Today marks the 35th anniversary of a legend in video gaming, particularly in arcades. That would be the arcade release of Namco’s Pac-Man to Japanese arcades. There is a big celebration going on at Level 257 in Schaumburg, IL starting tomorrow(May 23rd), where Pac-Man’s creator Toru Iwatani, top Pac-Man player Billy Mitchell and some others are going to be around to celebrate the event.
In the mean time, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane with the character’s arcade appearances and variations (I am skipping console releases partially due to length but also, this is an arcade-centric blog 🙂 ) :
Pac-Man (1980) – Almost started as Puck Man, operators didn’t initially believe or understand the impact that this game would have, which would drive players crazier than Space Invaders had just a short time before. This launched a slew of clones and copycats seeking to bank on the fame of a player navigating a labyrinth eating/colelcting something while being chased by monsters. Where Namco was the company to create the title, Midway was the company that it was licensed to in the US to handle arcade manufacturing, distribution and marketing. In those days, games would often be licensed out to two companies – one for arcades and one for home. In Pac-Man’s case, home licensing fell to Atari. Thanks to their massive efforts to promote the game for their 2600 and 5200 game consoles, it meant that many people still erroneously associate him with that company (although if you really dig into the history, Namco got into the business as Atari Japan, which quickly turned into its own thing. Funny how those connections work).
Ms. Pac-Man (1981) – What started as a hack to the Pac-Man code would turn into its own phenomenon at the peak of the Golden Age of video games. The hackers gave this extra mazes to explore and more randomized ghosts. While I have been operating an arcade, I’ve had many more requests for Ms. Pac-Man than any other classic game and it is often the best earning classic among titles from the 80s. Also from what I have found, most players prefer Ms. Pac-Man Turbo, which lets her zip around the maze with a little more ease.
It should be noted that both Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man are the most popular arcade games ever manufactured, having reached production of over 100,000 units each. Many arcade titles are lucky to hit over 1000; back in ’82 releases hitting between 20,000-40,000 would be common but far and away, the pair of original Pac-Man titles are the least rare one can find from the 80s. Keep that in mind if you are ever shopping to put a cabinet into your home 😉
Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man Pinball (1982) – In my rush to get this post to wire yesterday, I missed out on adding this title to the list but thanks to Chaos for the reminder. 1982 marked a very busy year for the Pac-Man franchise, where the fever got a little too crazy, saturating the market with several titles. Saturation was a bigger problem than E.T. on the Atari 2600, since the market was flooded with bad titles. Nevertheless, while Pac-Man is remembered primarily as a video game, it did land in the pinball space more than once, starting with Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man Pinball. While this doesn’t have ramps and playfield toys, it has a cool layout.
Super Pac-Man (1982) – Also in ’82 came a sorta-sequel but it was far less popular than Ms. Pac-Man. Apparently taking into consideration criticism over Pac-Man’s eating habits, this had you eating mostly healthy snacks along with keys to open doors. When Pac-Man was powered up, he also grew in size.
Pac-Man Plus (1982) – As a part of 1982’s Pac-Man Fever came this unauthorized upgrade which added a few tweaks to the basic game. Funny how they billed this as the only official and authorized version when in fact they had not officially grabbed Namco’s blessing to create it.
Baby Pac-Man (1982) – A little later that year, Bally decided to try out something innovative, blending two popular forms of out-of-home entertainment into one package. Thus we received this Video Game/Pinball hybrid. The video portion of the game was much more difficult than the other versions of Pac-Man since it was designed by pinball guys. Ghosts were much more relentless in chasing the player so clearing a single maze proves to be a difficult task. The game was also notorious for experiencing technical issues. If a component would fail on the pinball table portion, the video game would not work. When it did work though, it was a unique experience both among Pac-Man games and arcade games in general.
Jr. Pac-Man (1983) – After Baby Pac-Man had grown a little, along came Jr. Pac-Man. This took a technical step forward by offering a scrolling maze. With much larger mazes and the prizes creating large dots that slowed the player down, this one was a bit more challenging and not terribly popular so it was found more in kit form than dedicated.
Pac & Pal (1983) – This odd entry combined elements of Super Pac-Man, Rally X and even Galaga. The Super Pac-man element changed the keys into cards, which are essential for progressing through the mazes; Pac-Man would use the Galaga tractor-beam to fire at his enemies. The combination did not prove to be terribly popular with players, who were already experiencing Pac-fatigue.
Professor Pac-Man (1983) – A low production entry where Midway had hoped to capitalize on Pac-Man’s popularity by combining it with a trivia game that would have been constantly updated to keep it fresh. Instead the game flopped and the constant update idea was scrapped along with it.
Pac-Land (1984) – Shooting off on a tangent into platforming territory instead of the labyrinth, Pac-Land injected running and jumping along a scrolling level with a ton of ‘cute’. Gone were the familiar mazes that players were tired of and this launched into a genre that would really catch on fire in the US the following year when Super Mario Bros. came along. Many platformers would focus on you traveling in one direction but Pac Land would have levels allowing you to travel in either one.
PacMania (1987) – Unfortunately for Midway, their slew of unauthorized Pac-Man releases led to the revocation of the Pac-Man licenses and for a short time, the character was given a rest at the arcade. Then in 1987, Namco created Pacmania, which was licensed to Atari Games. The game presented a nice leap in the concept which took advantage of newer technology. The graphics had an isometric look with large and varied mazes. Pac-Man also had a jump ability. It wouldn’t set the arcade world on fire like the original title but it was a fun game and a great entry in the series. EDIT: As mentioned on Twitter, a mark against this one is that you could not see the entire playfield. I imagine that something like an overlay radar might have helped.
Hyper Pac-Man (1994) – After Pac-Mania, Namco would really give the series a rest among coin-op circles but in 1994/95, a company called Semicom gave it a Hyper spin. This kept the jump feature of from Pac-mania but returned to the single screen nature of the game. Maze designs were a bit different and the game also offered co-op play and power-ups to spice things up.
Namco Classic Collection Vol. 2 (1996) – In the mid 90s Namco felt it was time to revisit their own classics with the Namco Classic Collection series. These would feature 3 Namco arcade titles in their original and new “arrangement” forms. For Volume 2, the game would star Dig Dug, Rally X and Pac-Man. While there is nothing special about the original title, the Arrangement was interesting. It took a page from Hyper Pac-Man in the style of graphics and some ideas such as co-op, power-ups and another return of the jump feature. It would add new types of ghosts, animated pellets and very colorful labyrinths.
Pac-Man VR (1996) – Back when VR was trying to get somewhere the first time around, Pac-Man was given the first-person treatment. Finding one of these is a tall order however since it was limited to the Virtuality VR pods (which at the time sold for somewhere around $50-$60k). Unfortunately the hardware wasn’t up to providing 60FPS action…the jerky motion made anyone prone to vertigo with a VR headset experience that much faster. But if you ever wanted to experience Pac-Man from the first person view, this was the game to do so. Perhaps with the reinvigoration of the VR market that is happening now, Namco will give it another spin.
Mario Kart Arcade GP (2005 with releases up to today) – When Mario Kart blazed into arcades in 2005, the release was handled by Namco. With them being involved, they happily added some of their own characters that users could race as, Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man included. He is also found in the latest release, Mario Kart Arcade GP DX.
Also released in the past five years was the 30th Anniversary edition of the game, Pac Man’s Arcade Party. This was like the 20th and 25th Anniversary re-releases of the game, but this one featured 13 classic Namco games (12 for the coin-op edition; there are some legal issues with Ms. Pac-Man showing up for commercial use). There is no word on whether Namco will do a 35th anniversary special or not, I imagine that this has been selling fine. I do believe that an upgrade would be cool – Namco has a vast library of arcade classics that they could add here. A 12/13 game roster just feels barebones.
Pac-Man Battle Royale (2011) – Namco has long had reason to celebrate their famous yellow mascot and in recent years they have shown it with several releases. The most prominent of those titles has been Pac-Man Battle Royale, which was a variation of Pac-Man Championship Edition which was released to home consoles a few years prior. This new idea pitted 2-4 players against each other, the main point of the game focusing on eating the other players and finding themselves as the last Pac standing. This was released in a table and deluxe upright form.
Here is my look at a never released prototype version of the game. It is too bad that this isn’t the released version as it is better with the couple of improvements made to it:
Pac-Man Smash (2013) – This was a surprise release a couple of years ago, when Namco originally unveiled a unique air hockey concept in Japan they called Big Bang Smash. When brought over to the US, it now featured Pac-Man as the focus. This added some crazy pills tot he air hockey concept, featuring a mini multi-puck release which would spill out a dozen or so pucks onto the playfield at once. This defines chaotic air hockey.
Pac-Man Chomp Mania (2013) – This is another recent entry, getting Pac-Man into the wonderful world of videmption action. It only features one of the original maps, which if completed gives the player a chance to win the ticket jackpot. The animated marquee really stands out on this one, which from what I was told, “took a few hours to code.”
What is the Future of Pac-Man?
While we have not heard of any plans to focus on more Pac-Man with another arcade release at the moment, it is hard to imagine that Namco won’t be using their mascot again. They also put him on a coin-op basketball machine and a mini-skeeball type machine so I think that for the moment, the market might be a little Pac-Manned out but give it some time and I’m sure we’ll get something once again. Perhaps a Pac-Mania Battle Royale?
What is your favorite Pac-Man arcade game? Comment below!