Sunday, July 4, 2010

Game of the Week: Pac-Man for Atari 2600

Atari 2600 System - Video Game ConsoleIn the early 1980s, the arcade game Pac-Man was taking the world by storm. People were lining up at arcades and malls and pizza joints to play this popular game. So when Atari let it be known a home port of Pac-Man would be released for the Atari 2600, the most popular home video game system of the time, consumers and game fanatics were chomping at the bit to get this home version of the ever-popular game.

Then 1982 came around. Pac-Man was released for the Atari 2600. It immediately became the best-selling Atari 2600 cartridge of all time. But there was one big problem.

Consumers hated it. Even the critics hated it. Everyone seemed to hate Pac-Man for the Atari 2600.


Pac-Man for AtariFirst off, when the game popped up on television screens the first thing the player notices is lots of orange. Orange? There was no orange in the arcade version of Pac-Man, except maybe for one of the ghosts and that seemed more like a peach color. Speaking of the ghosts, they were pink for the Atari 2600 version of the game, and the ghosts flickered a lot. That too was nothing like the steady, multi-colored ghosts from the original Pac-Man. And then there was the fact the maze in the Atari 2600 version lo Cooked nothing like the arcade version.

The game tanked. No one else was buying the game. Some consumers were even returning the game to stores and asking for refunds. It was a nightmare for Atari. Stocks plummeted and the first dark age for home video games began. Consumers not only stopped buying Pac-Man games for the Atari 2600, but they stopped buying home video cartridges and systems of all kinds. While the great downfall of early video games can't totally be blamed upon the Atari 2600 Pac-Man, this trend of lousy home video game sales would continue for several years until the Nintendo Entertainment System came along.

But was all the ire this game garnished fully deserved? Perhaps, perhaps not. It's true the graphics were not all that great and the game looked next to nothing like the arcade version. But still, Pac-man for the Atari 2600 was a fun game in its own right. You still had a maze, you still had Pac-Man (even if it didn't look exactly like the arcade Pac-Man), there were still pills to eat and there were still monsters from which to flee.

I've always felt that if this game had been released under any other name than Pac-man, it might have sold decently. Sure, it would have been called a Pac-Man rip-off, but at least it wouldn't have drawn quite so much anger and frustration from the video game crowds of the day.

Nearly 30 years later, I'm proud to say I actually liked the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man even if it wasn't like the arcade game. I had fun with it, which is the best any video game enthusiast can ask for. Right?

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