My fellow CHEGhead Marc Check began his last blog talking about some of the great Pac-Man artifacts in the NCHEG collection and how this character evokes in him a sense of early 80’s nostalgia. Like Marc, I too, caught Pac-Man Fever when it struck in epidemic proportion in 1981. My heart still holds a special place for Pac-Man and his family. Yes, family. Such a global phenomenon was bound to inspire spin-offs, and in this case it included a wife and children.
When Bally/Midway released Ms. Pac-Man later in the year, I immediately switched my allegiance and, like most of my friends, dropped quarter after quarter in pursuit of the high score at the local arcade. With its four distinct mazes and faster action, this game proved much more challenging, and a successful round yielded untold school hallway bragging rights. I can still remember the sense of pride I felt the first time I broke 100,000 points.
In addition to playing arcade games, I also loved the fast action and marvelous sounds of pinball. In 1982, Dave Nutting, an industry veteran who had earlier produced Sea Wolf (1976) and Gorf (1981), launched Bally/Midway’s Baby Pac-Man, a unique pinball and arcade game hybrid. But don’t let the title fool you; this was a difficult game to master. A local bowling alley had a copy and small crowds gathered to watch players challenge the machine on a regular basis.
Players of Baby Pac-Man navigate the video game maze in much the same way they do in both Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, but there are no energizers (power-ups) to help turn the table on the ghosts pursuing Baby Pac-Man. On-screen escape tunnels transition gameplay from the arcade screen to the short pinball playfield below, where players can earn energizers and points. In this way, action between the video game and the pinball play is interlinked in a more significant way than just your final score.
Until recently, when we acquired a working copy of Baby Pac-Man for the NCHEG collection, I hadn’t played the game in more than two decades. When Marc first saw it, his facial expression gave away the fact that like me, he remains a fan. We quickly discovered that in our youth we both had played Baby Pac-Man at the same local bowling alley. I’m planning to challenge Marc to a game here at NCHEG, but first I’m going to play a few rounds by myself to freshen my skills.
You’ll have to excuse me now; I think I may need to take the afternoon and head to the doctor. I have a fever again…