The History of Pac-Man
NOTE: This is a comprehensive history on the origin and life of Pac-Man, the video game. I will only cover the video game itself, and stay away from the many other media facets that Pac-Man made his way into.
In The Beginning...
Pac-Man was the brain child of Namco game designer Tohru Iwatani. While dining out with his friends, Iwatani ate a slice of pizza, and glanced down at the partially whole pizza pie left on the table. Noticing the shape, Iwatani immediately thought of a simple game idea involving a character shaped just like the pizza sitting in front of him.
And so, in 1980, Pac-Man was born. Originally called Puck-Man, the name was changed before the game was released in the United States, due to the obvious chance of Puck-Man being defamed into Fuck-Man. The game was released in arcades across the country, and in 1981 was ported to home entertainment systems, namely the Atari 2600.
Unfortunately, Namco virtually destroyed the game during porting. The characteristics of the arcade version were missing, and gameplay was also changed slightly. Gamers across the globe were angry that the home version was not up to par, though it still sold over 400,000 copies by the end of 1981.
The Pac-Man Craze
Namco quickly established Pac-Man as an identity in the entertainment industry, and it showed. Pac-Man had his rotund face on tons of merchandise, but most importantly, the success of Pac-Man spawned over a dozen spin-offs. Below I have listed every Pac-Man related game released since 1981, in chronological order:
The first console version of Pac-Man, the game met the public harshly, due to major revisions to the game during the porting from the arcade version to cartridge. Despite the poor port, the game sold very well.
The next version of Pac-Man to hit arcades, Pac-Man Plus was basically the same game, with random effects thrown in. Invisible levels, traps, and other effects made the game much more difficult, which did not increase the fun level, unfortunately.
Pac-Man's female counterpart, Ms. Pac-Man was more of the same, and actually quickly became more popular with gamers than the original. No major changes were introduced to the gameplay, other than fruit that moved along the inside of each maze. Ms. Pac-Man is one of the most plentiful arcade games in the world.
Another port to the Atari 2600, Ms. Pac-Man fared little better than the original port. Improved hardware in the Atari 2600 lended to a cleaner look, but gameplay, sound and the overall feel of the game was still lacking.
With the improved hardware of the Atari 5200, the latest release of Pac-Man made the game much more playable and much more enjoyable. Unfortunately, people who wanted to play the best home version needed to purchase a new Atari 5200, which was released five years after the Atari 2600.
The first major improvement in gameplay came during the release of Super Pac-Man. No longer restricted to eating bland pellets, Pac-Man was able to eat fruits and other junk food, and the game also introduced doors and keys. By eating a key, Pac-Man could munch his way through the appropriate colored door and advance to a different section of each maze. Perhaps the most fun improvement was the "super pellet," which tripled Pac-Man's size and made him invincible, able to glide through ghosts and doors with ease.
Pac and Pal
Probably the least popular adaptation of Pac-Man, Pac and Pal featured the gobbling yellow gaming star with a new friend, a green ghost (named "Ichi" in the Japanese versions). Ichi helped Pac-Man through each level by giving Pac-Man items that he obtained by moving around the level. Several other "innovations" were made, such a short-range weapons for Pac-Man to use, and the inclusion of doors again.
Simply another excuse to use the Pac-Man license, Bally Midway released this monstrosity. A quiz game that was based on points, Professor Pac-Man did nothing to improve the original game, and was therefore shunned by gamers. Only 400 of this unit were produced.
After two disasters, the next Pac-Man game returned to basics. Junior Pac-Man gave players the old-school Pac-Man style, with several improvements: scrolling levels, which allowed for much bigger mazes and more pellets (which meant more points), and the inclusion of higher level pellets, which were worth more points when touched by a bouncing bonus item.
Again, with the improved hardware of the Atari 5200, the new version of Ms. Pac-Man for the home entertainment crowd was definitely a step in the right directions. Better graphics, smoother gameplay and better sound made this game a commercial success for Namco.
A port of the arcade version, this was by far the best home port of any Pac-Man game. It had all the same features of the arcade version, and gameplay was the best it had been for a home console system. Commercially, however, Junior Pac-Man did not do well, and after the release of this game, the decline of Pac-Man games began.
One of the first side-scrolling adventure games, Pac-Land was a horrible, horrible creation. Boring, predictable levels, repetitive gameplay and ugly graphics helped carry this mistake to the bottom of the arcade pack. This was the last Pac-Man game to be released until 1988, four years later.
Arcade, Sega Genesis
An isometric point-of-view was the unique addition to this game, which was otherwise a flop. Difficult camera angles made manuvering difficult, and the jumping that was added to both Pac-Man and the ghosts made for frustrating deaths entirely too often. All in all, the gameplay remained simplistic, but the new additions made the game much less fun than previous versions.
Nintendo Entertainment System
Another port of the classic game, Pac-Man was better than ever, with gameplay, graphics and sound equal to the arcade quality. However, competing with games like Super Mario, Duckhunt, Metroid and other future classics made Pac-Man a has-been.
Pac-Attack (aka Pac-Panic)
Super Nintendo, Genesis, Game Gear, Game Boy
Pac-Man was dipping into other genres to succeed in the 1990's. Pac-Attack was a Tetris variant, and a pretty fun one at that. By dropping Pac-Man blocks onto ghosts, you could eat the ghosts, which were otherwise immovable from the game board. A fun game, it still was not popular with gamers as much as the original Tetris.
Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures
Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis
I purchased this game, excited for a new action/adventure game that used the Super Nintendo's graphics and sound capabilities. I made a mistake. This game was plauged by a gameplay system that gave you no direct control over Pac-Man, though it did have an interesting plot. You had a slingshot, which you could fire at him or his environment to force him to interact with it. A novel, new idea, but one that did not make for a fun, exciting game.
Super Nintendo, Genesis, Game Boy
This was the game I wished I had bought. Pac-in-Time was another side scrolling adventure game, but this time, the control was over the main character, and it was good. By eating pellets, you could advance through levels. It reminded me of a cross between Pac-Man and Sonic the Hedgehog. A very fun game.
Nintendo Game Boy Color, PlayStation, Nintendo 64
The new-school ports of Pac-Man basically gave you the original arcade games, all in one. The same old fun game was packaged along with Ms. Pac-Man, and several other versions included Junior Pac-Man.
Pac-Man World: 20th Anniversary
A trip back in time is in order for this game. A 3-D revamping of Pac-Man's traditional gameplay is the new innovation in this title, and the game is chock full of easter eggs for older fans, such as art, music and other goodies. Also, the gameplay is excellent, though the controls are a little lacking.
Note: I did not include the Pac-Man pinball games released in 1982 by Bally, which also achieved quite a popular following. Over 20,000 machines were produced.
Since the release of Pac-Man, the identity of Pac-Man as a character is instilled in all our minds as a piece of culture, but the gameplay is not. Once a challenging game, Pac-Man has now become a way to pass the time, as games have come much further since the days of Tohru Iwatani. Still, Pac-Man started a gaming craze, and was one of the first game characters to have his face on hundreds of outside products. Most gamers will tell you that although dated, Pac-Man is still one of the all-time classic games.
"Pac Man's character is difficult to explain even to the Japanese -- he is an innocent character. He hasn't been educated to discern between good and evil. He acts more like a small child than a grown-up person. Think of him as a child learning in the course of his daily activities. If some one tells him guns are evil, he would be the type to rush out and eat guns. But he would most probably eat any gun, even the pistols of policemen who need them." --Tohru Iwatani, creator of Pac-Man
Master Villain says Hey, Pac Mania was also on the Atari ST, it was packaged with it at one point.