Over the years, there have been very few video games which have stood the test of time. A majority would fade into obscurity, but those which survived became social phenomenons. Regarded as the first-ever gaming mascot, Pac-Man is the most-recognisable character of all. That is, ahead of Mario, Sonic, and many others.
Since his debut in 1980, he has appeared in sequels, spin-offs, and merchandise. Namco’s prized asset is still going strong, after over 35 years. The first game was so successful, in fact, that it has been re-released in countless compilations.
Pac-Man’s gameplay was both simple and challenging – the perfect combination
During the ‘Golden Age of Video Games’, the peak of arcade gaming, Namco released Pac-Man in 1980. This era – from the late-70s to mid-80s – was the first time gaming became available to the mainstream.
With limited graphics, developers had to deliver a unique experience to be successful. Games which managed this feat include Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Centipede. With most arcade titles sci-fi shooters, Namco established a new genre – the ‘maze’ game.
The gameplay premise was simple. Each level consisted of a maze containing ‘pac-dots’ on the screen. The player had to guide Pac-Man to eat all the dots on the screen to progress. The more dots the player consumed, and more mazes cleared, the higher the score.
But whilst the gameplay was simple, it was never easy. There would also be four ghosts roaming, who would stop him in his quest. If Pac-Man made contact with any of them, he would lose a life. Whereas the aim of titles like Space Invaders was to kill enemies, the goal here was to avoid them. Power pellets, located in the corners of each level, allowed Pac-Man to eat his enemies. This, and collecting items such as fruit, yielded big points bonuses.
As players progressed, the game became more difficult. Power pellets had a reduced effect level-by-level, meaning ghosts were less vulnerable. Although there is no official ending to the game, it lasted for 255 levels. Those who lasted this long would encounter a 256th level, named the ‘split screen’ level (due to a glitch).
Spin-offs often include variations of the original, although it is not the same [Pac-Man World for PlayStation]
Its biggest success was in North America, where it was one of the highest-grossing games. By the mid-1990s, it made more than $2.5 billion. This was not only a classic arcade game, but also a symbol of 1980s culture.
The series returned to the arcade in the form of sequels and spin-offs, including Ms. Pac-Man. Not limited to arcades, though, as Pac-Man released on home consoles such as the Atari 2600 and NES. He also appeared in his own cartoons, other games, and a movie.
Due to Pac-Man’s popularity, its success spawned a whole range of merchandise. This included board games, plushies, clothing, and even adhesive plasters.
Pac-Man: Championship DX+ is a must-buy, whether you have played the series before or not
A lot of series lose their magic, by deviating from the core gameplay which made them successful. There has been some variation over the years, including platformers and party titles. But Pac-Man, for the most part, has stuck to its roots.
Championship Edition DX+ is the closest Namco have come to replicating the original. Released in 2010, it features a range of mazes and new gameplay mechanics (available on Steam here). Some may think it is an even better version, as it has a longer lifespan.
The very fact the series is still alive today is a testament to the legacy of the original arcade release. Pac-Man is an example of how – in this complex industry – simple gameplay is all that is necessary for a great game.