RWR: Pac-Man, Experience, and Namco’s Design Legacy

Retro Wednesday Rewind: Pac-Man, Experience, and Namco’s Design Legacy

The game is essentially four-player competitive Pac-Man, but instead of eating ghosts, you eat each other. Power pellets that subsequently grow your Pac-Man to three times the normal size allow you to temporarily devour anyone in your path, like a more controlled New Super Mario Bros. It may not sound like much on paper, but once you play a match (which lasts four rounds), you won't want to stop. (And given how fast the tables can turn, it may be the most engrossing iteration of Pac-Man ever created.) More importantly, though, it updates and changes Pac-Man's design for a modern-day audience, tweaking its initial intent to scratch the itch of faster-minded, multiplayer-bred players. Though we were happy to have crashed Pac's birthday party, Battle Royale was allegedly still-in-prototype, and my friends and I had doubts we would ever play it again.

Retro Wednesday Rewind: Pac-Man, Experience, and Namco’s Design Legacy

However, Battle Royale's design stayed with me (and would eventually be revisited, thanks to a surprise acquisition of a machine at the local arcade). This was Pac-Man for a new generation of gamers, who may in fact never be interested in his comparatively primitive earliest games. For me, the Battle Royale's juxtaposition of modern (four-player design, respawning power pellets, a nifty "bounce" feature that strategic players could use to know their opponents into danger) and classic elements (the obligatory ghosts, mazes, increased speed with the more pellets eaten, and skeletal design of the original) had a cyclical effect. I love Battle Royale as much as any of the original games, and in fact possibly more—it's just too much fun when you're with a few friends all trying to eat each other. But at the same time, it's the kind of reimagining that really works, much like Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, which has enough difference to stand on its own when measured against its oldest progenitor.

Compared to, say, the souped-up, "arranged" versions in the Namco Classics cabinet, these are more than just a fresh lick of paint. Last year I started playing Galaga pretty regularly, to the point where I can now actually claim some skill at it. In the arranged version of the game, however, Namco actually went back and made some unwanted changes to the game's design and enemy attacks. A straight comparison of an arranged game and a game like Battle Royale, then, has also deepened my appreciation for the original classics.

Retro Wednesday Rewind: Pac-Man, Experience, and Namco’s Design Legacy

Galaga is a tough game because its old-school design ramps up with a addictive combination of nerves, speed and the a certain degree of unpredictability in the enemy's attack patterns and movements. Ms. Pac-Man is similar, with its escalation of varying level layouts (over Pac's first game) and the challenge of picking up ever higher-valued fruits and bonuses crucial to getting a high score. Battle Royale eschews score-based play entirely, outside of keeping a tally of how many rounds each player has won. And yet its design is still familiar enough to inspire you to play the game that spawned it. Outside of strictly intentional nostalgia, most game companies rarely try to recapture a tried-and-true design of the past. Maybe this is simply endemic in Pac-Man's genes—a design that's as arcadey and limited as Pac's doesn't seem to be easily stretched, at least not very naturally.

By Steve Haske
CCC Freelance Writer

*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*

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