FGC #287 Pac-Man (Gameboy)

So I figure there are two ways we can go with this article. One, we could take a look at this:

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And laugh uproariously at this primitive attempt at a portable Pac-Man. It’s super tiny! They couldn’t fit the entire maze on the screen! There isn’t an attempt at “new” mazes, despite the fact that Ms. Pac-Man was released years before. There’s no color!

Or, second choice, we could address Pac-Man for Gameboy as the most important game that was ever released.

Let’s go with that second choice.

I did not purchase, new or used, Pac-Man for Gameboy. I did not have a legit Gameboy as a child, and the few games I purchased for my Super Gameboy were significant and precious. Pac-Man was never even in the running. Pac-Man, even by the release of the Super Gameboy, was fairly played out, and, if we’re being honest, primitive. OG Pac-Man had like one maze and four directions. There wasn’t even a jump button! I want to say that I didn’t consider purchasing a Pac-Man game until The Age of the Download, because, seriously why bother? Besides, ol’ Paccy seemed to pop up often enough in other, more complex games. So, ya know, screw it. If I want to get lost in a maze, I’ll just play god-damned Fester’s Quest again.

No, I did not ever think to purchase Pac-Man for Gameboy. This game was inherited. This game once belonged to my grandfather. And that’s kind of important.

According to Pokémon Go (this is how I do research), the local arcade was founded in 1976. Pac-Man, according to Wikipedia, was released in the spring of 1980. Given my grandfather notoriously enjoyed Space Invaders since its initial release two years earlier, I’m guessing the man first played Pac-Man in that arcade. Here, for reference, are the two “original” Pac machines still floating around that arcade, nearly forty years later:

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You’ll notice that OG Pac-Man is not pictured. That’s because the old man got tossed sometime around when The World’s Largest Pac-Man Cabinet showed up. Then again, it may have gone to the dumpster well before that, as Ms. Pac-Man has always, no questions, been better than her hubby. It’s a Pac eat Pac world, and even Junior can conquer the old man. Regardless, I’m going to ahead and assume Pac-Man was first played by my ancestor somewhere around that general area pictured above.

Or maybe I’m completely wrong. Pac-Man, despite being a boring old man compared to the rest of his family, was ubiquitous for nearly a decade. In my youth, I saw Pac-Man cabinets in every restaurant lobby, hotel, motel, and Holiday Inn in the country. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a few of the sit-down Pac-cabinets in doctor’s offices. Pac-Man was everywhere for a while, and I could see my grandfather first playing the game at any of those locations. He was a dedicated husband and father, but my mother has always eaten about as slow as a particularly anemic snail, so I could easily imagine my grandfather sneaking off to a diner Pac-Man cabinet to munch pellets faster than his daughter could devour potatoes. … Or maybe I’m just confusing my own childhood with his adulthood…

Regardless, I can tell you one place my grandfather did not play Pac-Man for the first time: his living room. It’s hard to even imagine now, but gaming used to be exclusively an outside activity… or at least outside the home. You could not play videogames in your living room, you were stuck going to any of those (many) locations listed to get your gaming fix, because the technology just wasn’t there. Did you see those arcade cabinets? No way anything like that would fit in your bedroom.

But when you did get something home…

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It might not have been so hot. That’s Pac-Man for the Atari 2600. I know for a fact that my grandfather owned that game, because I played “his” Atari roughly 28,000,000,000 times as a kid. But I didn’t play Pac-Man that much (Combat, man, Combat), because, even as a toddler, I knew a compromised port when I saw it. And my grandfather agreed. In the same way one might have a cherished memory of an elder telling a tale of a bygone age/lemon tree, I can distinctly recall my grandfather sitting me on his lap, and saying, “Bobby, let’s save this game for the arcade.” And we did. And it was good.

Looking back, it’s obvious why Atari Pac-Man was so terrible. We didn’t know the numbers at the time, but the Atari literally had 32 times less memory than the Pac-Man arcade board, so trying to get ol’ Pac going “perfectly” on an Atari was about as likely as running Windows on the Sesame Street Cookie Counter. But back in the earliest of 80’s, the message seemed to be that, no matter what, we were never going to get “arcade realism” on the humble home console. I’ve spoken of this phenomenon before, and, yes, it even applied to games where the hero is a yellow circle and no participants even have recognizable appendages. Regardless, it seemed like that would be the status quo forever, and “home computers” would never be advanced enough for something so complex as a yellow pizza man.

The originalAnd then… they were. Whether you want to point to the Commodore 64, Nintendo Entertainment System, or even the later Atari 5200, we did eventually get an “arcade perfect” port of Pac-Man (or close enough to forget that that earlier Pepto-Man ever existed), and Pac-Man actually could be enjoyed at home. We made it! What could be better?

Well, Pac-Man anywhere you want, of course.

Pac-Man had a few portable iterations in his heyday. I’ve never seen one in person, but google the Tomy Tronic Pac-Man if you ever want to see the glorious old days of pac-portability. And the Coleco portable Pac-Man “cabinet” had a similar, early portable styling in that whole “light up blocks” a number of people remember from the Tiger Electronic portables. Oh! And those Pac-Man electronic watches! I hear people have died over those things. All of those whacky devices technically provided a portable pac-perience, but if Atari Pac-Man was a compromised port, this was an excuse that was somehow even less. I’m pretty sure you could get a more robust experience out of a damn wall mural than those stupid watches.

But then the Gameboy came, and Pac-Man was good.

And, sure, there wasn’t any color, and sure, you had a choice between teeny tiny graphics or actually, ya know, seeing the whole screen, but it was pretty damn Pac-Man. All the cinema scenes are here, and I’m pretty sure the ghost/power pellet times are arcade accurate. All the little intricacies of Pac-Man are available on the go, even if it’s kind of difficult to tell Blinky from Inky. And, while it seems obvious to say that people notice details, it’s those little things that separate atrocious Atari ports from the kind of games that can pry Tetris from that lone, precious Gameboy slot.

So, yes, today, Pac-Man for Gameboy seems primitive and, frankly, kind of sad. This is a version of Pac-Man that is meant to be played on a screen barely larger than an Amiibo base. But then again, that’s kind of the point: when Pac-Man was released, it could only be contained in an arcade cabinet that weighed hundreds of pounds and cost hundreds of dollars. But, in just a decade, Pac-Man could gobble down ghosts while being powered by a mere four batteries.

Yeah!And my grandfather always had those four batteries available. Essentially. He suffered from a stroke around 1999, so, being partially paralyzed, he didn’t really keep up with videogame advances. But one image I’ll never forget would be from about two years before he died (incidentally, roughly ten years after the stroke). He was sitting at his computer in his wildly disorganized “office” (a place my grandmother never visited), and he was chatting with his brother. My grandfather lived in New Jersey, and his brother of some eighty years lived in Florida. They were chatting via a messenger service (probably AOL), and my grandfather had somehow jury-rigged a modern webcam to a tripod from roughly 1956, and there was his brother on the screen, chatting away, and likely with some similar piece of makeshift webcammery on his side. They were talking, or, to be more particular, my grand uncle was talking, and my grandfather was listening. And, while my grandfather was listening, he was playing a game of Pac-Man in the other window. It’s not hard to play a videogame with four buttons with one hand. But I’ll always remember that scene: two men from the early 20th Century, talking across miles and miles as if they were in the same room, and one is still nursing a case of Pac-Fever.

Pac-Man came a long way, and technology came with him.

And that’s always going to be important.

FGC #287 Pac-Man (Gameboy)

  • System: I have got to find a better system than making the system part of the title and then denoting the system directly below the title. Also, I should say “system” less.
  • Number of players: Two! Via link cable! I have no idea how that works, because I never saw a second Gameboy with Pac-Man in my youth… but it’s probably lame. I mean, this ain’t Pac-Men.
  • Further Photographic Evidence: I wasn’t kidding about the Gameboy screen being the size of an Amiibo Base.

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    Also, for the record, that Gameboy is playing my copy of Pac-Man, you just absolutely cannot see it. Oh well.

  • Two in one stroke: I’m also going to claim that this article covers Atari Pac-Man, so that way I never have to touch that one again. Yes, I did also inherit that “beloved” childhood memory, too, because of course I did.
  • Did you know? Yes, I live in a town where I can still walk to an arcade. Multiples, depending on the season.
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    And, yes, at least one arcade has OG Pac-Man.
  • Would I play again: Pac-Man, yes, Gameboy, no. I have respect for the first decent portable system in history, but respect doesn’t do anything for eyestrain.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Persona 5! Or maybe he didn’t choose it at all, and I just feel like writing about a game I played for a hundred hours. Who could say? You get Persona 5 either way. Please look forward to it!

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