Monday, 23 April 2012

Pac-Man: Arcade vs. Atari 2600

Pac-Man is arguably the granddaddy of all video game heroes.  The Atari 2600, likewise, is considered by many to be the granddaddy of video game consoles.  So, what happens when you put them together?  If you take the sentiments of most retro gamers as truth, the answer is, you get a steaming pile of horse shit.

Atari's questionable port was a  huge seller despite its many flaws.

I was too young to experience Pac-Man fever firsthand when it was taking arcades by storm in the early 80's.  Atari 2600 Pac-Man was the very first video game I ever played in my life; for about two decades, it was the only Pac-Man I knew.  I liked it a lot when I was a kid.  

My perspective changed, however, when MAME made it possible to play arcade games at home, and I had a chance to acquaint myself with the original arcade version of this classic game.  Even through the fog of emulation, I finally began to understand why the Atari 2600 version was met with such derision by hardcore fans of the franchise.  These days, I find the primitive shittiness of the Atari 2600 version almost too much to bear.

Arcade Pac-Man: not for the light-hearted.

The arcade version just has so much going for it.  In it, the protagonist looks chiseled and tough, just like any true hero should.  His foes are a clan of four shady grey badasses, each bringing a unique personality to the fray.  It's impossible to tell them apart, but that's all part of the challenge.  The enemy sprites flicker ominously, as if to say they would eat your children given the chance; I get the chills just thinking about it.  Every now and then, you're presented with the opportunity to chow down on a scrumptious-looking digital wafer that is enough to make your mouth water in anticipation.

Four ghosts of grey: personalities incognito.

By comparison, the Atari 2600 version just falls short on so many fronts.  For starters, your character is a wimpy looking round-headed doofus, resembling a yellow poker chip missing a triangular slice that rotates about at random.  The fearsome foursome of flickering grey badasses is replaced by a rag-tag group of wimps dressed in dainty outfits.  Get this--one of them is even pink.  How gay is that?  Everybody knows that a true video game bad guy makes you want to run and hide, not cuddle with a blankie and suck your thumb.  And what's with the bonus items?  Cherries, strawberries, and peaches?  A single digital wafer contains more protein and rocket sauce than all of those girly treats combined.

Chased by fruity antagonists, Pac-Man can flip his mouth to the top of his head at will on the Atari 2600.

Yes, it's safe to say that I've seen the light.  The Atari 2600 version of this seminal classic may have been the console's top-selling title, but with its sanitized visuals and bastardization of Pac-Man's time-honoured masculinity, I'm now forced to side with the naysayers in declaring the arcade version as the only real way to experience Pac-Man.

If your head ain't made of Legos, you ain't even tryin'.



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