Tag Archives: pac-man

FGC #398 Jr. Pac-Man

This is how reproduction worksIf you’re at all interested in videogames, you’ve probably heard of the horrors of game preservation. Videogames are, almost by design, ephemeral. They’re here on the current software, and, if a game is a hit, you can be sure you’ll see it return in the next generation (maybe with a HD remaster!). If a game is a “cult classic”, you might spy a few nerds getting really excited when it shows up on what passes for the next generation’s virtual console. But, if it fails to make an impact, and it fails to have a big name attached to it, then it is likely gone forever. There are literally thousands of games that have languished on their original hardware, never to be seen by an audience ever again.

And this is, without question, a bad thing. More than any other medium, videogames are iterative and absolutely rely on what has come before. Sure, we all like to look at “defining” games like Mario and Zelda to explain where gaming has originated (and where it’s going), but the failures are just as important as the successes. Krion Conquest shows us exactly how to make Mega Man wrong. Early Metroidvania titles (Goonies 2 comes to mind) exemplify what features should be left on the cutting room floor (like God damn birds that steal your items). And the early xeroxes of Doom and Final Fantasy 7 demonstrate exactly what can go wrong in a FPS or JRPG. A bad movie is generally just a bad movie, but there is so much involved in a bad videogame, that there is much to learn past “don’t do that”.

And then there are chunks of our history that are lost forever not because they were somehow unworthy, but because of the great equalizer of all mediums: the legal department.

Munching alongJr. Pac-Man is a Pac-Man arcade game from 1983. The title made it to the Atari 2600 in ’86 (four years after the initial, disastrous Atari Pac-Man), and DOS/Commodore 64 two years later. In other words, it made the rounds in its day. However, you won’t see Jr. Pac-Man past 1990. It did not appear on any of the “modern” consoles, like the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was not an unlockable in the arcade of Pac-Man 2. And, even today, when you score a Pac-Man collection on your platform of choice, it does not contain Jr. Pac-Man. The character of “Pac-Man’s son” might pop up from time to time, but his titular videogame is nowhere to be found. What happened?

Well, the answer to that is simple: Jr. Pac-Man never should have been born. Namco is the creator of the once and future Pac-Man, and merely licensed the property to Bally-Midway for release in the states. Then Pac-Man fever infected the nation… and Midway needed to sell more arcade machines. Everybody already had Pac-Man, and, thus, only arcade owners were raking in the quarters, not the arcade cabinet manufacturers. So, in a desperate bid to revitalize the Pac-Market, Midway released a slew of new Pac-Content. Ms. Pac-Man is the most famous example, but we also saw Baby Pac-Man, Professor Pac-Man, and the abhorrent Pac-Man Plus, a game that I’m almost certain is naturally haunted (not talking about the ghosts, they’re normal). And, from this bumper crop of Pac-Merchandise, we also saw Jr. Pac-Man.

So flashyAnd Jr. Pac-Man might be one of the best of the Midway Alterna-Pacs. It’s never going to dethrone Ms. Pac-Man, but it has some pretty interesting mechanics. For one thing, for better or worse, it’s the first Pac-Man title designed with a scrolling maze. This means bigger stages, naturally, but also a little more tension with monsters that could be doing anything when they’re off screen. And the bonus items now have much more of an impact on gameplay: an item (no longer just fruit, now we’ve got bicycles, trains, and… a cat?) will move around the maze of its own volition, and “fatten” the traditional pellets. A fat pellet will grant Junior more points, but they also slow this Pac down the tiniest bit… which can make a significant impact when there’s a ghost on your tail. But that’s not all! In a move that can only be described as a betrayal of everything a bonus item stands for, if an item comes in contact with a Power Pellet, both the item and the pellet will explode! And you’re down a Power Pellet! Oh, the humanity!

And, most bizarrely of all, Jr. Pac-Man decides to add to the Pac-Mythos. The round clear cinema scenes of Ms. Pac-Man showcased the pairing of two Pacs, and the attract mode of Jr. Pac-Man features the stork dropping off the new Pac-Bundle. Jr. Pac-Man scenes show another love story, but one between Junior and… a ghost! Yum-Yum is Blinky’s daughter, and it’s clear that he does not approve of these star-crossed lovers. Will Pac-Man Jr. run off with a tiny ghost with a bow in her hair (“hair”)? Play the game to find out!

Or don’t, because you can’t play the thing anywhere.

So verticalFor the sin of creating a licensed-but-unapproved Pac-Man title, Bally-Midway will no longer see any profits from the adventures of the second-littlest Pac. As a result, Jr. Pac-Man is not allowed to appear in any Pac-Collections, and, should you mention Jr. Pac-Man in polite company, the duchess shall be offended, and you will be asked to leave the premises. Jr. Pac-Man may be an interesting twist on the Pac-Formula, but it is nothing more than a redheaded step child to Namco, so it must be thrust out into the cold, never to be seen again (except maybe at Thanksgiving).

And more’s the pity.

Jr. Pac-Man isn’t the best Pac-Man game out there. It might not even be in the top three. But is it better than Pac-Land? Is it more of a Pac-Man game than Pac-Man 2? Does it have more to say about Pac-Play than Pac-Mania? There’s a clear “yes” to each of those questions. Jr. Pac-Man might not be an instant classic, but it’s unavoidably part of the Pac-Pantheon, and should be regarded as such. Jr. Pac-Man deserves a seat at the table, and that means someone born after 1988 deserves a chance to play it.

But it’s never going to happen, because of a licensing dispute from thirty years ago.

Videogame preservation is important, but it seems like the legal department is more important.

FGC #398 Jr. Pac-Man

  • System: Arcade, Atari 2600, DOS, and Commodore 64… and then never again. If you can’t tell, you’re seeing Arcade and Atari 2600 for this article.
  • Number of players: Two player alternating. Does this means the Pacs have two sons?
  • Attempted Preservation: In an effort to find some version of Jr. Pac-Man, I managed to turn up a random flash version online.

    Not wakka

    It is… not great.

  • Continuity Issue: Actually, Jr. Pac-Man first appears as part of Ms. Pac-Man (the game… man, the phrasing on that sentence is weird) being dropped off by the stork as part of a later cinema scene. But then he arrives at the start of Jr. Pac-Man, when the Pacs have a home? Which is it, Pac-Authors?
  • Favorite Item: The final released maze is the “beer maze”. Let’s just go ahead and assume that’s a root beer, and Jr. Pac-Man is not trying to get drunk with his bad-influence ghost girlfriend.
  • What’s in a name: The orange ghost of Jr. Pac-Man is known as… Tim. Maybe he’s a ghost wizard?
  • Did you know? Ms. Pac-Man was a Midway hack, too, but Namco liked it. Go fig.
  • Would I play again: I would like to, but there’s no way I’m fighting the Atari into playing this cartridge anytime soon. I suppose I could always drop a quarter in this guy, though…

    WAKKA WAKKA

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pocket Tennis Color for the Neo Geo Pocket Color! It’s going to be 399-Love here at the FGC. Please look forward to it!

FGC #370 Mighty Bomb Jack

Mighty!Jack? Mighty Bomb Jack? You want to know about good ol’ Jack? Ha! Okay, pull up a stool, I’ll tell you about Jack.

First thing you gotta understand about this whole thing is that it was the 80’s. You’re probably too young to remember this, but back then, we had kind of this… fad going. Not some stupid fidget spinner nonsense or pants around your ankles or whatever, no, back then we knew how to make a fad. Back then we had style. Back then, this circular fella, he had an eating disorder, and he decided to make that some kind of noble thing. He got his yellow ass chased by some ghosts, and suddenly, everybody was callin’ him a hero. A hero! For popping pills! But it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that everybody was worshipping this round boy, and then a couple of other guys get it in their heads that they want to be heroes, too. Before anybody realized what was happening, everybody was claiming to be a hero, and, for a whole quarter, you could hear their stories. And it might sound crazy, but some men got rich off those quarters.

Now, back when it all first happened, it was just random yokels running and jumping. I knew this guy, simple guy, had a simple name like Harvey or Harry or whatever, this guy decides he’s gonna run through some jungles, and get rich doing it. And he did! But you look for Henry on the street, even when he was at his most famous, and you’d never recognize him. Green shirt, green pants, he’s just some average schmoe. And a lot of the other “heroes” noticed that. Some people, they’re cool with not being recognized, but people who were trying to earn barrels full of quarters through their own “brand” alone? Those were not the kind of people that wanted anonymity. Those were the kind of people that want to be known, nay, lauded for their deeds and style. So the big costume craze hit next, and by ’84, Jack was getting ready to hit the scene.

WeeeeeNow, I mentioned that whole costume thing for a reason. A few years before Jack, there was this Italian fellow. Word was this kid was a carpenter or a plumber or something, but what was important was that he made the whole “blue collar” thing work. Personally, I never cared for it, because, come on, you got your first initial monogramed on your hat? What? You couldn’t afford to stick your whole name up there? Need to collect a few more coins, champ? But who cares, you’re not talking to me for my fashion advice, and neither was Jack. Jack comes to me, I remember this was April of ’83, and Jack says to me, “This new guy! They’re calling him Jump Man! I’m Jumpin’ Jack! What am I supposed to do?” And you know what? Jack had a point.

See, Jack had one amazing skill: he could jump good. You see your basketball players nowadays, and everybody says “they’ve got the ups”, but Jack? Jack could jump the entire height of a warehouse. Guy could jump up to the moon if he had to, and, believe me, he thought he might have to. Jack had always been good at jumping, and now, out of nowhere, there’s this other guy, and everybody is calling him Jump Man. And the kicker? He couldn’t even jump that well! He could vault a barrel, which, don’t get me wrong, is pretty hard in a stressful situation, but could he jump up to the top and jump on that giant monkey pal of his? No! Everybody is calling this schmuck “Jump Man”, but he can barely jump, and our expert jumper Jack here is going to come out, call himself a master jumper, and everybody is just going to say he’s ripping off the other guy. I tell ya, Jack was distraught.

So I says to him, I says, “Jack, look at this loser. He’s wearing overalls. Give it a couple years, nobody is going to remember this dingus. He’s a nobody, and you’re a somebody. You, you’re gonna bring class back to this whole operation. You’re not a ‘Jump Man’, you’re a Mighty Man! You’re gonna jump, you’re gonna jump the best out of all of ‘em, and they’re gonna call you Mighty Jumpin’ Jack! Totally different guy from that mustachioed loser. And you’re gonna let ‘em know it, too! You’re gonna wear a circus strongman getup, strap on a cape, and wear an awesome helmet with horns on the sides. Nobody is going to mess with you.”

Hey hot stuffJack was a good guy, and, while I know I might have gotten a little crazy with that hat idea at the end, he immediately went for it. He was excited, and you could see it in his eyes. He started talking about how he was going to go to Egypt, and beat back an army of mummies, and save everybody from the pyramids, and, God, I think back on it, and it was like watching a man get born all over again. Now he was a man with a mission, and Mighty Jumping Jack was going to be the world’s next biggest hero.

Of course, things got a little complicated for Jack along the way. Every hero needs a villain, and this scoundrel by the name of Belzebut stepped up to challenge our boy. Seems it wouldn’t be enough for Jack to collect treasures in the pyramids of yore, nope, he also had to collect the million or so bombs that Belzebut had strewn about the place. That Belzebut had this whole “if I can’t have it all, I’ll blow it all up” thing going on, and, yes, we all needed a hero to save our priceless Egyptian monuments. Jack collects the bombs with his jumping skills, saves the day, and we’re all set forever. You really think about it, the whole situation should have made our jumping pal an international star. But you see Mighty Jumping Jack on any t-shirts lately? No, no you do not.

I blame those stupid bombs.

I want to say this again, and I know I just said it, but you’ve gotta pay attention to this: Jack collected bombs. He dodged mummies, nabbed treasure, and gathered bombs so he could defuse them. Jack never, not even once, used those bombs. Bombs were Jack’s enemy. No like bombs. Very straightforward. Bombs bad.

What is even happening hereBut Jack saves a international monument, comes back to the states, and starts telling his tale to these blokes at Tecmo. Jack goes through the whole rigmarole, mentions the bomb thing like, once, and what do they call him? Mighty Jumping Jack dies, and Mighty Bomb Jack stands in his place. Mighty Bomb Jack! I tell you, nobody reads Bat Joker Man comics, and nobody is going to see the latest movie with Luke Deathstar Skywalker. You don’t put the enemy in the title! Everybody thinks the exact wrong thing! They expect a guy that is gonna use bombs, and they get a guy that is good at jumping! No bombing involved! What is the audience supposed to think, huh? I’ll tell you what they think: they think that they got ripped off! You want mighty bombs, you go deal with that bomber git, not our pal Jack. Jack is for the jumper in us all, and nobody remembers that thanks to those fat cats at Tecmo.

Well, you know the rest of the story. Mighty Bomb Jack saved a pyramid or two, rescued a royal family, and hung up his horned helmet shortly thereafter. People enjoyed Jack’s antics, but it was a crowded market back then, and Jack started off on far too wrong a foot to ever survive. In time, other trends started to take over, and, by about the time “rodents with attitude” started being a thing, ol’ Jack had been completely forgotten. Sunrise, sunset, I suppose.

But don’t worry about Jack. You know that royal family he rescued? Well, he married a princess, and I hear that they’ve got a grandkid coming any day now. Can that plumber fella say that? I don’t think so. And, while Jack might not be the best known American hero, Egypt hasn’t forgotten Jack’s contributions, and they got him a modest statue in one of their big cities. Cairo? I’m sorry, I’m not much for geography. Point is that Mighty Bomb Jack, terrible name and all, is remembered some places. Oh! And he donated most of that treasure stash to orphans! So there’s a lot of good in this world now thanks to a guy that just really, really knew how to jump.

What’s that the kids say nowadays? He’s the bomb? Yeah, maybe you were just ahead of your time, Jack. Jack, you were a mighty man, and the bomb.

… Ugh, that sounds terrible.

Now pour me another pint, and I’ll tell you what really happened to Alex Kidd.

FGC #370 Mighty Bomb Jack

  • Good biosphereSystem: Mighty Bomb Jack was originally a NES game, but then appeared on nonsense like the Atari ST, Commodore 64, and Gameboy. Only one of those things qualifies as a real system. Oh, and Wii Virtual Console, too.
  • Number of players: There was a Vs. version that had two players, but it’s single player on the NES, so we’re going with that.
  • Who put the Mighty in Mighty Bomb Jack: The original Bomb Jack was a single screen, hop around affair for the arcade. Mighty Bomb Jack added fully scrolling stages, and relegated the “single room” areas primarily to bonus rooms. … Or at least they felt like bonus rooms. Point being that this is basically the same difference between Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros., except Nintendo expanded that property into a gigantic, sprawling franchise, and Tecmo did not grant Bomb Jack the same boon.
  • Favorite Confusing Moment: Mummies are Jack’s primarily antagonists. Mummies are capable of transforming into parrots, skulls, and bugs. Life is like fighting a mummy, you never know what you’re going to get.
  • Did you know? If you collect too many powerups in Mighty Bomb Jack, you are sentenced to the Torture Room, where you must survive for a set amount of time before being granted an exit.

    What?

    Could you imagine if this feature was implemented in other videogames? Could you imagine if it was implemented in a Wario title? It would change the face of gaming. … For the worse.

  • Would I play again: Oh yeah, this game is really boring. And annoying. Sorry, Jack, you’re going back into retirement.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Taz-Mania for… Let’s make things interesting! All next week, we’ll be pitting SNES and Genesis titles against each other in a no-holds-barred battle for supremacy. So we’ll be kicking it off with Taz-Mania for the Sega Genesis vs. Taz-Mania for the Super Nintendo. And we’ll wash it all down with a refreshing glass of OJ. Please look forward to it!

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:

Wakka wakka

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:

Wakka wakka

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…

Wakka wakka

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.

    Wakka wakka

    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.
    Wakka wakka

    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!

Wakka wakka

FGC #256 Pac-Man 256

Wakka wakkaPac-Man 256 is great because it’s the first videogame in the Pac-Man franchise.

Pac-Man is unbelievably iconic. In some ways, it was probably a happy mascot “mistake”; many early videogames didn’t really feature a hero (we love you so much, Pong Paddle!), but Pac-Man was, ya know, Pac-Man. Yes, he’s a yellow circle with a mouth, but, in a time when your protagonist can either be Nondescript Blob or Triangle Dude, Pac-Man stood out. And everything combined perfectly (if again, maybe accidentally). The dot munching created that lovely “wakka wakka” noise that could be interpreted as Pac-Man’s “voice” (that must be the explanation, nobody likes the sound of a glutton eating), and the monsters’ expressive eyes were simply meant to indicate their directional intentions, but it inadvertently gave the impression that those ghosts are a little more personable than the cold, unfeeling antagonists of Asteroids. By the time we found out that Pac-Man was married with a Jr. on the way, it was pretty much a given that this “Puck Man” had gobbled his way into our hearts.

Oh, and I guess his starring vehicle was pretty fun to play, too.

I don’t need to explain Pac-Man, do I? My father is no fan of videogames (too many bad memories of goombas), yet he enjoys the occasional game of Pac-Man. My mother played it quite a bit. I’m pretty sure my grandfather (the first person in my ancestry to ever own a videogame console) got my grandmother to try it once. It’s just so simple! Guide this little pizza-man around the maze, avoid the monsters, and maybe turn the tables on your adversaries with a power pellet. Or try Ms. Pac-Man, the same game, but with new mazes! Or Pac-Man Jr., which involves scrolling for some God-awful reason! Or the one and only Super Pac-Man, where Pac-Man can use keys to unlock doors, and large power pellets to become swole. Think of all the different ways you can play Pac-Man with all those wonderful sequels!

YUMMYExcept, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: were Pac-Man released today, the many, many “sequels” to Pac-Man would be considered nothing more than DLC expansions. You can’t just add one new power-up, or two new mazes, and call it an all-new game! You have to create… let’s see here… a full new eight power-ups and accompanying Robot Masters to make a sequel! And maybe add a dog, too! No, Pac & Pal doesn’t count! And when you separate out all the random gimmicks and subtitles, all you’ve got is… Pac-Man. One man, four monsters, a bunch of dots, and four surprisingly powerful dots. That’s it. Forever.

Pac-Man is a videogame, yes, but it’s from the Dork Ages of the medium. When games were limited to a number of bytes roughly on par with the amount of memory my modern computer uses to sneeze (most computers have terrible allergies), games had to be all of one “screens”, and the only way to gauge progress was the humble score counter. There was no final boss. There was no log of all the collectibles you’ve found. If there was a second player option, it was the same character as the first player, just maybe (maybe!) with a fresh coat of paint. Your only goal was to see your name at the top of the high score table. There was no ending. There was no final stage.

Except… Pac-Man did have a final stage: Level 255. Thanks to those previously mentioned limited bytes, the original Pac-Man arcade game couldn’t “draw” a new stage after reaching Level 255, so Level 256 was a glitched, imperceptible mess of pixels. One way or another, 255 was the end of the road for Pac-Man.

So it seems appropriate that Pac-Man 256 finally brings Pac-Man into the 21st Century.

Never look downBefore we go any further, I want to note that I’m well aware that Pac-Man doesn’t need to “get with the times”. I’ve enjoyed Pac-Man since I was a child, I’ve enjoyed Pac-Man CE in my adulthood, and, yes, I will still occasionally hit the ol’ Pac cabinet at a local arcade (I have local arcades!) or diner lobby. Pac-Man may be primitive, but it is a perennial favorite. Nobody needs to update football, tennis, or chess for modern audiences, and Pac-Man could easily keep on pac-ing in the free world.

But sometimes it’s nice to see what Pac-Man would look like if it were designed today.

Pac-Man 256 started as a cell phone game, which, let’s face it, is the first sign of its modernity. The next sign? Pac-Man 256 is never ending like its forefather, but there is a very distinct “goal” here. The glitched nonsense from the original Pac-Man Level 256 is eating the bottom of the screen, so Pac-Man must escape “up” in an endless maze of dots and monsters. Progress is logged in every conceivable way: high scores, maximum combo of dots eaten, maximum number of ghosts defeated, and even total number of raw dots consumed. And all those dots pay off: in one version of Pac-Man 256, Pac-Man can trade dots for new powerups… which kind of raises questions about Pac’s dot feeding. I have… concerns about his digestive system. Oh, and in some versions of PM256, it’s “freemium”, and actual cash money can be traded for powerups. Hey, it’s probably still cheaper than 3 lives for a quarter…

But those powerups are the real showstopper here. Pac-Man may still consume a power pellet so as to necessitate monster consumption, but now that ability is joined by fire trails, ninja stealth, tornados, ice magic, and, my personal favorite, LASER MOUTH. Freeze fire?And those are only the powerups I feel like naming at the immediate moment, don’t even get me started on crazy Bomber-Pac-Man. And powerups are all earned through playing the game (unlocked, if you will), and earning better and better scores and combos. Get better at the game, get more stuff. Easy peasy Blinky squeezy.

And it’s amazing how much of all of this comes from modern innovations in videogames that are standard now, but weren’t even considered back in the days Pac-Man ruled the arcade.

Multiple, “whacky” kinds of powerups? Check. Monsters follow very deliberate patterns? Check. Combo meter? Check. Play more to unlock more? Check. Multiple “skins” so you can customize your Pac? Check. Online leaderboards? Double check. Multiplayer? Yep. Random reference to Super Pac-Man for nostalgia’s sake? Oh yeah.

But the important thing isn’t the innovation on display, it’s that it all blends together perfectly. Basic Pac-Man gameplay married to modern novelty and game design thinking doesn’t create some horrible lumbering Pac-Monstrosity; no, what we have here is a effortlessly fun Pac-Experience. Pac-Man 256 brings Pac-Man into the contemporary era, and, for the first time in gaming history, creates a true Pac-Man sequel.

Pac-Man 256 is the videogame that we always knew Pac-Man could be.

FGC #256 Pac-Man 256

  • System: Mobile devices, and then modern consoles, like Playstation 4 or Xbone. I would be very happy if a Switch version were to appear.
  • Wakka wakkaNumber of players: Four, and I’d like to try that out sometime. Only issue appears to be that I don’t think I’ve… ever used my PS4 for couch multiplayer.
  • Favorite Powerup: I’m sorry, did I not already mention LASER MOUTH?!
  • Favorite Monster-Ghost: Everybody seems to have very “set” patterns in this game, save the always industrious Blinky. Though I’m going to say Funky, the green ghost, is my favorite, as he seems prone to traveling in packs. That’s the way to do it, Funky!
  • Did you know? The “chicken” skin of Pac-Man 256 is actually based on Crossy Road, a sort of “Endless Frogger” that was designed by PM256’s creators. Considering the pattern here, it looks like an “Endless Space Invaders” is right around the corner. Wait… is that just Gradius?
  • Would I play again: Yes! Though, I want it on a system that is portable and has a proper joystick. I realize that’s kind of ironic considering the mobile origins of the game, but the hearts wants what the heart wants.

What’s next? Random ROB is still rebooting, so we’re going to go with a game I never thought would legitimately see American consoles… Waku Waku 7! It’s super dynamic anime fighting time! Please look forward to it!