your accumulated ghost score alive. With a score-doubling power-up, you can rack up an impressive high score very quickly.
Pac-Man ArrangementFast forward a decade or so and Namco returned once again to the Pac-world with Pac-Man Arrangement. I played this game primarily on the Gameboy Advance and it's a nice continuation of the Pac-Man lineage. The graphics are somewhat 3-dimensional like Pac-Mania, but you see more of the screen so the ghosts can't ambush you. Like Pac-Mania, you get a bunch of cool power-ups (the reflection power-up was my favorite), and Arrangement brings more to the table with bosses, multi-faceted levels, and smooth controls.
It also evens the odds by including a new glasses-wearing ghost named Kinky. Kinky is always vulnerable to eating and if you chance to chomp him, he acts like a power pellet and turns all the other ghosts blue. But wait too long and Kinky transforms another ghost into its mutated super-sized form. Kinky adds a lot of depth to the game: not only does he help your high score by acting like an extra power pellet, but also the mutated ghosts he transforms can complicate things considerably.
Pac-Man Championship Edition DXFinally we come to the ultimate Pac-Man game: Pac-Man Championship Edition DX! I missed out on the first Championship Edition game as I am an XBOX-less gamer, but when DX was released for the PS3, I was sure to snatch it up. The concept is familiar to Pac-fans: munch pellets, get chased by ghosts, and eat power pellets to turn the tables on them. But the execution is completely different. A crapload of ghosts pour out the trap after you and the maze changes as you eat the bonus fruit. Your mission is to quickly eat the pellets and the fruit while herding as many ghosts behind you as possible so that your points are maximized when you score a power pellet.
This is a game that I probably played a little too obsessively and it quickly became one of my favorite games of all time. Not only is the gameplay awesome, but you can also customize the look and feel of the game by selecting different styles for the sprites. You can choose a classic arcade feel, a more modern smoothed-out look, or even a primitive Atari-inspired design, depending upon your whim. This game is a celebration of everything that makes Pac-Man great.
Pac-Man... The Movie?!Let's finish this tribute with a fan film: Pac-Man the Movie! I've seen some great film shorts by really talented fans, but this one takes the cake. I'd love to see this expanded upon in a feature film... just as long as Michael Bay is nowhere near it.
Cite your sources!1) Wikipedia, Ms. Pac-Man History
2) Arcade-Museum.com, Ms. Pac-Man
3) Arcade-Museum.com, Jr. Pac-Man
And for more Pac-fun, check out PacMan.com's visual history and play the World's Biggest Pac-Man maze!