What is this nonsense? Pac-Man, hang gliding? Why are his eyeballs coming out of his skull? Does Pac-Man even has a skull? What is his bone structure like? If all of Pac-Man’s body is a giant mouth, where and how does he, y’know, use the bathroom? THE HELL IS GOING ON???
Hi folks! In case you haven’t guessed from the horrendous box art, this week on Franchise Fatigue, we – meaning I, the Royal We – are talking about Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures! One of the weirdest, most original, and overlooked sequels of a major video game character perhaps ever!
But let’s start at the beginning. I was a SEGA kid; I had my Genesis, and the Genesis was the best video game system, ever ever ever! If you said otherwise you were a DECEITFUL, MANIPULATIVE LIAR. I was aided in my Genesis love by two things – one being the SEGA Channel, which I’ve mentioned in a previous article, and the other was the amount of free games my dad was able to procure for me, being that he worked at the time for a manufacturing plant whose sister company produced a lot of the Mexican-assembled Genesis boxes and cases. This was Tucson, Arizona, folks. Hooray for the exploitation of cheap Mexican labor! Hey, worked for me! I got a free copy of Hard Drivin’, Battletoads & Double Dragon, and Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures! And possibly others I can’t exactly remember!
I was particularly excited about getting Hard Drivin’ (LOOKIT THOSE EYE-POPPING 2-FRAMES-PER-SECOND 3D GRAPHICS) and Battletoads & Double Dragon (OUTLANDISH CARTOON VIOLENCE), but Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures definitely felt like the odd man out. I thought of Pac-Man – hell, we ALL think of Pac-Man – as a simple circle who devours ghosts and pellets and smaller spheroids. I knew he had a beau, which would be Ms. Pac-Man, but as I was blissfully unaware of the “expanded lore” of the Pac-Man universe from the Hanna-Barbera cartoon, this whole Pac-Man business was pretty weird.
Of course, a lot of the environments, characters, and scenery – basically, the entire iconography – were based around the arcade game Pac-Land. Which, as an early side-scrolling platformer, is certainly worthy of commendation. The problem being for kids like me, I guess, was that Pac-Land was a bit of an unknown quantity. Bally Midway released the arcade game in the US in 1985, and there were a plethora of console ports of the game; unfortunately, they were released for relatively obscure home consoles in America, like the ZX Spectrum and the Turbografx-16, and the Famicom port of the game was never released in the US. Which is odd; Namco’s US compatriot in their fight against the Nintendo Goliath was Tengen, who licensed and released several Pac-Man games in the US. I guess Tengen had cold feet about a 2D sidescroller so soon after Super Mario Bros.? Who knows; but even after Namco decided to play nice with Nintendo in the mid-90’s and jumped aboard as a publisher, Pac-Land was never localized. I, uh, guess they’d hoped that the Turbografx-16 would’ve caught on a bit more.
Not to keep harping on the ZX Spectrum, but *sheesh*.
I won’t bother to recap the actual gameplay of Pac-Man 2, because no doubt all of you are very familiar with it by now; essentially a game where you interact with the world and attempt to manipulate the environment using an onscreen cursor and a slingshot, it’s a very unique interpretation of graphical adventure games that were exploding in popularity on home computers at the time. Released in the relatively late 1994, it’s sort of bizarre to think about the fact that Namco published this odd Pac-Man game in the same year that Sierra wowed everyone with SUPER VGA GRAPHICS with King’s Quest VII.
It’s also notoriously difficult. The puzzles are obscure and are dependent, entirely, on trial-and-error. Checkpoints are rare, so when Pac-Man dies, and he will die, you’re forced to start re-do just about everything. Not coincidentally, Pac-Man 2 produced one of my favorite episodes of cult Japanese TV favorite Gamecenter CX. I’ll admit, the game’s crushing difficulty and complete lack of hints or guides to any of the puzzles thoroughly stumped me as a kid. I remember I had one frustrating couple of days attempting to make any sort of progress in the game while I was home sick one weekend, and eventually put the game down and couldn’t wait to get rid of it. When I culled my herd of Genesis games in order to grab a copy of Star Fox 64, Pac-Man 2 was one of the unlucky games that failed to pass muster.
In a rare moment of 16-bit verisimilitude, here Pac-Man demonstrates the typical emotion of any Pac-Man 2 player.
To it’s credit, though, throughout the years, I couldn’t quite get the game out of my head. Every few years I would see Pac-Man, rehashed again and again on various arcade game collections and lousy party games, and I would think to myself, “Hm. I remember when they tried to do something interesting with this character.”
And they did! What other major game franchise gets a numbered sequel (yes, I know it’s called Hello! Pac-Man in Japan) took such a drastically huge turn in gameplay from the traditions of its original game? Maybe Zelda II? I mean, even the US version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was still a 2D platformer. Pac-Man 2 is like a bizarre offshoot of an adventure game, packed to the gills with cartoon gags and defiantly hard puzzles. I mean, what if Crysis 3 became a management sim? Or if Far Cry 4 became a 3rd-person action game? F*** it, let’s go NUTS! What if The Sims 4 turned into a skateboarding game with dinosaurs! Cancel whatever you’re up to next with Halo, Microsoft, because I’ve got something better – Mega Man Soccer Meets Master Chief in: Street Fighter V: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life As A Dark Lord!
I could do that all day. But that really just means that I’ve run out of stuff to say about Pac-Man 2. The game itself is hard, frustrating, and only successful in spite of itself, because of what it represents. Namco has done little to nothing with the Pac-Man character lately, aside from the usual trotting out of remakes and ports and rereleases of the original arcade game. And for every truly special thing like Pac-Man DX, I can’t help but feel that Namco isn’t doing more to utilize this bizarre character in truly creative ways. And with a gaming icon as pivotal and recognizable as Pac-Man, that’s a damn shame.