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What's Wrong With Pac-Man? - The Atari Times

What's Wrong With Pac-Man?

A discussion of the 2600
by Gregory D. George

June 11, 2002
When Namco introduced that little yellow fuzzball to the arcade world, people literally went crazy. Kids would starve themselves at lunch time just so they could spend their lunch money to play it. People spent months memorizing patterns to avoid the ghosts to extend their game to the 9th key level and beyond. Books were written detailing the best strategies to play. Even songs were written about this game detailing an unknown songwriter's illness! The game, of course, is Pac-Man.

When Atari acquired the exclusive rights to Pac-Man for the 2600, they were very guarded about it. They would not allow any other Pac-Man clones to be released for other systems. The most famous of all was when Atari sued Magnavox for their Odyssey 2 game, K.C. Munchkin. It didn't matter to Atari or even the judge that K.C. Munchkin was a huge improvement in terms of gameplay over the original Pac-Man. It was a man in a maze being chased by ghosts and that's all they cared about.

Atari handed the programming chores for the 2600 conversion of Pac-Man to Tod Frye. When Tod wrote the game back in the early 1980's, it wasn't economically feasible to fit the game in a cartridge larger than 4K. Thus, 2600 Pac-Man would be forever handcuffed in all the important areas: Sound, graphics, and gameplay. And the fact that 2600 Pac-Man turned out nothing like the original arcade caused a huge backlash against Atari. Thus began the great video game crash, with Atari and their botched game riding the top of the wave.

Here are just a few insightful reasons why people hate 2600 Pac-Man:

So, the real reason people hate this game is because it's not like the arcade. But does that mean it automatically sucks? I wonder how many people who simply said, "It sucks" actually gave it a chance as a standalone game instead of just comparing it to the arcade? (Which, I might remind you was on far superior hardware.) Could YOU have done a better job with just 4K to work with?

Despite all of the criticisms leveled against 2600 Pac-Man, there is an elite few who actually like the game. People like myself, who, when the arcade Pac-Man was in full swing, didn't get very many opportunities to play it. Some of us actually enjoyed the corny manual that gave Pac-Man a face and gave the game a storyline! The colorful images in the manual with the slick looking power wafers made the game somewhat enjoyable. Perhaps Atari knew the game would disappoint most gamers and jazzed up the manual to compensate?

When I got a copy of 2600 Pac-Man, I was looking to complete my collection of genres of games, not specific titles. I wanted a space shooter, a breakout game, a driving game, and, naturally, a man in a maze game. And what game was better known than Pac-Man? I didn't care in the least that it didn't look like the arcade version. In fact, I didn't even notice.

I played the game and enjoyed it for what it was. A romp through a maze eating wafers, vitamins, and power pills all while avoiding the ethereal ghosts. I made up my own patterns for this version of the game and learned to love it as much as arcade players loved that version. I played and played and played until I could play it no longer. I finally reached a point where I was so good at it, I was unbeatable. That was in 1982.

I suppose that hating the 2600 version of Pac-Man is the vogue thing to do these days. However, I'll always look back at Pac-Man with a nostalgic eye. Even objectively it's far from being even a good game on the 2600, but there are many other black sheep games on the VCS including ET and Raiders. But somehow, I've always felt that Pac-Man was the friendliest black sheep of them all.

Reader Comments for What's Wrong With Pac-Man?

At least it was free by Randy Johnson on 2014-07-24 19:24:31
Yes, the Atari 2600 Pac-man did suck but at least it was free to most people. In addition to Combat, Atari started giving this game free with the Atari 2600.
My friend told me that when it was released, his parents paid $40.00 for it. OUCH!!! I read that many people bought the 2600 Pac-man and many of them took the game back to the stores and got refunds.
The ghosts are the correct colors. Red, blue, pink and orange but because they flicker so much, it's very hard to tell.
If this game had included either the arcade intermissions or the arcade prizes, it would've been better. We should be thankful that the Atari 2600 MS.Pac-man was a big improvement.
4K Pac-Man by Gregory D. George on 2014-07-24 22:44:51
There actually is a very cool version of Pac-Man for the 2600 that fits within the space limits of the original.

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