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What's the Deal with Namco's PAC-LAND?

Updated: Jan 6, 2022

I first heard of PAC-LAND circa 2004 when I acquired this pin from The Toy Cave, a now-defunct toy store in Carlisle, PA. I paid them several annual visits, when my dad and I attended Corvettes at Carlisle, one of the country's biggest car events. They supplied me with a good chunk of G1 Transformers, and for that I'll be forever grateful. I was dead broke when I got this pin; my dad had to plunk down the three bucks!

PAC-LAND doesn't get enough love. It's one of the lesser-known entries in the PAC-MAN pantheon: a side-scrolling platformer which served as the inspiration for Nintendo's Super Mario Bros. PAC-LAND is also a Japanese game based on an American cartoon based on a Japanese game! The animation in question is The Adventures of PAC-MAN. Coming from the legendary Hanna-Barbara, the studio responsible for The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and Scooby-Doo, Where are You?, The PAC-MAN cartoon ran on ABC for two seasons, from September 1982 to November 1983. A precursor to CBS Saturday Supercade, The Adventures of PAC-MAN was the first cartoon to be based on a video game. PAC-LAND dropped on unsuspecting arcade-goers in August 1984.

In PAC-LAND, the player once again takes control of the corporate icon. In this game, PAC-MAN traverses through town to return a wayward fairy to her home. Naturally, this entails avoiding a legion of pesky ghosts! This time around, there are five spirits, as Clyde and Sue are separate entities, instead of a re-branding between PAC-MAN and Ms. PAC-MAN games. The ghosts each sport their own attire and have a ton of personality in PAC-LAND. They're also quite resourceful, attacking in cars, double-decker buses, from upper-story windows, in flying saucers, jets and on pogo sticks! If all that wasn't enough, PAC-MAN must contend with obstacles such as geysers, quicksand, and bridges that would make Indiana Jones leery.

On the PAC-LAND arcade cabinet, the player navigates with buttons, rather than a joystick. (There's a reason for that, which we'll get to in a minute.) PAC-MAN gets to jump in this game for the first time, even before 1987's PAC-MANIA, another unsung gem, which I first played in my college's arcade. (They also had A Nightmare on Elm St. and Jurassic Park pinballs, The Simpsons, Arkanoid, Out-Run, ping-pong, a snack bar and free pool tables! Before my time there was over, the arcade was tragically gutted and converted into offices.)

PAC-LAND is rather tricky to find "in the wild." I was fortunate to play it at Robot City Games, New York State's largest arcade. Their PAC-LAND is hosted in a converted Food Fight cabinet. Actually, all PAC-LAND arcade cabinets are conversions! Even the 300 dedicated games are factory conversions of returned Professor PAC-MAN cabinets, a complete flop of a multiple-choice quiz title which sold 400 units. (Do the math, professor.) This recycled cabinet is the reason PAC-LAND is played with buttons instead of a joystick; the control layout used pre-existing holes!

Pac-Land arcade game
A rare dedicated PAC-LAND. Image: Pinterest.
Professor PAC-MAN arcade machine
Boasting "over 500 questions," almost all Professor PAC-MAN cabinets were returned and converted to PAC-LAND.
Professor Pac
Shockingly, kids didn't want to pay to be quizzed. Image: Wikipedia

Here's my copy of PAC-LAND for the TurboGrafx-16. This version retains the option of using the buttons to move, although I prefer using the directional pad, as I find the game unnecessarily difficult otherwise. The TurboGrafx port of PAC-LAND is essentially perfect, as the arcade version has a simple presentation using primary colors, consistent with the TV show. (Mine is a modified TurboGrafx-16, which plays U.S. and Japanese games. I'm struggling to stay on topic here.)

TurboGrafx-16 port of PAC-LAND playing on a CRT television
The glow of a CRT is a thing of beauty!

PAC-LAND was released on a variety of home systems and computers. It was also available as a handheld, albeit with different gameplay. It's tough to render a fast-moving sidescroller on an LCD!

Courtesy: Handheld Museum

A couple of years ago, I won a "guess the closest number" contest on my message board. Among other items, I received the December 1983 issue of Electronic Games. which featured a great article on letters Hanna-Barbera received pertaining to the PAC-MAN cartoon. By the time the magazine was on newsstands, the show had been cancelled, but such is the way of hardcopy media.

My actual copy of this magazine is nine states away in Arizona (along with my all fourteen of my arcade cabinets), so thanks to Game Set Watch for these scans.

Mesmaron: The poor man's Darth Vader.

Hanna-Barbera went belly up in 2001, but their properties live on. In 2012, The Adventures of PAC-MAN was released on DVD. I think PAC-LAND is much better than its source material; you can voice your opinion below! Surprisingly, the legacy of the PAC-MAN cartoon endured into the '90s, with PAC-MAN 2: The New Adventures, a console-only spiritual successor to PAC-LAND. If you enjoy classic sidescrollers, you'll gobble up PAC-LAND.

PAC-MAN 2: The New Adventures was released in 1994 to platforms including the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis.
Seriously, read the review.

And as a bonus for sticking with me, here's a guy dressed up like PAC-MAN! We spotted his antics at the 2018 New York Comic Con.

Pac-Man cosplay
And that's it!


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