There are few gaming legends as instantly recognisable as Pac-Man. Beginning in 1980 with the
original dot-munching classic, the small round yellow star went on to feature in a host of brilliant
arcade games across the decade. With several of these available to stream right now on Antstream Arcade, it’s about time this pixelated superstar had the Antstream Secret History treatment. Let’s eat!
The saga of Pac-Man began right at the start of the decade. After several months of intensive development, Namco’s Tori Iwatani revealed the black neon maze to Japanese arcade fans under its then-title of Puck Man. Borne from a desire to create a gender-neutral videogame experience, away
from the shooting mayhem of Space Invaders and its ilk, Puck Man became Pac-Man when American distributors fretted about the potential vandalism that miscreants could perform on the game’s title.
Name changes notwithstanding, Namco’s game was a worldwide hit, coaxing a whole new legion of gaming fans through the doors of arcades.
Yet Pac Man’s success wasn’t just its broad appeal; this was a videogame that had a fantastic and addictive hook at its heart. Four ghosts, each with different characteristics, relentlessly hound Pac-
Man throughout each level. Named Inky, Binky, Pinky and Clyde, this quartet of spooks would almost become as famous as the game’s star, their disembodied eyes floating back to base whenever Pac-
Man turns the tables after munching a power pill. Also featuring one of the earliest examples of cut scenes as Pac Man and the ghosts take turns in chasing each other, it was a strangely elongated gap of two years before the yellow hero’s arcade triumph would spawn further games. And then we got three, all in 1982.
First up, we have Ms Pac-Man, an unsubtle reimaging of Pac-Man with a female character as its star.
Developed in the USA and published by the original game’s Stateside distributor, Midway, a deal was subsequently struck with Namco to use the name in an official capacity. The result is a charming tale
of Pac-love as Ms Pac-Man negotiates the new mazes, complete with bouncing fruit and extra warp tunnels, so that she can meet and then be reunited with her circular beau. After becoming another massive hit, Midway produced a Pac-Man conversion kit designed to give new life to old Pac-Man machines. Pac-Man Plus, while cosmetically similar, offers a few novel gameplay alterations.
Collecting the bonus item now turns the ghosts invisible (and also vulnerable) while the power pills can have random effects, sometimes even turning the maze invisible! Finally for 1982, Namco finally got its act together and produced a sequel of its own.
Super Pac-Man replaces dots with fruit and keys, the latter a requirement for the many locked doors that block Pac-Man inside each maze. In terms of gameplay, the biggest alteration is the inclusion of ‘super pellets’, powerful pills which transform Pac-Man into a behemoth, charging through locked
doors and invulnerable to the ghosts. After the hiatus between Pac-Man and Super Pac-Man, Namco finally seemed to realise the value of its property; as 1983 dawned, another instalment of everyone’s favourite arcade maze game appeared on the horizon.
Encouraged to give the template another
twist following the relative failure of Super Pac-Man, Namco introduced an extra character in Pac & Pal, the infuriating Miru, stealing the bonus fruit and generally getting in the way. Meanwhile, Midway pressed on with its own range of Pac-Man games, releasing Jr Pac-Man the same year which
became the first Pac-Man game to feature a scrolling maze. Then, in 1984, Namco created the biggest departure of the series so far.
In Pac-Land, the famed maze is finally banished as Pac-Man gains legs, arms and a cheeky grin, bouncing his way across five colourful levels that mix the character with elements of the fashionable scrolling platform genre. Displaying plenty of Pac-Man imagery and boosted with a fresh angle – ghosts drive cars, throw mini-ghosts and even pilot aircraft – it’s an alternate experience, but simple and intuitive enough to be a notable success for Namco following the muted reception to its previous two games.
And so we come to the closing game in this history of 80s Pac-Man. Released in 1987, Pac-Mania takes the scrolling concept of Jr Pac-Man and shifts it to an isometric perspective. The view is zoomed in and restricted in comparison to the original, but fortunately Pac-Man has acquired an athletic jump to help him avoid the ghosts, of which there are now five! Fast-paced, varied and incredibly tough, Pac-Mania truly made sure that Pac-Man would end the decade on a high, and like many of the games mentioned in this feature, is available to play for free on Antstream Arcade.
Other Pac-Man games released during the 1980s: pinball games Mr & Mrs Pac-Man and Baby Pac-Man; quiz title Professor Pac-Man; and of course a host of home conversions, led by the official yet notorious Atari 2600 port.
Stay tuned for another Secret History on Antstream Arcade soon!