Pac-Man is a good game! It has gotten a bum rap over the years. I will be the first to admit that Ms. Pac-Man and Jr. Pac-Man are technically superior and more accurate to the arcade. But for some reason, the original Pac-Man is the one I keep feeling myself drawn back to. I think its because it feels the most Atariest of all the Pac-Man games. To me it embodies the 2600. (It was also one of the dozen Atari games I had as a kid, so there's also the nostalgia factor.)
I love the sounds: bah-dee-dah-dee... bonk, bonk, bonk, bonk
I love how the manual retconned the line shaped dots and rectangular bonus items to be "video wafers" and "Vitamins", and how it paints a picture of you showing up at your arcade like a rockstar blowing everyone away with your skills, thanks to your newfound secret ability to practice at home.
I love how Todd Frye did his own thing with remaking colors and layout of the maze. If people want to play the arcade version, there are a million different ports nowadays and none of them really do much to distinguish themselves from one another. But the Atari version is very memorable and interesting because of its uniqueness. Todd was not overly concerned with making it identical since he knew he was going to have make some concessions to accommodate the system constraints. I think he was very successful in capturing the "feel" of the gameplay, and created a game that was iconic in its own way, based on an already iconic game.
The game offers a lot of challenge. The ghosts are very sneaky. I understand what their AI is doing, but there is just enough randomness that I still find myself getting trapped by them when I try to get too greedy.
A lot of people think the goal of pac-man is to clear the board. Its not... its to eat all 4 ghosts on one power pellet. You get 4 tries per board, and clearing the maze is just a way to reset the board. Eating all 4 ghosts will net you 300 points, versus the paltry 128 you get from eating all the dots... er... wafers.
I truly believe that if it weren't being saddled with the expectation of replicating an arcade experience, and people had judged it solely as a game on its own merits, it would never have entered the conversation of "bad games".