If you’ve ever walked into a game store one of the first things you likely felt was a sense of awe. Maybe you’re a little jaded to it after being in them so much- like me- but every now and then I still feel it. An entire store, just filled all to all with game after game after game, constantly changing and cycling in and out, into and out of popularity.
In such an enormous market it’s amazing to think any game could hold the public attention long enough to be remembered, let alone be called a legend. But somehow, it happens. And among these legends there are few more legendary than PAC-MAN. But why? What about this little pizza looking fellow was so amazing to hold the public’s attention for 40 years, enough for him to make it into the newest Smash Bros.?
First, some history. PAC-MAN was first released by Namco in Japan in May of 1980, and was distributed by Midway in America in October of the same year. Known as Puck-Man in Japan, the story goes that when localizing to America, Namco was told that they may want to change the name to keep anyone from vandalizing the machines over in the states. Thus, PAC-MAN was born.
Another big reason that PAC-MAN is such a staple today is simply because it was so revolutionary. Future games couldn’t help but look to PAC-MAN for influence.
In an era of space shooters and alien invaders, PAC-MAN’s first genius idea was to market to an audience other than young boys. PAC-MAN may be the first game to ever try to market to a female audience (something which would become much more obvious in July 1981 when Midway released Ms. PAC-MAN). Full of cute ghosts and fun sounds, PAC-MAN was a game about avoiding enemies rather than killing them. It was the first time a game tried to market to a wider audience. This is the biggest reason PAC-MAN sticks in the public’s conscious: everyone remembers their first. And for many people PAC-MAN was the first game that made them think “Huh. Okay, I’ll try it.”
Another big reason that PAC-MAN is such a staple today is simply because it was so revolutionary. Future games couldn’t help but look to PAC-MAN for influence. It was the first maze based game, a trait seen in countless games to some degree but most prominently arcade shooters like Doom or Quake. The mazes were so well designed that Wolfenstein 3D features a maze directly ported over from PAC-MAN, although it’s hard to tell in the first person perspective. PAC-MAN also featured the first power ups, a staple adopted by Arkanoid, only to be followed by almost every game ever in one form or another. The idea of food as pick-ups could be found in games from Super Mario Bros to Castlevania, and continues today as a bit of a joke in the industry.
But more than anything, PAC-MAN is just an amazing game. It has an exceptional design and may have even better marketing. PAC-MAN has become one of the most recognizable video game characters in history. Many people consider it to be the greatest arcade game ever made. When I was asking my friends what they thought of the game to help write this article someone even said it was “The game that led video games to surpass baseball as America’s pastime”. It is one of the all-too-few games held at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. You can still find it in arcade cabinets dotted throughout restaurants all over the country to this day. Few games can claim a legacy like PAC-MAN. And, considering how long he’s stayed out of the reach of those little ghosts, I don’t think we’ll be seeing the last of that little yellow circle for a long, long time.