Gobble some balls with Namco’s Pac-Man

As you can no doubt tell by the sophomoric title, this article marks the exact point at which I stopped fully caring about what Examiner.com wanted (as what they wanted didn’t pay anyway), and started to do whatever it was I felt like doing. Oddly, people seemed to like it.

Originally published at Examiner.com on July 22, 2009.

Namco originally wanted to call the game Puck-Man, but wisely decided against it after considering that the name may be altered by vandals to something not so kid-friendly: Fire Truck-Man.

Now, I know what you’re all saying after reading that title: “Why on Earth would he review Pac-Man? It’s the single most famous video game on the face of the planet!” You’re right. Namco’s Pac-Man is the most recognizable title in the history of video games. It’s been copied, emulated, compiled, and remade, with few changes (if any) to the old formula of a character being chased in a maze. It’s been on virtually every system known to man (and probably plenty of systems that are unknown to man). What, then, could I have to say about the game that hasn’t already been said? Admittedly, not much. But I can point out a few things that some may have forgotten (or, perhaps, ignored) about the game‘s finer points. First, I shall talk about the storyline, as it’s the easiest and fastest to explain. Ahem. There is none. Next!

I’ve always wanted to eat a ghost, but I could never justify consuming the empty calories.

Wait…that can’t be right. No story? Even in Japan? Come on! When you really step back and take a look at how bizarre Pac-Man actually is, there must be some story. Any story. Well, sorry, folks, but there’s none. Pac-Man’s just a round thing with a mouth in an incandescent maze who eats yummy balls and gets chased by ghosts. When Pac-Man eats big, shiny balls, the ghosts turn blue and Pac-Man can now chase and eat them (Note: I could make several comments about that last sentence but, in the interest of maintaining at least some semblance of maturity, I won’t say a word). But, yes, there’s no deep storyline to Pac-Man. No rampaging minotaur threw Pac-Man into an endless labyrinth where the ghosts of those previously felled by the monster haunt the current hero. Nope. Just a circle. Eating balls. With ghosts. In a maze. And people have loved it for about three decades.

I sometimes wonder, “What kind of evil, vengeful god would trap Pac-Man in an endless maze of horror and death?” But then I wonder, “Meh, who am I to judge?”

And, while we‘re not on the subject, what is the deal with Ms. Pac-Man? Are we to believe that the only gender-identifying organ on the Pac-Man race happens to be a bow? Scientists would have quite a hard time explaining the evolutionary importance of that. Or, is it possible that Ms. Pac-Man is really just Pac-Man in drag, as the word “man” is still very prominent in her name? It would certainly explain why J. Edgar Hoover loved playing this game (for those who don’t know, J. Edgar Hoover was the inventor of the vacuum cleaner–and a cross-dresser). And let’s talk for a moment about the character known as Jr. Pac-Man. It’s Pac-Man…in a beanie. Is Jr. Pac-Man really a game starring Pac-Man’s offspring, or is Pac-Man just reliving the childhood he never had in some Freudian delusion of ghost-tainted fear and ball-munching madness? Oh, well. Some of these questions may never be answered, but for gamers, that’s okay. Namco’s classic has stood the test of time, and still remains an incredibly addictive game. There’s a reason why it’s been copied, ported, and cloned for all this time. I mean, really, the game is literally everywhere. And it rarely ever changes. Here’s hoping it never will.


For more info: Pac-Man Wiki

Continuing on a similar note from my last rant (but keeping this considerably less rant-y), my all-time favorite classic game compilation (or series of compilations) is the Namco Museum entries for the original PlayStation. Though each volume only contained about six to eight games per disc, and though one of the six entries was available only in Japan (Namco Museum Encore), it was the presentation that sets these releases apart from anything that’s come after.

Just what did Namco Museum do to make such an impression? Well, these entries didn’t just give you the retro games listed for each volume with a bare bones menu and call it a day. No, each of the six Namco Museum volumes takes the title Namco Museum literally and places you in the first-person shoes of someone navigating a three-dimensional virtual museum. The lobby, usually an ornate marble number, has an information desk with a robot clerk to help in broad ways.

Off to the right is a library containing saved scores, covers from Namco trade magazines over the years, and an official timeline of arcade games released by the company. Behind the library is a theater where you can watch slide shows of screen shots from the games in that particular volume (in the audience are various Namco characters, such as Mappy and Dig Dug, jumping around and making a fuss).

The games themselves are usually just beyond the lobby, with each title receiving its own themed gallery. On your way to play the arcade machine at the end of each gallery, you may peruse several “exhibits,” such as pictures of plushies or plastic toys related to the game, often with a date and small blurb of information beside it. The game rooms are vast and often feature characters from the game itself, such as the starship from Galaga disembarking from its dock and speeding off to do battle in space. It’s all very theatrical and I fucking love it.

Even the cases containing the discs are designed well. Each volume, one through five, displays on its front a bold red letter that, when placed together, spells out “Namco.” The sixth volume–the aforementioned Encore–displays only the copyright logo on its cover. Brilliant.

If you want to check these out for yourself, you will need an old school PlayStation and an eBay login–because while Volumes One and Three were widely available, Two, Four, and Five received limited prints in the United States and are much harder to come by. Encore, of course, will need to be imported, and played on a Japanese PlayStation as a result (or a modded American PlayStation). Of course, there’s always the E-word, but I’ve been told not to talk about that.

– Randall Malus, 09/12/2019

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