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Atari 2600 Game of the Week - Pac-Man CX2646

by Atari, programmed by Todd Frye, released 1981

Ahhh, 1981 - The year that the arcades bloomed! I remember the local Circus Pizza had three or four of every popular machine, and you still had to wait in line to play!

Why not play those games at home? The dream of many an Atari 2600 owner... When Pac-Man was announced for the 2600 - there was instant anticipation - after all, Berzerk and Space Invaders were great translations of the arcade originals...

With what was probably Atari's second biggest ad campaign for a single game (behind E.T. which will be a later Game of the Week), Atari launched Pac-Man for the Atari 2600 VCS.

I still remember the song they sang during the commercial, "... and before you know it, all the ghosts turn blue..." Ah, shouldn't I know it if I was aiming for the power pill?

Atari's Pac-Man was programmed by Todd Frye, who didn't like Pac-Man... aye, there's the rub. As the story goes, Todd didn't really like Pac-Man, and as such, didn't put much effort into a faithful translation of the game - and, let's face it, it shows.


If it was an original game, taken on it's own merits, we'd have a very different review (on its own, it's a pretty fun and addictive game) - but Atari licensed the game from Namco to capitalize on the arcade game, and the public expected a translation, not a re-imagining, where it shares only name and basic concept (guy eating dots in a maze - chased by monsters).


Instead :

  • The ghosts looked okay, but suffered from major flickering problems (only one of the four ghosts is drawn per frame), and were very tough to see against the blue background...
  • Pac-Man looked horrible, sprouting an eye and becoming more blocky than necessary...
  • The maze was nothing like the original, and changed to a brown on blue color scheme...
  • The sounds bore no resemblence to the arcade either...

    So we got a Pac-Man-esque game, but not Pac-Man.

    This is quickly becoming a rant session, which does have its place in this article, but let's examine the poistive aspects:

  • It was called Pac-Man...
  • ...
  • Hmm...

    Seriously - it was actually pretty fun to play, if you pretended it was Pac-Man II... and I do remember playing it a lot with my friends.

    Of course, I wouldn't be as tough as I am on it if it hadn't been folowed by Ms. Pac-Man and Jr. Pac-Man, which both showed that the 2600 was perfectly capable of playing a faithful translation of the Pac-Man franchise - Jr. even does a great job of scrolling!

    So, the long and the short is that while a fun game - and a definite must-have for any 2600 collection, it's a poor translation of the arcade.

    On a side note, you can clearly hear the pops and beeps of this classic in the current Circuit City commercial, when the doors open and the guy looks around the store - they're the loudest sounds you hear... Circuit City didn't even exist when this game was carried by stores!

    Unfortunately, ClassicGaming doesn't have this ROM in the Game Vault - but Atari Age does have the ROM - here's a link to Atari Age's ROM search page.

    You can also get a great hacked ROM by Rob Kudla - who took Ms. Pac-Man and altered it to look and play like the arcade Pac-Man (the above screenshot).

    Comments? Questions? Answers? Email me!