Let’s talk about Quantum Theory.
Quantum Theory is a huge part of advanced science, and its basic origins lie in a desperate need to explain the more unexplainable pieces of our universe. While the term “quantum” is often applied to whiz-bang future sci-fi, Quantum Field Theory was originally put forth in the early 20th century, thus making Quantum Theory literally older than Howdy Doody. Of course, at that time, Quantum Theory was little more than math nerds tossing theoretical equations back and forth, nowadays, we’re closer than ever to observing what was previously purely hypothetical, and, yeah, there is something a little sci-fi about the fact that we might stumble into multiple worlds.
The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is pretty simple to explain (particularly if you’ve ever seen an episode of The Flash). Every action made has a possibility to go in multiple directions. For instance, if you bite into an apple, you might get a fresh chunk of fruit, or you might lose a tooth. If you just had a tasty treat, your day continues unimpeded; while a damaged incisor means a much more complicated experience. And what if you were to meet your spouse on apple day? In one instance, you are happily married with 2.5 children and a surprisingly stupid dog, in the other, you’re forever alone, hording cats due to a dental based repulsion. According to the many-worlds interpretation, both of these universes “happened”, and you’re merely observing one or the other. Multiply this concept by every living creature on Earth, and you’ve got a whole heck of a lot of different universes. Some where you’re exactly the same, some where, through a series of fortunate coincidences, you are President for Life of the United States of Mexico.
Now, a number of scientists believe that the many-worlds interpretation is nothing more than a thought experiment, something used to demonstrate the way quantum mechanics could potentially work, but not necessarily how it does work. After all, there’s only so much energy in the universe, and it would run out pretty quickly if a new universe had to be created every time you thought about your underwear choice (this is why I rarely go clothes shopping, the thermodynamics, you understand). But if you take the many-worlds interpretation literally, it means that there are infinite universes out there, and we got pigeonholed into a meager one universe. Hard not to feel a little indignant…
It’s interesting how this intersects with the famous quote of 18th century philosopher/math nerd Gottfried Leibniz, who stated that we live in the, “best of all possible worlds.” Ultimately, this phrase was interpreted as an approval of God (Christian version, natch), who, in his infinite benevolence, allows suffering, yes, but the suffering is apparently at an acceptable level. If there was any more suffering in the world, the world would be crap, but currently, there is only suffering so that the good may prosper and enjoy life. This sounds like an extremely First World Privilege interpretation of all the misery and pain in the world, but it is supported by many other religions across the world. Consider the Daoist Yin Yang, a symbol of good and evil eternally swirling, showing a perfect balance between the two. Is there an absolutely equal amount of anguish and joy in this world? Could such a thing ever be proven? If Aunt Bernie gets a bad haircut, does a starving child get a cupcake?
Really, it’s a matter of personal interpretation. Quantum Theory or no, Man has always imagined what could have been. “For want of a nail”, the proverb seemingly originating from time immemorial, states that even the tiniest change in a battle plan could result in failure, and, if only that horse had a proper shoe, the battle would have been won. This is the dream of the loser, that some tiny change would have delivered the lost to a fortunate outcome. This is not the consideration of the winner, the one that believes, once again, that this is the best of all possible worlds. In modern times, you see it after every election (“Oh, if only Gore was president, then we’d all be skipping around breathing the freshest air!”), every war (“This is what America would look like after a victorious Confederacy”), or even random video game releases (“This cancelled game would have catapulted the Xbox to market dominance!”). We all have our interpretation of the best of all possible worlds, whether it involves marrying our prom date, or seeing a second season of Firefly.
But the other side of the many-worlds interpretation is the brass tacks of “this is the only world we got”. For better or worse, we are collectively observing this world, and it’s set in stone. Elvis, David Bowie, and Prince are all dead, and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about that. You are you, and you are capable of change, but your past will always, one way or another, be a part of you. Five thousand years of recorded human history got us to this collective point, and, while we might squabble about the details, nothing is going to change the past. There’s no stopping this world to get off, there’s just what you’ve got, whether you think it’s the best possible world or the worst, technically, it’s both. This is the only world we got, and we only have fiction for comparison. It’s easy to imagine marrying your high school sweetheart and living forever in happiness… or “sweetie” murdered you on your first anniversary during an underwear choosing based “grizzly accident”.
This is the world we have, and it’s all we’ll ever have.
And it’s a world that contains Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures.
We live in a world where Pac-Man, a maze-based game about a circle with an eating disorder avoiding the vengeful undead, was an unbridled success. For years, and even arguably today, Pac-Man was imitated time and time again, spawning clone after clone… or is it “homage”? Regardless, Pac-Man was an unbridled success, and it not only devoured quarters at the arcade, but also gobbled up hearts and minds with more merchandise than could be imagined. We point to Star Wars or Pokémon today for examples of unfettered, exploitative merchandising, but there was a time that the pop charts were dominated by Pac-Man Fever.
Pac-Man begot a series of dubiously legal clones of his own, and the Pac-Man “formula” continued within its own franchise. Ms. Pac-Man, Jr. Pac-Man, Pac & Pal, Super Pac-Man, Pac-Mania: there was no lack of Pac-Man games that were all basically “Pac-Man… with a new hat!” I’ll admit that, as a child during the age of Pac, I played all those games (except Pac & Pal… I think), and was never disappointed by the “new” challenges. Nowadays, each of those entire games would likely be little more than “another level” to be seen within the original game, but in the early 80’s, it was a fine way to blow through some change.
Pac-Land was the outlier of this group, as it was a 2-D side scrolling game that was very similar to what would now be known as an Endless Runner game (or Adventure Island game?). You might be able to claim that this game was trying to adapt the “old” mascot to steal some of upstart Mario’s thunder… if the game hadn’t been released a year before Super Mario Bros. It was ahead of its time, but it was also generally the least well received Pac-Man. I’m only basing this on my own memory of the time, but I know that I saw about five Jr. Pac-Man machines to every one Pac-Land back in the heyday of arcades.
Despite all this, someone decided that Pac-Land would be the ideal starting point for the long awaited Pac-Man 2. So, in 1994, Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures was unleashed on the SNES and Sega Genesis.
It was… something.
I maintain that everything about this game is completely impossible. No, the game isn’t that difficult (the whole experience could be completed inside of two hours if you know what to watch out for), what I’m referring to is the sheer absurdity of nearly every decision that went into creating this game.
First of all, it’s a “playable cartoon”. This means you don’t have any control over Pac-Man, and all you can do is, basically, encourage Pac-Man to maybe do what you want. “You” also have a slingshot available, and its most common use is repelling various hazards from Pac-Man’s periphery. Also, you can hit Pac-Man right in the face, and piss him way the hell off. So, right off the bat, you’ve got the world’s first sadism simulator.
Next, there’s Pac-Man’s world. While it could just be a coincidence, it seems like a lot of the trappings of this game rely on the Pac-Man Animated Series, which would make a lot more sense if that show hadn’t concluded in 1983, a full eleven years before this game’s release. Yes, the show was probably bumping around at 4 AM on a random cable network, but considering the target audience of the show (widdle bitty babies), it comes off as an strange choice.
Then there’s every other bonkers thing that happens in this game. Pac-Man must get milk for Pac Baby straight from the cow, which involves being menaced by a crow. Neighbors will murder Pac without notice. Hot dog vendors are homicidal. Ghosts disguised as security guards. Rooftop ziplines. Hang gliders. Used gum monsters. Evil witches. And apparently randomly placed skateboards are the most deadly obstacles in Pac-Man’s universe. Pac-Man can play arcade games featuring himself and his wife. This is a world that makes zero sense to its inhabitants or us, the omniscient observers who keep shouting commands at the hapless, round creature.
Pac-Man lives in the craziest of all possible worlds.
Which forces me to consider our place in the multiverse. According to the many-worlds interpretation, we live on one of an infinite number of worlds. When you consider that, the raw odds of you (an exact genetic “copy” of you) even existing on 1% of the universes out there are infinitesimally low. And that’s even ignoring all the worlds where you died in the crib, got flattened by the school bus, or inadvertently wandered into the local tar pits. It sounds incredibly narcissistic, but consider that this might be the best of all possible worlds simply because it’s one where you exist at all.
And it’s a world where Pac-Man 2 exists, too. It’s a world where the sequel to one of the most popular and plagiarized games of all time starring one of gaming’s most iconic mascots is something that has barely ever been seen again. It is crazy from top to bottom, with nary a screen containing something that might be considered remotely “normal”. Pac Man 2: The New Adventures is absurd in every conceivable way, and it’s hard to picture the team of escaped lunatics that put this package together.
So whether you believe this is the best of all possible worlds or not, this is a world with Pac-Man 2, and that means, at the very least, we live in a world filled with wonder. Best or worst, that has to count for something.
FGC #129 Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures
- System: Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Also currently available for the WiiU.
- Number of players: Just one, assuming you don’t acquire an audience over the course of playing the game.
- Port o’ Call: The Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo editions are pretty much identical, except the SNES version contains Ms. Pac-Man, while the Genesis gets a version of Ms. Pac-Man that is reskinned to star Pac-Man Jr. This was apparently a result of Ms. Pac-Man being released on the Genesis shortly before Pac-Man 2, so the designers didn’t want to slash sales of their own prequel.
- Bastard Child: If you didn’t know, the “original” Jr. Pac-Man was a Baily-Midway hack, and not officially sanctioned by Namco. This is similar to the origin of Ms. Pac-Man, but the difference is that everyone liked Ms. Pac-Man.
- What is dead may never die: You can “die” or “lose” in areas of this game, but it’s the rare 16-bit game that didn’t bother with “lives”, so you’ll never see a Game Over screen. That won’t help you in any of the more death-prone areas of the game, but at least you don’t have to head home after every three losses.
- Minecart? Yes, it is a 16-bit 2-D game, so there is a minecart stage. Whether it is more horrifying than the hang glider section is entirely up to the player. I hear some people just can’t beat that area.
- Did you know? The Ghost Witch, main antagonist of this game, returns in Pac in Time, another 16-bit Pac-Man game that does not involve the traditional mazes. That game was actually a reskin of another game, Fury of the Furries, which only now features Pac-Man thanks to Namco wanting their mascot to get a little more exposure. So… was Namco hoping this Ghost Witch thing was going to take off, or did they just not feel like coming up with another villain?
- Would I play again: Hey, Pac-Man is always good for a laugh. I can probably be counted on to play up until the second level/quest again… then things might get dicey.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mario and Donkey Kong! The oldest rivalry in gaming (… aside from ghost versus puck) is rekindled again. Please look forward to it!