In completely unsurprising news, Super Smash Bros. is hot hot hot right now. Within in the United States alone, over one million copies are already sold for the Nintendo 3DS. Pre-orders for the absolutely beautiful looking Wii U version are skyrocketing. It’s a pretty safe bet that Smash Bros. is going to absolutely slay the competition this holiday season. I wouldn’t even be surprised if people start getting Wii U’s now that the game is on the immediate horizon. Obviously, anyone familiar with this major Nintendo series saw this coming. Super Smash Bros. is one of the greatest concepts Nintendo ever created after all.
It’s well known that only Nintendo can make a game like Smash Bros. work so well. That’s simply that immense benefit behind actually owning all major properties you create. Sony tried this a few years ago with PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, but the general consensus is that it just didn’t compare. Considering how popular Smash Bros. is, it’s totally expected that other companies would want a small piece of the pie. If it’s not making your own version like Sony, it’s jumping directly onto the bandwagon. Bandai Namco, Sega, and Capcom are three companies doing that this time around. A lot of people expected the last two to happen, so I’ve decided to focus on the history of the one addition that set the internet aflame months ago: Pac-Man.
Pac-Man is as classic as they come. First introduced in May 1990, the Pac-Man arcade cabinet was a colorful addition to an industry that was ripe for hits. Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Pong were the big games at the time after all. Pac-Man handedly broke the mold by introducing the world to the maze genre of video games. Its simplistic style, controlling a yellow chomping circle to eat dots and avoid ghosts, completely blew people away, especially in North America. “Pac-Mania” took the U.S. by storm and Pac-Man quickly outsold every other arcade cabinet available. Within a few months, both the cabinets alone and licensed Pac-Man products made over a billion dollars each. People went “waka waka waka” for this Namco hit and it wasn’t long before Pac-Man was cemented as one of gaming’s best.
You really can’t understate the influence Pac-Man had on the industry. As the first game to actually feature a mascot, Pac-Man proved that having something to license was the way to go for this business. Pong, Space Invaders, and Asteroids were legendary additions themselves, but they could only exist within the gaming realm. Pac-Man the character was everywhere though. Shirts, hats, song mentions, you name it. Suddenly every company had to make a mascot to rally behind, which gave us the likes of Mario, the one character who can rival Pac-Man in popularity. There was also the game’s appeal to the female demographic, an entire section of the audience that companies couldn’t hit before. Namco pulled this off by making Pac-Man a non-violent game that appealed to both genders, unlike the violent at the time Space Invaders and Asteroids. It also introduced power ups, cutscenes, video game mazes, and the rudimentary basics of stealth. It’s actually astounding how much Namco made a difference with this tiny yellow character chasing different colored ghosts.
Pac-Man has, obviously, received numerous sequels and spin-offs. The most famous of all is easily 1982’s Ms. Pac-Man. Conceived by Bally Midway after a Pac-Man enhancement called Crazy Otto fell through, Ms. Pac-Man was a direct response to how well received its predecessor was with women. Ms. Pac-Man quickly became immensely popular in its own right and it wasn’t long until Namco noticed. See, while Ms. Pac-Man boasted the famous Pac-Man name, it wasn’t formed with Namco’s permission. This naturally lead to a legal battle that gave Namco all the rights to the Ms. Pac-Man name. So with Pac-Man and his now official partner Ms. Pac-Man under their umbrella, Namco had a solid gold mine underneath them.
I can’t remember the exact moment I discovered Pac-Man. The game precedes me by a full nine years after all. By the time I was born, Pac-Man had already cemented itself as one of the best. Anyone with even a modicum of entertainment knowledge knew the franchise and its titular protagonist. Yet while I have always held the franchise in high regard, I’ve never formally owned my own Pac-Man game. The appeal the original had when it first came out, such as proving the burgeoning industry had plenty more ground to cover, was already lost to someone who has no recollection of not owning a home console. Of course, this hasn’t stopped me from enjoying the many games under the Pac-Man brand. In high school I went through a period where I kept renting the more modern versions where Pac-Man had arms, legs, and did more platforming than maze running. Obviously not even close to the significance of the first Pac-Man, but they were fun nonetheless.
Pac-Man in Super Smash Bros. is a huge deal. Along with Nintendo’s own Mr. Game and Watch, Pac-Man is the oldest playable character in the entire series. He has a long and storied history that was just ripe for the picking, and it’s great that Bandai Namco and Nintendo were able to strike this awesome deal. As someone who owns the 3DS version, I can also confirm that the Pac-Man in Smash Bros. is very much a celebration of the character. He throws fruit, chomps on pellets, and even goes “classic” 2D Pac-Man for his final smash. It really is pretty awesome and I’m glad Nintendo was able to combine all elements of Pac-Man, from his disc shaped beginning to his four limbed present. And with Pac-Man now duking it out with Sonic the Hedgehog, Mega Man, and Mario, Nintendo can proudly say they have the one game that features the industry’s biggest mascots.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.