Originally developed in 1980 and was nearly named with the Japanese title of Puck Man (due toe possible defacement on arcade machines by changing the word ‘Puck’ to…) Pac-Man could considered the quintessential 80s game in 8 bit form.
Directed by Toru Iwantai and a nine-man team under developer Namco, Pac-Man was both a critical and commercial success, becoming more than just a gaming phenomenon for a period of time.
As one of the highest grossing 8 bit games of all time, Pac-Man has earned the right to site along side other legendary gaming icons such Mario.
I faced a conundrum when writing this blog review of Pac-Man.
The game is 40 years old – after all these years what could possibly be written about the game that has not already been expressed in some form or another?
And why bother in the first place? Yellow blob in a maze eats dots, avoids ghosts until consuming a power pill, then eats ghosts. Surely by now everyone knows everything there is to possibly know about Pac-Man, right!?
Whilst that might be true for most of us, there are members of the much younger millennial generation that may have heard of Pac-Man but have never actually played it.
If you fall into this category, please open a new tab in Google and search for ‘Pac-Man doodle’ – it will let you play Google’s free online version!
So, instead of writing the usual bog-standard video game review I thought it would be more interesting (and fun) to share my general experiences and memories from when Pac-Man was first released in 1980. Yes – I am that old.
One of the benefits of my father owning a small suburban corner store in the 80’s was the arcade machine positioned just inside the front entrance. It would be rotated out every few months on a profit-sharing arrangement for a new game. One of the very first games in the store was a sit down table top version of – you guessed it – Pac-Man. There were even plastic (now ‘retro’) stools like these.
As a seven-year-old child I received an allowance of one dollar per week.
Every day after school I dutifully collected the solitary 20 cent coin from my father and used it to bring some Pac-Man happiness. Arcade games in the early 80’s cost a huge 20 cents per game to play.
Anyone that has played Pac-man well enough will eventually learn that there are certain different ‘patterns’ which can be adopted to clear through each maze. Each maze has its own unique pattern.
At the time I learnt the secret to these patterns by a combination of gameplay experience and watching or talking to the more seasoned players.
It was a delight when other kids would come into the store to play the game, usually as they were waiting for the school bus in the morning, or coming home from school in the afternoon.
Watching other gamers play was a great way to learn the intricacies of the game.
Don’t forget, this was in an era completely devoid of the internet without online tutorials or gameplay walkthroughs.
Any gameplay strategies such as learning the patterns was passed on globally via informal word of mouth or simply observing the game and playing it. That in itself is a pretty cool feat.
Christmas Day 1980 was a good one. It was one of the rare days of the year that my father would close the shop to spend a day off with the family.
Our house was situated at the rear of the shop, physically connected to it.
On this Christmas Day, dad brought the Pac-Man arcade machine from the shop into our house.
He opened it up so we could set it to free play and there I was – previously limited to playing Pac-Man once per day with my solitary 20c coin to now playing it over and over as many times as I pleased.
For my brothers and visiting cousins we were in Christmas gaming nirvana!
One of my other early 80’s memories of Pac-Man was not of the actual game itself but the huge volume of Pac-Man related merchandise and paraphernalia.i
It really was a massive worldwide pop culture phenomenon which is astounding considering this was in a time pre-internet.
I remember watching Pac-man cartoons on Saturday morning TV, wearing my Pac-Man t-shirt, eating Pac-man chips and using my Pac-man colouring-in book from my Pac-Man show bag.
The world really did go nuts for Pac-Man, and this went on for a few years, not a few months.
Another appealing factor of 1980’s Pac-Man was clearing each maze to discover what bonus fruit would appear in the next subsequent maze.
Yes, you heard me correctly, in 1980’s era video gaming that was considered exciting.
Aah, such simple pleasures from a simpler time. For the record, the fruits which appeared in the centre of each maze were cherry, strawberry, orange, apple, melon, Galaxian alien spaceship, bell and a key.
After reaching the key it would repeat indefinitely. And yes, you’re correct, they’re not all fruits.
Pac-Man was a real joy when it was released. The boppy little intro tune, the sound effects, the bright graphics.
Looking back now I can easily see why the game was a huge success and almost single-handedly launched the video game boom of the early 80’s.
A couple of sequels were released, and eventually more sophisticated games came onto the market to catch gamer’s attention.
Whilst Pac-Man’s glory days disappeared a long time ago, the legacy it has left behind will never be forgotten.