I've posted my thoughts on the VCS Pac-Man a few times before, but it seems that every time I do, there's a new detail I hadn't mentioned previously...
In 1982 I had wanted that Coleco tabletop Pac-Man game for Christmas. I hadn't actually seen it in action, but because I was a dumb, ignorant little kid, I thought it was basically an emulated version of the arcade game. That year under the tree from "Santa Claus" was a brand new four-switcher addressed to my brother and me. That was the VERY last thing I was ever expecting....man, I was thrilled. There's a picture somewhere of us opening it, wide-eyed s**t-eating grin on my face...my dad told me after we opened it that one of the reasons they got the Atari for us instead was that they had heard from other parents that the Coleco Pac-Man was horrible and made these incessant noises that you couldn't turn off, and they'd much rather have the less annoying sounds of an Atari playing in the house than the dreaded screeches of the Coleco game.
Now...I had already been a massive Pac-Man fan. I had been introduced to the arcade Pac-Man at the game room in the Holiday Inn in Bradley, Illinois probably in 1981, and something about it charmed me. Loved it right away, even though I hadn't figure out that to eat a monster you needed to eat one of the big blinky things. But nonetheless, I loved it. The cartoony graphics, the sound, the gameplay...just grabbed me.
The Christmas when we got the Atari, I had just turned eight years old and, as such, didn't get much of a chance to hit the arcades. Sure, the Kroger not far from home eventually got a pirated Pac-Man machine (they also had a Deep Scan/Headon II twofeer at one point, and when they got the Pac-Man game I'm pretty sure they had Crazy Konga the same time). But I would only get a chance to even look at it if I went with my parents grocery shopping, and it was very rare that they would give me a quarter to play the thing. The only other time I had a chance to play arcade games was on our monthly trip to the Lincoln Mall in Matteson, Illinois. (Where we lived at the time, there was no real mall in the Kankakee, IL area, so we had to make the half-hour trip up Interstate 57.) Lincoln Mall had the greatest arcade I ever set foot in to this day: Bally's Aladdin's Castle. Inky and I and probably others have posted about how great that place was before, but man...they had EVERYTHING -- video games (over time they had ALL the Pac-Man games), pinball machines, bumper cars, video jukebox, Neo Geos...it was amazing. My allowance for Aladdin's Castle: a dollar, which equated to four tokens, plus any tokens I might have found abandoned on the floor. (Happened once or twice.) Or if my brother had any extras he didn't want to use, he'd bequeath 'em to me. My favorite games were always the Pac-Man games; my favorite at the time was Pac-Land and saved it for last. (Lately though I'm not as much of a Pac-Land fan; I much prefer the old-fashioned maze games.)
Having said that, you can see that for me, as a little kid, arcade games were a privilege. I was always jealous of my brother because he and his friends would go out to the arcades a lot (we had two in the area, one of which I never set foot in) and not take me (he's almost ten years my senior), and the last thing my parents wanted to do was go out of their way to take me to a noisy gameroom. So the Atari VCS was my savior.
Yes, I had the VCS Pac-Man (still do!), and loved it. Yes, I knew graphically and aurally it was nothing like the arcade game, but I didn't care. That was the only Pac-Man game I could play regularly. And the weird quirks of the home version -- particularly the super-strict collision detection -- added some challenges.
BTW, something that's really cool, seriously: the Atari VCS Pac-Man with the TV Type switch set to B/W. There were nights when my brother would bring the Atari into his bedroom with an old black-and-white TV my grandmother had handed down, and something about it looked really cool...we'd play Pac-Man for hours. I remember he rolled over the score....some days later I managed to get as high as 90,723. (I've since scored higher, but this is the highest score I actually remember precisely. And nearly thirty years later.)
On Christmas Eve my wife went to a show with her mother, who was in town visiting, leaving me at home alone, except for the beagle. I had finished up my shopping, giftwrapping, a load of laundry, etc., so I rewarded myself with some quality time with the Atari 7800 I bought from Breakpack a few years ago. Played Food Fight first, of course...and just for s**ts and giggles, I fired up the VCS version of Pac-Man on the 40-inch Sony Bravia we bought last year when my last severance check overlapped with my first paycheck from my new job. Seriously, that made it fun as all hell! And man, what a challenge! Really, say what you will about the VCS/2600 version of Pac-Man, but the damn thing is pretty challenging, especially if you don't play it every day! Couldn't get higher than about 12,000 on game 2...
And yes, the VCS version of Pac-Man is often cited, along with E.T., as the cause of the Great Video Game Crash of 1983. But really, that's about as accurate as saying that Yoko Ono broke up The Beatles. It's much more complicated than that. Hell, for many Atari users -- myself included -- that was the first game they ever had for the system, and it led to the purchase of many more. And personally, I was actively playing Atari games regularly up through 1988; reason I stopped playing? Got a Commodore 64 as an 8th-grade graduation present. Combination of a new computer and just the busy-ness of high school life kind of made me neglect the Atari. Proud to say though that Inky reawakened me to Atari circa late 1992.
Edited by Dauber, Wed Dec 28, 2011 5:27 PM.