Pac-Man celebrates 35 years

May 22, 2015 marks the 35th anniversary of Pac-Man‘s original release in Japan. While many people consider Mario the mascot for all things video games, the yellow, dot-munching, pie shaped thingy was the first title to truly bring gaming to the masses.

While video games were starting to make their mark on pop culture thanks to Pong, Space Invaders, and the Atari 2600, the hobby was still considered to be relegated to ne’er-do-wells that hung out at the dank smoky arcade on the wrong side of town.

Pac-Man Fever

Pac-Man would soon change that perception; it opened the doors for arcade games to (space) invade every corner of the culture.  At its’ peak, Pac-Man and other popular video games could be found everywhere, from grocery stores to laundromats to the local pizza parlor.

It quickly became a sensation, finding its way to nearly every and home computer, not to mention numerous handheld versions.  There were many bootlegs and knockoffs (Hangly-Man, Piranha, KC Munchkin, et al), and it spawned the “maze game” genre that included other classic titles such as Ladybug, Lock ‘n’ Chase and more.

Pac-Man’s influence wasn’t limited to just video games;  there was  a Saturday morning cartoon, breakfast cereal, even a top 10 single.  “Pac-Man Fever” was featured on an album of video game-themed songs of the same name, by songwriters Buckner and Garcia.

A growing family

To capitalize on Pac’s popularity, US distributor Midway bought the rights to a proposed enhancement kit for Pac-Man, and turned it into a full-fledged sequel in Ms. Pac-Man.  Arguably even more popular than the original, it found broad appeal among gamers and non-gamers, male and female alike.

Unfortunately, additional entries did not fare as well.  Original developer Namco’s follow-up Super Pac-Man lost much of what made the original so special. Baby Pac-Man was an odd video game/pinball hybrid.  While Jr. Pac-Man was more in line with Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, it was also ridiculously hard.  The list goes on, but by the mid-80s the fad had died down and gamer attention moved elsewhere.

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX
Pac-Man Championship Edition DX is a modern take on the 80s arcade classic.

Even so, at 35 years and counting Pac-Man’s popularity continues.  There have been well over 50 games in the franchise, more than 100 if you count all of the various compilations, plug-and-play TV devices, ports and spin-offs.  Even Google has shown some love this past April Fools Day, turning Google Maps into the familiar ghost-filled mazes.  A new cartoon series – Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures – is in production on Disney XD, and he has made his way to the big screen in 2012’s Wreck-it Ralph and the upcoming Adam Sandler vehicle Pixels.

Not bad for a yellow sphere approaching middle age.