Welcome back to my multi-part retrospective look at the Pac-Man franchise.
We left off with another unauthorised Pac-Man game with Pac-Man Plus from Midway, so lets carry on from there.
Baby Pac-Man: Was yet another Pac-Man game from Midway which was again not authorized by Pac-Man’s original developer Namco. Released in October 1982, Baby Pac-Man really brought a few new ideas to the franchise…but were they good ideas?
Baby Pac-Man was really two games in one. With play starting out as you’d expect from a Pac-Man game, simple maze with pellets to collect as normal, but without the infamous power pills that would allow you to eat the ghosts. This was displayed on the upper screen with another pinball mode underneath.
The game’s mazes were instantly recognisable and easy to understand if you had played a previous Pac-Man game with one exception, the addition of 2 chutes at the bottom of the screen. If you lead Baby Pac-Man down either of these 2 chutes, the game would switch to the lower pinball mode which would operate just as a traditional pinball game. The player could play pinball to earn power pills, gain fruit bonuses. All of which would be used in the standard video mode. If the player fails to keep the ball in play, the game resumes on the video screen but with the chutes closed. To reopen the chutes, you must then either gobble all remaining pellets or be killed by a ghost.
The game was quite a refreshing change. Still keeping the traditional Pac-Man formula but adding the pinball concept meant something familiar and new at the same time.
Due to its unorthodox design and concept, a Baby Pac-Man working arcade cabinet has become a collectors item and quite rare.
Midway still released two more unauthorised Pac-Man games.
Jr. Pac-Man: Was released January 1983 and was Midway’s penultimate Pac-Man game and another game created without the authorization of Namco.
Jr. Pac-Man was probably the first game in the series that really brought a lot more new idea and features to the franchise than ever before.
While the same basic gameplay remains of you controlling the titular character around a maze, having to clear the maze of all the pellets while being chased by ghosts. Some of the new gameplay features include:
The mazes are now two times the width of the screen, meaning the camera scrolls left & right through the mazes to keep up with Jr. Pac-Man as he moves around.
Just as in the previous games, bonus items would appear in each round, they would bounce around the maze as in Ms. Pac-Man previously. But an item touches the pellets, it changes them into larger pellets that are worth 50 points instead of the standard 10 however, they would also slow down Jr. Pac-Man as he eats them.
If an item encounters an power pill, it would self-destruct, taking the power pill with it.
If Jr. Pac-Man should die, all larger pellets will disappear from the maze.
There were also a handful of cosmetic changes:
Clyde has been replaced by a another ghost named Tim.
The game’s cutscenes focus a developing relationship between Jr. Pac-Man and a small red ghost named Yum-Yum.
But returning from the original Pac-Man was the infamous Kill Screen, this time it would kick in at the 146th stage and caused the game to display an invisible maze that does not contain any dots.
Jr. Pac-Man was an interesting change to the formula and was also well received by players at the time.
While Midway had one more unauthorised Pac-Man game to come, it was original creator’s Namco turn up next.
Pac & Pal: This was Namco’s next Pac-Man game in the franchise and their first since the mediocre Super Pac-Man. Released in July 1983 and exclusively in Japan, Pac & Pal brought a few new ideas along with a new character.
Pac & Pal featured a similar concept to Super Pac-Man but tweaked many of the ideas. The object of the game is for Pac-Man to eat all the items in the maze and avoid being caught by the ghosts. Many of the items are from the original Pac-Man game. The items would have to first be unlocked by turning over cards scattered around the maze.
The “Pal” in Pac & Pal was in reference to Miru, a small female ghost. When you would unlock an item, Miru would wander around the maze, giving Pac-Man some time to try to reach the items. After some time, Miru would take items into the ghost’s house, where it will be lost forever. However, this could help the player in clearing the maze as and if Miru brings the last item there, it would automatically finish the round. Due to the ability of using this to your advantage, this may be the reason why she is known as “Pal”.
Miru was altered to Chomp-Chomp, Pac-Man’s dog from the animated cartoon series in some versions and the game was called Pac-Man & Chomp Chomp.
Something else new Pac & Pal did was the removal of the power pellets. They were replaced with stage specific bonus items, which are displayed at the bottom of the screen after each new stage is reached. These included the Galaxian ship, the Rally-X car, a trumpet, a snowman, and even other Pac-Men.
When Pac-Man obtained these bonus items, Pac-Man becomes blue, and momentarily has the power to spit a ray, smoke, musical notes, freezing rays and miniaturized versions of himself (respective of the bonus picked up) at the ghosts. This stuns them and Pac-Man can pass right through.
The third round and every fourth round thereafter is a bonus round, in which the maze only contains cards that will yield an increasing number of points when turned over. When Pac-Man turns over the card with Miru under it, players receive a bonus multiplying twice as their bonus score when the round is over. The card with Blinky under it causes the round to be over.
Very few Pac & Pal cabinets still exist today, making this is possibly one of the rarest Pac-Man titles to find in playable format outside Japan.
The game was a big improvement over Namco’s last effort, Super Pac-Man but still not as enjoyable as the original Pac-Man or Ms. Pac-Man. But up next is Midways final unauthorised entry into the Pac-Man franchise.
Professor Pac-Man: This was the most derivative Pac-Man game yet and took the series in a very different direction. Released in August of 1983 and the final unauthorized Pac-Man game from Midway before Namco ended their partnership.
Professor Pac-Man was nothing more than a simple trivia game, with the titular Professor Pac-Man asking you the player (or “pupil” s the game called you) to solve simple visual puzzles within a short time limit.
The game is for one player or two and was just a case of answering multiple-choice questions before the time runs out. The timer is the original Pac-Man doing what he does best, eating a row of pellets. The more pellets left when/if the player answers correctly, the higher the scores awarded. The game would end when a player runs out of fruits/lives.
There’s really not too much to say here. It was a trivia game with a Pac-Man aesthetic.
The game was not received well at all, probably due to the radical change of its abandonment of the famous maze-based gameplay that made the previous titles so popular.
I’ll end part II here as it seems right to start a fresh after the disappointing Professor Pac-Man and now with Midway out of the picture. Original developer Namco would be the ones to develop Pac-Man games from now on…but would they be any good?
See you in part III.