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The Many Faces of....Pac Man



I'm stealing the bit from Retrogaming Times. "The Many Faces of" was one of my favorite articles. Comparisons of the same game for various systems. Ordered from worst to first. Here are the various versions of Pac Man for classic systems. No homebrews or hacks allowed. These are the versions I've played...please let me know if I missed any.


Last Place:
Atari 2600 - People like this version for nostalgia's sake...but it's not a good game. Main sins: Pac Man doesn't face up or down. No fruits. Weird colors. No intermissions. Sounds aren't even close to arcade.


The "also rans":
VIC-20: They tried. But it's too choppy to be fun. And the maze is way too small.


TI 99/4A - Looks GREAT. But way too slow and easy. And the lack of multi-channel sound hurts it.


Atari 8-Bit: The game is good. Great graphics, great sounds. But no intermissions. Game is easy.


Commodore 64: Almost identical to the Atari 8-bit version. No intermissions. Too slow and easy.


NES: It's really good. But Pac Man and the ghosts are way too big. Plus the game is slow.


5200: They took the 8-bit version, added intermissions, and ramped up the difficulty. It's great. But those controllers will cause you to die sometimes.




Medal Winners:
Intellivision: I'm giving this version a medal for technical achievement. it's amazing how good this version is, given the hardware. Control is no issue. Tight and fun. It has intermissions. The sounds and graphics are great. I love this version so much.


Sega Game Gear - It's just about perfect. The screen scrolls, but that's ok.


Colecovision: It's a prototype. It should have been released because it is AWESOME. It's so fast. There are intermissions. Ghosts have eyes. Amazing.


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I guess I'm one of the few that have not had issues with the 5200 Pac-Man???  Then again it was the version I grew up with which might be the reason I find all the other ports not as good in my opinion.  The TI/99 was really hurt by the lack of multi-channel sounds.  Burgertime for that system looks good but the sounds are annoying because the tune starts over every single time another sound is played.  As for Pac-Man...the 5200 remains my favorite port of this iconic game character.  I'm not saying it is perfect but it is the version I know the most.

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@RickR- I know that you didn't include homebrews, but if you have a Harmony cart or Stella, try PacMan 8K by Dintari on the 2600. Its become my favorite home version of the game. I even like it better than PacManPlus' 7800 collection (which is also excellent).

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I have tried that, and you are right...it is AWESOME!  Easily top 3 if I included homebrews in this comparison.  I like to imagine what would have happened if Atari released a version like that instead of the Tod Frye version. 

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I can understand why Atari went with the 2600 version of Pac-Man we all know.  Even with the most brilliant programmers out there at the time, making a video game for hardware that was still fairly new itself meant that time would be needed to learn the system.  And the 2600 has shown us, late in its life cycle, what it really could do with games like Solaris and Radar Lock.  But those games, in theory, were based on a decade of programming.  Everything about the system was already done...in bits and pieces.  It can take a long time to fully grasp the inner workings of a system to the point you literally break the mold so to speak.  If enough time could have been given, and Atari big-wigs rejecting the Pac-Man the public received, it is very possible we could have seen a version close to the homebrew we have now.  


From my attempts at programming the 2600...it is not an easy system to program for.  You have to literally hold its hand every step of the way.  And with only 128 bytes of system RAM available at a time and not depending on the amount of RAM you can cram in a cartridge, provides an invisible barrier that takes more time to work around.  The 2600 is a very capable system of more than what most Atari, Inc. programmers have already given us.  Midnight Magic on the 2600 is a far better pinball game than the same game on the Atari 8-bits.  It's hard to imagine that both game versions are related. 


I can't defend it for everything but I don't blame the programmer, nor the 2600, for the Pac-Man we got.  More time and research should have done before development was even started.  Atari should have had Tod play the arcade Pac-Man until he understood the mechanics of it (if it was true that he never played the game before programming the 2600).  I think that might have made a difference.

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2600 Pac Man was the culmination of many things.  Programming talent leaving for other companies, an emphasis on marketing instead of quality, a lack of respect for customers, just to name a few.

I'm going to guess Pac Man in the hands of a Rob Fulop or David Crane would have resulted in a much different game. 

Just look at the 2600 version of "Ms Pac Man" to know what could have been. 

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A few more classic versions you could add to the rankings:


1983 - Apple II

1983 - PC/IBM

1984 - Fujitsu FM-7 (Japanese home computer)

1984 - MSX


There's also the unreleased 1981 "Muncher" for the Bally Astrocade.  It's Pac-Man, just with a changed name due to Bally only having the arcade rights to the game.  If you want to stretch to 1991, there's the Game Boy version as well.


Put me down as another vote for the 5200 being my favorite.  I'm biased because it's what I grew up with, of course.  The one big issue I always had with my copy was a bug in the higher key levels where the energizer doesn't behave as it should.  You eat one, the ghosts turn blue, and they never turn back as long as you leave them alone!  As a kid I didn't realize that this was a bug, although I certainly thought it was strange.  It wasn't until much later that I learned that Atari fixed it in later production runs of the game.


FWIW, IMO a scrolling Pac-Man is sacrilege and/or a work of the devil.  :D

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Haven't tried any of those versions, but I will see what I can do there.  It will be fun to try them!


One thing I should note that I think is kind of weird...not a single version I've tried accurately copies the arcade version's "waka-waka" munching sound very well.  It's such a signature of the game, yet no home version got it right. 

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RE:  Scrolling Pac Man.  I agreed with you at first.  But given the limited screen size, and how close the game is to the arcade version in every other aspect.....

Compare to the Lynx version of Ms. Pac Man (which does not scroll)...the screen is too small to see any real detail, and that makes it hard on the eyes.

In the end, the Game Gear version is really a lot of fun and very close to the arcade experience.  All in the palm of your hand!

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I never noticed how slow the NES one is, but you're right, it does play slower than the Coleco one. I still find myself liking it better than the rest due to the layout being closer to the arcade aspect ratio, but if I ever get a multicart for my Coleco that may change... 

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