Pac-Man Is Back, Baby

by Chris Tognotti

Iconic 80's arcade hero Pac-Man is coming to Nintendo's upcoming Super Smash Bros game for the Wii U, and they're pretty excited about it. Unveiled during the ongoing Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles Tuesday, it's yet another milestone for a character with a longer history than even Mario himself — Pac-Man burst onto the scene in 1980, a full year before Donkey Kong would introduce Nintendo's hero to the world. Now, Pac-Man and Mario will be squaring off amid a varied host of classic game characters, Nintendo-owned and third-party alike, which Super Smash Bros director Masahiro Sakurai described like this: "This really is a miracle."

If you're surprised to see that huge, beaming grin on your old Pac-Man, you could be forgiven. He's changed an awful lot through the years — back in the arcade days, Pac-Man (as well as his lovely significant other, Ms. Pac-Man) looked like little more than a simple, chomping pie chart. But in the years since, he's blossomed into the cartoonish, anthropomorphized hero orb that we know and love today. Here's a quick look back at how our favorite hungry hero reinvented himself...

1. Super Pac-Man (Arcade, 1982)

After the massive success of the original Pac-Man , the eponymous hero was kept on ice for a couple of years, returning with a new arcade offering in 1982 — Super Pac-Man , which introduced Pac-Man's ability to go, well, super.

By eating a flashing pink orb, the villainous ghosts (named Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde) still turned-tail and ran, just as in the first game.

But new, pulsing green "power pellets" added a new dimension, allowing Pac-Man to massively increase his size, his speed, and allowing him to chew through locked doors. Modest though it may be, this was the first major change ever in Pac-Man's abilities and appearance.

2. Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures (1994, Super Nintendo/Sega)

In 1994, Pac-Man company Namco decided to bring a whole new side of their star to the home console market. Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures treated players to an experience altogether unlike what arcade-goers had first experienced, those 14 years earlier.

First and foremost, it wasn't even a puzzle game anymorefar from dodging ghosts in an endless maze, the bulk of your work in this peculiar sequel is just to keep Pac-Man's mood from flying off the rails. You can't control him directly, but instead have to tell him which way to look as he roams from one side of his little town to the other, facing countless hazards and traps along the way.

The game fleshed out and gave life to Pac-Man as a character. If you don't take good care of him, he'll get willful, angry, depressed, even despondent, no longer heeding your commands, shuffling around with his head down. If you feed him a few apples, he'll start strutting around like a king.

Aesthetically, he took a big leap forward, transforming from once-simple roots into an expressive, dynamic protagonist. He also retained his powers from the aforementioned Super Pac-Man, now able to wolf down a power pellet to become a caped superhero.

3. Pac-Man World (1999, Playstation)

It had to happen sometime. We're talking about the leap from 2-D to 3-D, undertaken to coincide with the series' 20-year anniversary. Changing from a two-dimensional shape, to a pixelated cartoon, into a 3-D rendered, Mario-style hero may not have always been the plan for such a simple character concept (really, in his original form, it's a stretch to even use the word "character"), but that's precisely what Namco attempted to do with Pac-Man World .

And in spite of the sorely-dated 3-D graphics, and the peculiar "voice" they gave him — in the game's introductory video, the realization that his family's been kidnapped gives way to a series of bizarre, plaintive cries — this is a big moment.

Our old friend has finally grown up, both into the years of young adulthood, and into the basic look that's served as the foundation for where he is today...

4. Super Smash Bros (Nintendo)

Now taking a starring turn in Nintendo's massively-popular Super Smash Bros franchise, which pits myriad characters from gaming history in rambunctious, frenetic battle with each other, this is Pac-Man's shining moment. And not just because he looks so damn sharp — he'll be joined by other newcomer, non-Nintendo characters too, including Capcom's Mega Man.

It's an impressive achievement. Those two, plus Nintendo's Mario, and Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog, make up a quartet of company-leading protagonists that would've seemed impossible to unite decades ago. The E3 reveal of Pac-Man's role in the game clearly aimed to play up that crossover excitement, emphasizing three primary colors — red, blue and yellow — to represent Mario, Mega Man and Pac-Man respectively.

But for the purposes of generating excitement, it was the yellow guy's show for sure. It's hard to believe he's already 34 years old, and still earning his keep. Hats off to you, Pac-Man. We can hardly wait to get smashing.

Images: Video Games Channel!/Youtube, DarkEvil87/YouTube, vidgamers /YouTube, Super Smash Bros/YouTube