Welcome to the latest issue of COIN UP! This is the review series where I go back in time and review those arcade games of the past that you probably remember or or have a memory vaguely playing at the local arcade- the game tucked away in a corner while you’re waiting for your turn at Frogger. If you have a favorite game you would like to see in a review- let me know in the comments section below! Lets start this Maze Madness series on the Pac-Man games of the Bally-Midway Era, with the one that started it all!
Is a 1980 maze game from Namco, and released in the US by Bally- Midway. It’s not the first maze game, But it changed the arcade landscape forever. Maze games before Pac-Man were car chase games (where you collect dots…) or a “maze crawler”- where you are a square, and you have to make it to the exit of the maze.
Games like The Amazing Maze, you were an icon ( Square and Diamond, respectively), and it was your job to get to the other side to exit first.
In Head On- you could be one of two cars, running over dots, and trying to avoid running into the other players car. Close, but not quite.
That’s where Toru Iwatani come into the story. He had been at Namco for about two years, and had seen some success withe the three pinball/ pong hybrids he had done- Gee Bee, Bomb Bee, and Cutie Q.
But- everything was about to change. Mr. Iwatani wanted to make a game that appealed to everyone. You see, up until this time- games were sports themed, gun themed, or driving themed. a couple did try to be different for example- Gremlin’s Frogs from 1978 ( this will definitely be a episode of Coin Up)
But- the demographic of games stayed the same for almost eight years.
Until the day Mr. Iwatani had a pizza for lunch. He removed the first slice, and an icon was born.
He now had the character AND his purpose- to Pakku.
Fun Fact- Within 15 months of its U.S. release, Bally/Midway sold more than 100,000 arcade units and fans spent more than $1 billion in quarters to spark the pop-culture phenomenon.
Another fun fact- Yes- this game was called Puck-Man- and yes- the name was changed for obvious reasons…
Now- when did I first meet Pac-Man?
Simple- May, 1980.
I remember going into town with my family for a Memorial Day parade. We were sitting next to the parking lot for Pizza Village (to my Hopewell Junction peeps- you know the place..)- an establishment I frequented A LOT as a kid. Two reasons…
- PIZZA (you had to ask?)
- Arcade games (they went well with the aforementioned PIZZA)
Of course, I sneaked away to see what new games the Pizza Village got in. They were closed during the parade, but I could see a new, bright yellow cabinet with characters I had never seen before…
I’ve said it before- The cabinet pulls you in. I couldn’t wait to see the game. And lets just say- I wasn’t disappointed.
Lets go over the characters of the game, shall we?
This our guy, Pac-Man. His job is to eat! And eat he does!
And now for the bad guys… The Ghost Monsters. These aren’t some random baddy- each one has a job.
This is Inky. He tries to get Pac-Man in between Blinky and himself, cornering him.
This is Blinky. He is the first Ghost in the maze- ready to go. His job is to doggedly pursue Pac-Man- no matter what.
This is Pinky. He tries to ambush Pac-Man by moving parallel to him in the maze.
This is Clyde. He’s the random ghost. He pursues Pac-Man when far from him, but usually wanders away when he gets close.
And just for fun… Here is their alternative names between the various versions.
Now that we have our characters- let’s look and where they call home- The Maze.
Lets get used to our surroundings-
- The Ghost House- Is just what it sounds like. This is where our ghostly fiends REGENERATE. Because Pac-Man eats THEM. More importantly, their clothes. Or cloth. So, they head back in there to get… Decent. A fresh ghost monster suit, and then, it’s back to work. Pac-Man can’t enter- he’s not a ghost monster.
- Pac-Man’s start point- Whenever the game starts, or you loose a life, Pac-Man regenerates there.
- Tunnels- Ahhhh- a small respite for our little yellow friend. Not only does Pac-Man leave the maze when he needs a quick getaway, he reappears on the OPPOSITE SIDE! Another bonus to this- THE GHOSTS MOVE AT HALF SPEED WHEN THEY ENTER! But, watch out- THEY CAN TRAP YOU IN THERE… if they enter both sides while you are in there!
- Bonus Fruit Location- Just like it sounds, this spot is where the bonus fruit appear. The only stay on the screen for 10 seconds- so be quick and gobble them up!
- Power Pellet Locations- This is where you can turn the tables on those mean Ghost Monsters! Eat one, and the Ghost Monsters turn blue! Eat em’ up for more bonus points!
So… What else is on the maze? Dots. Lots of dots. 244 of em’. well, technically only 240.
This is a Pac-Dot. Eat one for 10 points. Eat all 240 to clear the maze. Keep in mind- you slow down when you are eating Pac-Dots.
This is a Power Pellet. Four in each corner. Eat this, get 50 points, and the ghost monsters do this-
…Now you can eat them! And their point values if you eat them in succession are-
- 1st Ghost = 200 Pts.
- 2nd Ghost = 400 Pts.
- 3rd Ghost = 800 Pts.
- 4th Ghost = 1600 Pts.
…After that- all you can see…
ARE THEIR EYES!
I always wished you could eat them for more points!
But- sadly, this wasn’t the case.
These are the bonus items in the center of the maze. They only stick around for 10 seconds, so gobble them up fast!
The points for the bonuses-
- 🍒 Cherry: 100 points.
- 🍓 Strawberry: 300 points
- 🍊 Orange: 500 points
- 🍎 Apple: 700 points
- 🍈 Melon: 1000 points
- Galaxian Boss: 2000 points
- 🔔 Bell: 3000 points
- 🔑 Key: 5000 points
And, then there are the intermissions! This is the first game to have them. They come every second round, to give your hand (and mind) a break!
Now – for a couple of tricks- only the Arcade Pac-Pros know.
- Pac-Man… CAN PASS THOUGH THE GHOST MONSTERS! You heard right- he can go right through them… if they don’t see him. Due to a programming glitch, if the ghost monster’s eyes are looking anywhere but where they are going, you will go right through them… without losing a life.
- You can call the ghost monsters from anywhere in the maze to your location- by shaking the joystick! Do this at power pellet locations for maximum ghost monster chomping!
- There is a black hole on the maze! It”s a super secret location- if the ghosts don’t see you go there, You can hide- INDEFINITELY! This trick is great for bathroom breaks and a quick snack! watch the video below to watch this secret in action!
There are more ports, home brews, and knock offs of Pac-Man than any other game in history- that if I listed them all, this post would need it’s own site. So- I am going to list the ones I’ve enjoyed through the years.
- Atari 2600- April 3rd, 1982
This port I have so many fond memories of. Do remember Pac-Man Day? I do.. And I have the jacket to prove it.
Now- for those of not around in 1982- this was a big deal. The #1 arcade game of all time- on the #1 gaming console of all time. And good luck getting it on the release day. But- I had an in. You see- my neighbors dad worked for Crazy Eddie. You know? Crazy Eddie?
Now that we got that out of the way… Well, they were getting in a case of Pac-Man carts in the day before. So, we all gave his dad money to each get a cartridge. Let me tell you, it was a LONG day at school on April 3rd… I remember running into the house and on the kitchen table- there it was!
I put it in my VCS… and I liked it. Sure- it didn’t look like the arcade- but it’s playable. And when it’s the first and ONLY home version at the moment- you play it. I got HOURS of play out of this game… and have fond memories of doing so.
Now- keep in mind- this is a 2K game. Most Atari cartridges at the time were 4K. The fact that the programmer, Tod Frye, could get this game to work under the constraints of the higher ups at Atari- is a tour de force. don’t believe me? Here’s the story…
Now, with modern hex editors and Atari game programming software, we have more accurate Pac-Man games today- using 8K of ram…
But- the first Pac-Man game on the VCS will always have a special place in my heart.
- Atari 8 bit computers 1982
Now- this one I truly had fun with! I remember for Christmas 1982, all I wanted was a computer. Tron had just come out- and all I wanted to be was the next Kevin Flynn. So, I spent months looking at ads, fliers, and computer magazines, and finally decided on the Atari 400.
It was the smaller version of it’s big brother- The Atari 800, but it was a start. I talked my mom into going to the local computer store to check it out. We got the computer, the 410 cassette player (to store all my masterpieces), and two joysticks to play games. But what games to buy? I saw the Centipede cartridge, and snagged that. but then- in the corner rack, I saw something that blew my mind-
Oh boy… an almost arcade perfect, 8 bit version of Pac-Man? with intermissions? You bet I grabbed it! And I wasn’t disappointed! Just look at this game! I put HOURS into this bad boy! and I always loved the ghosts eyes in this version.
Now- back to the day I got the computer- We bought it in mid October… a little over TWO MONTHS before Christmas. So when we got home, she said-” You can try it out tonight… But before bed, it all goes back in the box until Christmas!” So- I got my Pac-Groove on for a few hours.. and I wasn’t disappointed. Just look at this game! Gorgeous!
and look at this manual- whats not to love?
So, those are the two home versions I had growing up. and I had some aMAZing times playing them! But there’s more. SOOO MANY MORE! To see ALL THE HOME VERSIONS, watch this mega mix- I hope you have some time to spare! A special thanks to Gaming history Source– These videos are amazing, and I use this channel for most of the home port research I do for my posts. I highly suggest you check him out on his YouTube channel.
Alright- enough with the Pac-shenanigans, time to tally up the high score!
Appearance and Sound-
I’m gonna say it- This game holds up. It will always hold up. Of course, there will always be the debate of whether or not Ms. Pac-Man is the superior game. Here’s the thing- with out Pac-Man, there wouldn’t be a Ms. Pac-Man. Sure- the tweaks they did are amazing- but it still stands on the ORIGINAL Pac-man source code. Pac-man- unlike many games in history- is the original in its genre. You don’t make it into the Smithsonian by being mediocre. End of rant.
That being said- the sounds are perfect for this game. Every Wakka Wakka, every ghost monster being chomped, every fruit being gulped.
I love the maze itself. It is a product of the late 70s and early 80s . It isn’t filled in. Just blue, sharp, defined neon lines. One small nitpick- I wish they did change color each round.
And then, there are the characters. Pac-Man is what he should be. A simple design. The ghost monsters- perfect. Each color defines their personality. The expressive eyes are what set them apart- but were the for a purpose- to show the direction they are moving.
A simple 4-way joystick control, that is responsive and exact. Pac-Man can turn on a dime and shoot around corners with ease. No buttons to get in the way of you and dot munching nirvana.
Pac-Man starts out easy- and gradually ramps up into a crazed exercise in hand-eye coordination! Bu the later bell stages, the ghost monsters don’t turn blue when you eat an energizer- they CHANGE DIRECTION! But- the game’s easy pick up and play mechanic is why it will always be a favorite with everyone!
From the ease of its controls , and it’s simple objectives- anyone can play. And the challenge ramps up slow enough, allowing players to learn tricks and patterns, making Pac-Man a game you will come back to again and again.
So, whats the final score?- That’s easy!
This one couldn’t go any other way. It’s PAC-MAN! This game helped make the arcade industry evolve into what it is today.
So- the next time you have a pizza- raise a slice to Mr. Iwatani- as thanks for giving us the game of a lifetime!
Hey gang- Thank you for joining me on this journey through another classic arcade game here on Coin Up! And to celebrate the return of my favorite passion project, I give you- OUR NEW VIRTUAL COIN UP CARDS! Collect ‘em! Trade ‘em! look at them! they make great holiday gifts! Please give me a shout! Have you played Pac-Man or any of it’s off shoots? Do you like it? Hate it? What’s your high score? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading- and learning about our video game history! See you next time on Coin Up!
Keep Playin’ Like It’s 1981!
Awesome article Ray!
The story behind Pac-Man’s creation and how that character helped jumpstart the Golden Age of Arcades is just as incredible. Even though I had watched the G4 Icons episode there were still a great many things I didn’t know. Especially about how you can pass the Ghosts. I will definitely be making that a point next time I fire up Namco Museum on my Switch. 😊😁
Great stuff Ray, looking forward to the next Coin Up! 😀😃 👾
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Thank you sir! And this Coin Up is just the start- imagine what other Pac-history I have to dish out?
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