Pac-Man he is forty years old, time flies and yellow pizza is approaching the golden wedding with gamers. It is not new for us at Eurogamer to celebrate this anniversary: the creature of Toru Iwatani is solidly anchored at the dawn of our media, it is the mascot of the mascots that everyone knows and of which everyone has a memory. It is the pop icon of an era of psychedelic lights, of the arcade spirit, a voiceless totem pole that rises above the fathers of video games of the following generations.
Pac-Man is the figure in which the spirit of the tenth art is condensed, he is like one of those generals who represent a very precise historical atmosphere. Let’s be unbalanced: it is the Caesar of the 80s. In the world of Pac-Man, we find an infinite labyrinth, the schizophrenic speed of escape of ghosts, the increasing score, the risk of glitches. We find the gameplay to be pure, exciting and straightforward, and despite the obvious distance from today’s timeless players.
Forty years ago, in a rapidly evolving environment like that of video games, we could already talk about classics without having the suspicion of exaggerating. It all starts on May 22, 1980: Shigeo Funaki is the main programmer of a small team of eight people, ironically, as if they were one per person. Toshio Kai takes care of the soundtrack and sound effects; Toru Iwatani, who opened Namco Dances in 1977 with Gee Bee, came up with the idea for a pizza character.
It is a long road, strewn with great victories, by firsts, but also by twilight failures. Today Pac-Man is like a Jedi in the hermitage, arrived at the time to wait for new Padawans to tell and transmit ancient and intuitive wisdom. In 1981, Ms. Pac-Man was the first female protagonist in a video game; in 1982 there was already a music album in his honor (Pac-Man Fever).
In 1983, Pac-Man Day was already celebrated in the United States, after all, which represents the dissemination of games in the West on a cabinet. This same year begins the crisis of the sector which will lead to the predominance of the NES household; a crisis which remains known for the unsold sales of Pac-Man on the Atari 2600. In 1984, Pac-Land is the first sliding platform game, when the saga begins to experiment without reserve.
In 1987, the year of Pac-Mania and the foray of isometric 3D into the world of colorful ghosts and Pac-dots, the first phase of our starving hero’s fortune came to an end. From the arcade you go to the consoles, the frequency of exits decreases. Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures (1994), Pac-Man World (1999) and Maze Madness (2000) are video games that abandon the unique gameplay of the original game, a true platform-puzzle game.
Pac-Man has had pinball versions for years and is trying out unusual gameplay. We cite, for example, the Pac-Pix experience of 2005, in which the Nintendo DS stylus became essential to complement games. Pac’n Roll, the same year and the same platform, in which the main mechanics are linked to the spherical shape of the protagonist, with gameplay partly focused on physics. Pac-Man Party, 2010, mimics the winning formula of Mario Party.
The classic gameplay doesn’t go away at all, of course, but begins to seek a modern form. We will cite a few special cases and not the myriad of Mobile builds and versions, where it is still comfortable for obvious reasons. In 2003, the multiplayer path was tried: Pac-Man Vs was released for Nintendo Game Cube. It is from 2011 Pac-Man Battle Royale, Arcade version which shows, once again, that such an approach fits very well with the series, a series of soulless experiences that forget the roots of the yellow sphere .
With Pac-Man Championship Edition, released in 2007 when Namco was already absorbed by Bandai, we try to recreate the lost atmospheres of the original game, with a small ploy to make the game system more streamlined, more alive and more adrenaline. A popular course, if we think that the Championship Edition 2, released in 2016, still tries this approach centered on the passion of Hi-Score. Pac-Man 256, in 2015, tried a metagame approach instead, focusing the gameplay on the infamous level 256 glitch.
The attempt to bring Pac-Man back as the protagonist of the platform is less successful. If in the end it’s always a pleasure to find him in films on the theme of video games or crossover video games like Super Smash Bros., he is less effective when he is remodeled as a cartoon mascot, due to ‘a’ stage presence not entirely in accordance with the wishes of the spectators. In Pac-Man and the Monstrous Adventures, born in 2013 to support the animated series, the mediocre gameplay, and a design that suggests mistakes made with Sonic Boom have deterred the revival.
How many branches can a character’s life span over two decades? The history of video games is full of characters long and now imprinted in the imagination, but never as much and as widely as Pac-Man. Thinking of the origins, how his fascinating appearance in the arcades could only fascinate. Will we ever have a version of Pac-Man that is truly in tune with the public’s metamorphic tastes or is their strength, now, to be in a different realm and above the game? Maybe we’ll find out in five, ten, twenty years. Pac-Man will be there, without a doubt.