I swear, I’ll get to Jawbreaker eventually, but first things first…

Uhhmmm….I don’t know how to intro this, so I’ll just jump right in:

I now have an official Twin Galaxies world record. Jr. Pac-Man, “turbo” speed variation, performed February 27, 2016 at…you guessed it…Underground Retrocade. My final score, after four attempts, ended up being 451,080, just a bit higher than the world record that held for about five years. And yes, my personal best actually was about 100,000 points higher than that, but alas, I didn’t have video of it.

Here’s the video of me getting that score:

Some folks on Twin Galaxies were hesitant to vote it up unless they saw more evidence, such as the system board (I guess to verify that the game was not emulated). Scott at the Retrocade took some video and stills detailing the innards of the cabinet. I added the video and pix to the thread on TG, and almost immediately my score was certified.

So…yeah…I now have a world record.

Just for laughs, when I was at Underground Retrocade, just for S’s and G’s, I decided to play a round of Jr. Pac-Man Turbo. Man, how I wish that game had been recorded:


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SPOILER: Christmas happens, and Santa and the reindeer get better


So why would I give away the ending of this holiday TV treasure? Well, for two reasons:

  1. I care about you, and I don’t want you lose 25 minutes of your life that you’ll never get back, and
  2. This is how every. God. damn. children’s. Christmas. episode. ends. So it’s not much of a spoiler, is it?

And yeah, it’s late. Yeah, it’s just hours away from 2016. But you know what? I have a life. I have a family. I have jobs. I have hobbies. So what if my Christmas-themed post comes six days into the Christmas season? Bite me. Or chomp me, I guess, would be the more appropriate expression for this occasion.

But you know what? At the very least, I figured I should mention something about ABC’s Pac-Man cartoon, given that in October Marty Ingels, character actor who voiced Pac-Man, died of a massive stroke.

Now, as a youngster I religiously watched the Pac-Man cartoon that aired every Saturday morning…because if it had the Pac-Man name on it, then dammit, I wanted it. I’d never miss the show. It gave me some kind of back story to the maze-running dot gobbler. Again, I’d never miss it…which kind of makes you wonder why I really don’t remember anything about Christmas Comes to Pacland. But of course, I have the answer: it simply was not worth remembering. (In fact, now that I think of it, I can’t remember the plots of any episodes of the series.)

Flash forward to late 2015…feeling that it’s my duty as a Pac-Man fanboy blogger, I obligatorily watch this…special…so I can report on it.

Look, it’s nothing special. Here’s what happens: The ghost monsters want to chomp Pac-Man and his family. (They never seem to go after Chomp-Chomp or Sour Puss, do they?) Pac-Man cleverly avoids being chomped, shares some power pellets with Pepper and Pac-Baby, and joins his family in chomping the ghost monsters, who return to their hideout and then plan revenge. In other words, the same thing that happens in every other damn episode happens in this one, too. Except that there’s a lot of snow. Because it’s almost Christmas. (Or is it?) Ooh, and there’s a twist: Santa Claus’s sleigh gets disconnected from the reindeer, and Santa, the eight tiny reindeer, and the sleigh all crash land in Pacland.

And just when I think it’s as bad as can be, it gets worse from here…especially if you still count on Santa Claus to bring you wonderful presents. Injured Santa and his near-dead reindeer get plenty of camera time.

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 2.03.18 PM

This? Disturbing to young ‘uns? Never!

Because she’s such a humanitarian, Pepper insists that Santa and the reindeer come on over to the Pac home to warm up and recover. It is then when we learn that nobody in Pacland has ever heard of Christmas. (Perhaps this was Bob Geldof’s inspiration?) Santa dutifully tells Pac-Man and his family the meaning of Christmas and bitches and moans about how he needs to hurry his ass up and deliver toys to all the damn little rugrats of the world (in those exact words, if I remember correctly; then again, this thing bored me so much that the wording I used might not be 100% accurate), but alas, he doesn’t know where the toys ended up in the crash.

So because Pac-Man has to be the savior of everybody, he, with the help of his trusty dog Chomp-Chomp, goes to look for the sack of toys, only to find that the ghost monsters discovered it, and now he has to find a way to get the toys away from the ghost monsters (all the while avoiding being chomped) and back to Santa. And hilarity ensues!

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 2.03.18 PM

Long story short, Pac-Man returns the toys to Santa. Santa can make his deliveries on time…oh, wait, no he can’t, because the accident delayed him. Solution? Power pellets, of course! Give the reindeer these steroids and they can deliver presents in no time!

So Pac-Man saves Christmas, and in the spirit of Christmas, the ghost monsters agree to a cease-chomp for Christmas. And all of Pacland — and the children of the world — rejoice.

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 2.03.18 PM

There. Now go do something other than watch this stupid Christmas special. (Like listen to Pie Factory Podcast. Our next episode will include Jr. Pac-Man. Happy 2016…except if you watch this stupid damn holiday cartoon…if you do, then 2016 will not be happy but annoying. I guarantee.)

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Pac-Man Games That Aren’t Pac-Man: Deluxe Pac-Man


The title screen is not the only thing “deluxe” about this Pac-Man variant.

“Amiga” Means “Friend,” Not Girlfriend, You Twit — That’s “Novia”

I do believe I’ve mentioned my computer history on this blog before, but just in case I didn’t, or in case you’re a new reader, here’s my story. For an 8th grade graduation present in 1988, I received a Commodore 64C. Early in my college life, probably 1993, I upgraded to an Amiga 600, which, to be honest, was basically an Amiga 500 with a newer operating system and in a smaller case, but I still loved that thing. Eventually I upgraded to an Amiga 4000, and then when the next-generation PowerPC-based Amiga systems came out, I got a µAmiga1-C, the latest in the “AmigaOne” line. That machine was amazing: an Amiga running at current PC speeds! Apps would load instantly. The graphics were much brighter and higher resolution than what I was used to with the “classic” Amiga models. Sadly, due to various circumstances, I had to part with the µAmiga1-C in 2006…yes, my loyalty with Amiga lasted 13 years.

The following year, around Christmas, I decided I needed to get back into the Amiga world. Unfortunately, there were no AmigaOnes available, nor had there been for a long time. (When I sold my µAmiga1-C, I made about $300 more than what I actually paid for it because the systems were in very high demand.) But I really wanted some kind of non-Windows computer. I had done a little bit of freelance computer repair here and there, and I’d be frequently asked if I did Macs as well. I decided I might as well learn the Mac, so I bought a MacBook right after Christmas. What can I say? I was instantly hooked. I thought I’d never look back on the Amiga again.

Except, well, there are a couple of things I miss about the Amiga. For one thing, Directory Opus (and its later incarnation Directory Opus Magellan) is one of the finest apps ever made, but unfortunately I could not find an equivalent for Mac OSX. And more recently, the memories of playing Edgar Vigdal’s “Deluxe” games — Deluxe Galaga and Deluxe Pac-Man — really made me miss my old Amigas.


Deluxe Pac-Man features your regular no-frills maze…as well as some that are NOT so unfrilled. You have been warned.

This Game Sucks (Or Does It?)

I first encountered Deluxe Pac-Man at a swap party hosted by the sysop of a local Amiga BBS. When I saw this title in the sysop’s software collection, I immediately had to try it out. And you know what? I hated it. HATED it. The Pac-Man and ghost sprites were so huge. The maze was too basic. And I’m sure that I was using the mouse as a controller didn’t help any. After I expressed my disgust with this ostentatious yet unplayable port, people actually laughed at me for not liking it.

And those who attended the party wouldn’t let me hear the end of it for at least a week on the BBS. I gave in and downloaded the game and tried it again (and this time with an Atari 2600 joystick). And…you know what? I liked it. No, wait…I loved it. I don’t know what changed my mind. Maybe that the controls were more sane on a joystick. Maybe it’s that I was playing it in my own bedroom without the distraction of partygoers. Or maybe I didn’t like it instantly but somehow got sucked in.

Deluxe Pac-Man Means Deluxe Play

Now…as for the game play, to be honest, I’m going completely by memory, so some details might be fuzzy or even perhaps inaccurate.

It’s just like any other Pac-Man game: you control Pac-Man, who moves around the maze attempting to eat all the dots but is chased by four ghosts, whom he can eat after swallowing an energizer. There are bonus prizes that appear at various times.

Of course, because this is “deluxe” Pac-Man, there are some differences from the Namco classic. For one, there don’t appear to be any differences in behavior among the ghosts; none is faster or smarter than another. Also, I don’t recall Pac-Man slowing down while eating dots. However, the game is still fast-paced challenging enough to encourage a lot of replayability. The mazes are small but varied (and one doesn’t have any walls).  And many of my friends suggested that once you got good at the game, a fun challenge is to use the mouse. (Even after I did get good at the game, I completely disagreed.)


Just some of the powerups available. My favorites were always the gun, the x5, and the wrapped gift.

But what truly makes the game “deluxe” is the numerous powerups. In addition to “fruit,” as some players call it, functional prizes appear; if you eat a powerup, there’s a timer off in the margin letting you know how long you have before your powerup expires. Slightly reminiscent of games such as Mr. Do! and Bubble Bobble, letters from the word “EXTRA” appear, and if you eat enough to spell the word “EXTRA,” you get a bonus life. Sometimes a gun will show up, and if you eat the gun you can actually fire bullets at the ghosts; something I always loved doing was to get the gun, shoot the ghosts, and position myself horizontally in line with the ghosts’ pen and just keep firing away as they regenerate. Some powerups slow the ghosts down, some speed Pac-Man up, some freeze the ghosts in place, and some turn the dots into gems, giving Pac-Man a nice bonus for eating them. Should Pac-Man eat four energizers in a row without eating any dots in between, he advances to the next level and collects the points for the remaining dots. In some versions of Deluxe Pac-Man, you would actually automatically advance to the next level after reaching a certain number of points, which was a huge relief if you were down to your last life and just about to be eaten. (Newer versions removed this feature, unfortunately.)


Deluxe Pac-Man is actually winnable. The challenge is to see how many points you can score in a winning game.

I’m pretty sure there were two versions of Deluxe Pac-Man: an AGA version for Amiga 1200 and 4000 users, and an ECS version for everybody else. If you have a classic Amiga (or even a modern PowerPC-based Amiga, it might work), I strongly urge you to try this game. In the ’90s it was shareware — meaning that if you like the game you were obliged to buy it (and get extra features) — and even as a near-penniless college student, I found the game to be great enough to warrant sending $20 to Europe for the registered version; I was glad I did. (Ditto Edgar Vigdal’s other supercharged arcade remake, Deluxe Galaga.) Now I’ll have to give Deluxe PocMon — the current incarnation of Vigdal’s excellent conversion — a try; maybe this too will warrant registering the shareware.

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Pac-Man Games That Aren’t Pac-Man: Munchman


Many home video game consoles and personal computers tried to ride the Pac-Man bandwagon. Texas Instruments’ Munchman was no exception. (Still scratching my head over the title, as there really isn’t all that much munching involved…)

“Wait, what about the May entry in this series?”

Look, bub, I own this blog, and I get to call the shots, ‘kay? I mean, hey, I have two jobs, a podcast, and a personal life, so I get to take a break every now and then.

Pac-Man News

Speaking of my podcast, Pac-Fans will be happy to know that our next themed episode will include Ms. Pac-Man. And while I’m at it, I might as well make a brief mention of Pac-Man’s 35th anniversary, celebrated at Schaumburg’s Pac-Man-themed restaurant/amusement center Level 257. High score king Billy Mitchell and Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani both attended the festivities; the same weekend, Iwatani made an unannounced appearance at Galloping Ghost Arcade. I would have been happy to attend and share pictures, but this is when my personal life took priority, enjoying a holiday weekend away with my wife.


This is MUNCHMAN; not Pac-Man! I repeat, this is NOT Pac-Man! Nothing to see here! Move along!


Now, on to this month’s fake Pac-Man game. I refer, of course, to Munchman, for the Texas Instruments 99/4A line of personal computers. The gameplay is so close to that of Pac-Man that if you’ve played practically any Pac-Man game or imitation, you know exactly how to play Munchman; there are no surprises…

…or are there? First thing you’ll notice is that the maze is actually empty, except for four blinking energizers, all in the shape of Texas. But when you move your titular character Munchman around the maze, he seems to be leaving a trail…he’s not actually munching anything — if anything, he’s barfing stuff. (Reminds me of an SNL sketch involving a game called Puke-Man, which was essentially Pac-Man backwards.) In reality, though, he’s building a chain all around the maze. For every chain link he lays, you score ten points. If you go over a path that’s already chained, you simply go over it without leaving a link.

Of course it wouldn’t be a Pac-Man-style game without critters chasing you around the maze, right? Right. In this case, four “Hoonos” are on your tail. As with the original Pac-Man, each of the Hoonos have varying levels of artificial intelligence, the red Hoono being the smartest and the yellow the dumbest.

Now…the dumb yellow Hoono might not be all that dumb. He can suddenly disappear and reappear when you least expect it. While I’m sure the folks at TI have plugged that as a special added feature, it’s actually a bug. It only happens when all four Hoonos and Munchman appear on the same row; this little idiosyncrasy has to do with the sprite limitations of the 99/4A. There are different sets of Hoonos that change as you progress levels, but the intelligence remains the same, corresponding to the colors. Gobble the state of Texas and you have a chance to munch the Hoonos. Munch one Hoono on one energizer and you get 100 points, 200 for the second Hoono, 400 for the third, and 800 for the fourth, meaning you get a total of 1,500 points for eating all four Hoonos on one energizer.


I do like the creative embedding of the points you score for munching Hoonos inside the islands in the maze. However, I don’t know how I feel about having to devour the state of Texas in order to get that ability.

That’s pretty much it. No interstitial animations, no split screens, nothing like that. Clear one maze and you get another level with the same maze. Score 10,000 points to get an extra life; far as can be told, there’s no limit to the number of lives you can build up, but you only get a graphical indication of four.

Now, it occurs to me as I write this entry that the several Pac-Man wannabes about which I’ve written — Alien, Munchman, Pac the Man X, K.C. Munchkin!, and Clean Sweep — get little to no criticism about not being much like the arcade Pac-Man, yet the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man continues to this day to be hit with flying crap from critics. I guess you could say that the games without the Pac-Man name in their titles implicitly admit that they’re not really Pac-Man, but you know what? Why would anybody expect “reminds me of the arcade version” quality on an Atari 2600, given the developers’ hardware limitations and tight deadlines? Any time I ever bought a home version of an arcade game for any system, I’d remind myself, “This will not be what it’s like in the arcade.” Many have argued that the Atari 260o Pac-Man is in and of itself not a bad game, but it’s just a bad Pac-Man. Well…what makes it worse than any of these clones? I seem to remember, actually, high regard in particular for Munchman; but I digress.

Funny enough, I might never have known about this game had it not been for the K mart in Bourbonnais, Illinois. It was right around the dawn of the North American Video Game Crash (which I didn’t even know happened until I joined AtariAge circa 2001), when personal computers were creeping into the market. Of course, K mart had the Atari 2600 kiosk up and running, and they also had a Commodore VIC-20 undoubtedly with Hunt the Wumpus pre-loaded. Natch I gravitated toward the TI99/4A, which had Munchman ready to play in the kiosk. I knew it wasn’t quite Pac-Man, but dadgummit, I found it a very suitable substitute. We had TI99/4As in the classrooms where I went to school at the time, but darned if the only games we had were educational (Meteor Multiplication, Alien Addition, etc.)…I unsuccessfully rallied that we get Munchman.

I think I mentioned somewhere else in this blog that my first computer was a Commodore 64C, which I got as a grade school graduation present in 1988. After I got a 1541-II disk drive for that thing (Christmas of the same year — I literally had no way of saving or loading stuff until then, except for an old Commodore Datassette a neighbor bequeathed to me), I was on the hunt for some good games. I found at Waldenbooks a software collection that included a game called Munchman, and the screen cap on the box looked pretty cool, not too far off from the arcade Pac-Man. I bought it, and….well, I’ll save the rest for another blog entry in this series!

Apparently there is at least one Easter egg in this game, which will allow you to choose a starting level (of which there are sixty). And depending on whether you look at the game box, the manual, or the cartridge, the game’s title is spelled slightly differently. For this and other further details about TI’s foray into Pac-Land, I refer you to Xona Games’ page about Munchman…or Munch Man…or Puke-Man??

Regardless, maybe I’ll do another entry in this theme again before June ends, maybe I won’t. It’s my own damn blog, I’ll do what I want!

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Pac-Man Games That Aren’t Pac-Man: Alien


Alien, released for the Atari Video Computer System (aka 2600), by Fox Video Games, is a completely original concept based on the movie of the same name. Sure it is.

It’s been a busy April, to say the least. Indeed just today it hit me that May starts tomorrow but I have yet to post about a Pac-Man clone this month. Does this mean that I’ve run out? Oh, dear reader, hardly. I’ve just been occupied, what with life, work, AtariAge’s 2600 High Score Club, and a trip to Underground Retrocade (without even touching a Pac-Man game….wow!) Oh, and remember how I said I wasn’t sure how long the Google Maps April Fool’s Day Pac-Man game would be up? Yeah, it’s gone…And at the time of this writing, I happen to be featured on the “Player Focus” on aurcade.com (certainly because of my earth-shattering Kangaroo high score of almost five digits). But let’s get down to business, first things first…

Pie Factory Podcast

Did you know that I am the cohost of a new video game podcast? Yeppers, my buddy Jimmy G and I discuss two arcade games on every show, and we reveal a theme. So far we have published our intro episode — “Episode zero,” if you will — and we just recorded episode 1, in which we discuss Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong 3. You can listen to us through iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/pie-factory-podcast/id988509945

Alien for Atari 2600 / Video Computer System


This is NOT Pac-Man. I repeat, NOT Pac-Man. It’s Alien. An original game.

Speaking of the AtariAge 2600 High Score Club, I participate regularly, partly because it gives me an opportunity to play games I’ve never touched before. Recently the theme was games based on scifi movies: Star WarsE.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (which is by absolutely no means a bad game!), and Alien. In my case, Alien was new to me.

Now, I’ve never seen the movie, but I surmised that the game, although allegedly based on the movie, resembles probably not much of the film. According to some reviews I read of the game, I was right. If you’re looking for a game that will resemble its motion picture counterpart, you’ll be disappointed; however, if you’re a Pac-Man fan who doesn’t like the commercially successful critical flop that we all have in our Atari collections, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.

Because I’m not familiar at all with the movie, I was, well…shocked…when I started the game and found that it looks and plays a lot like Pac-Man. I just assumed it was Pac-Man, so that was my strategy. Why was I shocked? Well, because I took the time to read the manual before I even turned the game on. According to the manual, you, the “Human,” are inside a spaceship and have to crush all of the “Alien Eggs” that are scattered throughout the maze of hallways. Each maze has three “pulsars.” Pick one up and you score 100 points, the aliens (three per screen) turn blue, and while the aliens are blue you can destroy them by running over them. You score 500 points for destroying an alien, then 1,000 if you destroy another with the same pulsar, and 2,000 for the third. Periodically a prize appears in the middle of the maze: a rocket for 500 points, “Saturn” for 1,000 points, a starship for 2,000 points, or a “Surprise” worth between 2,000 and 5,000 points.

Of course this isn’t Pac-Man — not only are there not four enemies and four energizers, but also is a flamethrower available for your Human to use in defense. The flamethrower only lasts for a certain amount of time per life. Tell ya what, though: it’s pretty useless. Seldom have I been able to use it to my advantage; my experience is that the aliens go right through the flame. Also, in Pac-Man, you get a bonus life after reaching a certain score; well, certainly, this isn’t Pac-Man because you’re awarded an extra Human after clearing the second maze!

The REAL Bloody Human Freeway


This is NOT Freeway. I repeat, this is NOT Freeway. Nothing to see here. Move along, now.

The beauty of Alien is that not only does it seem to resemble Pac-Man, but there’s also a screen that I just can’t help but think is a re-purposed version of Activision’s Freeway — especially because your character is called “the Human,” and the original title of Freeway was Bloody Human Freeway. When you clear a maze, you get a “bonus round.” Your goal in the bonus round: move the chicken Human all the way to the top of the screen while avoiding aliens that go back and forth across the screen. Oh, yes…and your Human can only move up and down. If your Human gets hit by a car an alien, that’s the end of the bonus round (and because it’s a bonus round, it doesn’t cost you a life), and you move on to the next maze.

My Verdict


My submission to the AtariAge 2600 High Score Club. Not great, but not bad, either.

If you play Alien expecting a video game version of the popular movie, you’ll be disappointed. But if you approach it for what it…is trying to deny it is — a Pac-Man clone — you’ll find it to be very enjoyable, perhaps even closer to the actual Pac-Man than what Atari released for the 2600 in 1981. I can see this getting some plays on my 7800 or my Vader model in the future.

Now, I’m getting hungry; I’m going to go to McDowell’s and have a Bic Mic.

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Chasin’ Ghosts through the Streets


Apparently if the streets in Joliet, Illinois, near where I spent my formative years were a game of Pac-Man, this is what it’d look like.


Yeah, I know — I just posted! What was it, yesterday? Two days ago?? Well, obviously, this is about the April Fool’s Day pseudo-joke perpetrated by the extreme data mining giant Google, and since it’s about April Fool’s Day, this little feature on Google might not be available after today, so…gotta seize the day, yo.

Everybody and his duck posted to my timeline yesterday (and if you’re a regular reader of this blog, probably yours too) about how Google Maps can turn the map on your screen into Pac-Man; honestly, that’s like getting a die-hard Beatles fan a copy of 1962-1966 as a Christmas present…but enough with that mini-rant. Yesterday only certain areas had the Pac-Man feature enabled, and Google revealed which ones with some ever-so-slightly clues. I immediately recognized one of them as Phildelphia, so I opened up Google Maps in Firefox and simply searched for “independence hall.” I got the map and a little icon that looked like a tiny screen grab from the arcade favorite. Today, however, you should be able to play the game on any part of Google Maps that has enough streets.


In my opinion, Google’s 2010 “doodle” was a better integration of Pac-Man.

You may recall that this is not the first time Google has done a paean to Pac-Man; for the game’s 30th anniversary on May 21, 2010, Google’s “doodle” logo was actually a playable version of Pac-Man, complete with sounds, increasing difficulty levels, interstitial cut scenes, and even 256th-level kill screen. Why Google has chosen to use April 1 this year to have fun with Google Maps, I have no idea, unless it’s to celebrate the 35th anniversary.


Do you see this icon on your map? That means you can turn the streets into a Pac-Man game.

But this is a neat little thing to do with Google Maps, though. Just go to Google Maps on a desktop web browser (I couldn’t get this to work in the iOS app or any mobile browsers), type in any address, and in the lower-left corner of the page you’ll see an icon of the Pac-Man maze. Click that icon and the map becomes Pac-Man; you may get a warning that there aren’t enough streets to generate the game, so you may need to either scroll a little bit or click “I’m Feeling Lucky.”

You’ll need to use your keyboard to play this game; it doesn’t recognize any joystick you have plugged in. (Then again, neither did the doodle from 2010.) You start with five lives. The scoring is the same as in the arcade game: 10 points for a dot, 50 for an energizer, ghosts starting at 200 points and doubling each time you eat a ghost on one energizer, and cherries through keys ranging from 100 to 5,000 bonus points, and a bonus Pac-Man at 10,000 points. The graphics are just like the arcade graphics, except the characters are all outlined. Some streets act as escape tunnels, but be careful — they may exit to unexpected places. And just like in the arcade game, the further you go, the harder it gets: the game play speeds up, and the ghost vulnerability period gets shorter.

As a longtime Pac-Man fan, though, I have to say I’m a bit disappointed. Yes, it’s free, so I shouldn’t complain, but man, if you’re going to do it, do it right. The arcade sounds are there…sort of. You have the ongoing siren that increases in intensity as you eat more dots. But you don’t have Pac-Man’s famous “waka” sound — just the first syllable. (You undoubtedly recall that in the arcade version, the syllables alternate — “wa” for one dot, “ka” for the next, etc.) The vulnerability alert plays after you eat an energizer, and you hear the eaten-ghost sound, but not the eyes-traveling-back-to-the-home-base sound. No chimes when you get a bonus life.


Are the famous cut-away scenes included? Well…sort of.

Do you get the interstitial cut-away scenes when you clear mazes? Ehhhhhhh….kinda-sorta. Every single time you clear a maze, in the info sidebar over on the left you see a very brief version of the first cut-away scene, so it’s not quite like the arcade version. Also different from the arcade version is that in the arcades, the number of Pac-Mans you see at the bottom of the screen indicate how many you have in reserve — meaning that if you see one Pac-Man on the bottom, you have one more life left after you lose the current one; however, on the Google Maps version, the number of Pac-Mans off to the left side of the screen represents the number of lives you currently have, period — if you have just one Pac-Man off to the left, that means you’re on your last life. Yet another difference between the Google Maps version and the arcade version is when the bonus prize comes out. In the arcade version, you need to eat about 70 dots (including energizers) to get the first prize in the maze, and then another 100 for the second. On the Google Maps version, it seems that the number of dots you has to eat varies depending on the number of dots in the maze. In my experience, it’s higher than usual — sometimes I’ve had to clear 200 dots for the first prize of the maze, sometimes as few as 100.


Here’s a game of Pac-Man taking place in downtown Chicago. Pac-Man doesn’t give a damn what gets in the way: his path of dots goes right through CIty Hall in the upper-left portion of this screen cap, just to the right of the dot. And possibly reflecting the…fairness?…of Chicago’s city government, you only get three energizers in this part of town.

In terms of mechanics, the control is kind of clunky, and it has nothing to do with requiring a keyboard to play. The responsiveness is often questionable. With this in mind, plan your turns ahead of time and repeatedly hit the appropriate arrow key on your keyboard to make those turns until you actually do make the turn, especially if you’re turning down a tight “street.” In fact, I Pac-Man‘ed my neighborhood, and in one game I could turn down a diagonal street with no problem, but on another game I couldn’t go down the same exact street, yet the ghosts could but I could only go up on that street. Speaking of streets, the Pac-Man maze Google generates doesn’t even necessarily follow the streets — sometimes the Pac-Man paths actually cut away from the streets. If you and a ghost are about to have a head-on collision, if you get closer than about three Pac-Man-lengths away from the ghost, you cannot turn away — and once you so much touch a ghost in this situation, you’re dead: you won’t live for the ghost to ride your tail as in the arcade game.


Here’s part of my neighborhood as a Pac-Man game. Interestingly, Pac-Man’s path doesn’t go down my street, but it does go down the alley behind the house. It seems pretty random as to whether Pac-Man is allowed to travel southeast down that path, too.

Perhaps what disappointed me the most, though, is one of the most well-known pieces of Pac-Man lore and skill concepts — that Pac-Man moves slower when eating dots, whether or not the ghosts are vulnerable — is missing. You can easily outrun the ghosts, even while eating dots. And the only thing that distinguishes one ghost from another is the color. Each ghost has the same artificial intelligence and speed.

Despite the annoyances I had with Google Maps’ take on Pac-Man, it’s still fun, and I recommend trying it. I admit I played it several times…and I also admit I was hoping to play long enough to see if the split-screen was included; alas, I can’t say one way or the other. Anybody care to try?


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Pac-Man Games that Aren’t Pac-Man: Pac the Man X (and a buttload of semicolons)


The header image from the long-defunct home page for Pac the Man X. Dig the rating from Macworld; I must concur.

Games are Fun, but Keep First Things First

I hope Phil the No-Swear Gamer doesn’t mind my stealing his signoff for this heading, but I need to revisit briefly my review of Level 257, the new Pac-Man-themed restaurant/amusement center, which I visited recently.


Natalie at Level 257 says she found out that this bare motherboard comes from a game called Mission Force, which was made by Atari in 1997. Given the lack of information I could find about this game, though, I guess a better title would be Impossible Mission Force.

In the museum display, there was a bare motherboard that had no notes or sign or anything indicating whence it came. I asked about it on Level 257’s page. A staffer named Natalie responded, saying I wasn’t the first to ask, and that she’d need to find out as she’s learning new things every day working there. The next day, she got back to me and said it’s from Mission Force, an Atari game from 1997.

I immediately searched DuckDuckGo for “‘mission force’ atari” but couldn’t come up with anything relevant. I did get a slew of results for a band called Fantasy Mission Force, with someone named Rob Crow listed as “performer.” So why did it come up so frequently? Because the name of the song is “Circus Atari.” Google produced no different results. A search of KLOV yielded nothing. Even AtariAge.com has no information about it. In all my searching, the closest I could find is a PC game called Mission Force: Cyberstorm, made by Sierra Entertainment in 1996. Now, I don’t want to nag Natalie about it, so at least for the time being, Mission Force as an Atari game will remain a mystery.

Also, I need to update my final rating. I had given Level 257 four out of five stars, citing the cost of gaming my only issue. Here’s the thing, though: without the gaming, it’s just a restaurant and a gift shop. Level 257 is all about the Pac-Man experience. Without the gaming, you just don’t get that experience. So I’m bumping my rating down to three out of five stars, and I will update my original post to reflect this change.

A Fake Pac-Man for the Mac

First, let me give you a brief history of my personal computing days. My first computer was a Commodore 64C, which I received as an eighth grade graduation present in 1988. In 1993, I bought an Amiga 600. One of the first things I did with both machines was look for a Pac-Man game to play, of course. In 2007 I switched to the world of Steve Jobs (that’s right, I was an Amiga user for that long) when I bought a MacBook as a Christmas present to myself, so naturally one of the first things I did was to look for some kind of non-MAME Pac-Man game; Pac the Man X was it.

Pac the Man X was developed by McSebi, who is either an individual developer or a development team; I haven’t been able to ascertain. McSebi’s answer to Pac-Man is a very nicely done modern “tribute” (as Macworld put it); in fact, McSebi was known for doing other so-called tributes such as MacDo, an OSX version of Mr. Do!, and Bub & Bob X, obviously a Bubble Bobble remake.

Downloading and Installing the Game

Now, you may have noticed that I referred to McSebi in the past tense. Well, there’s a reason, of course. If you go to McSebi Software’s web site, you’ll see no hint of any game other than a new tile-matching game called Connect M. There’s a disclaimer on the site saying the older titles are no longer supported. I do wish that McSebi would actually still keep the old stuff available for those who want it, though. The good news, however, is that you can still get Pac the Man X via archive.org.

Pac the Man X is packaged as an old-fashioned ZIP file: none of that DMG stuff. According to the limited documentation I could find, the game is a universal binary, which means it should work on an Intel- or PowerPC-based Mac. (If your Mac is from 2006 or later, it’s an Intel Mac.) As I’ve implied before, the game works on my late 2007 MacBook; it has worked with Leopard, Snow Leopard, and Lion. However, I could not get Pac the Man X to run on my mid-2011 iMac running Yosemite; I don’t know whether the game will work on Mountain Lion, but it requires at least Panther (!!).

Game Play


With its modernized graphics and sound, both veteran and new Pac-Man fans with Macs undoubtedly will enjoy this freeware re-make…assuming the operating system isn’t too new.

In terms of how to play the game…well, it’s quite simply the classic game play that you know and love from Pac-Man: Pac-Man moves around the maze, attempting to clear all the dots, while ghosts chase him; Pac-Man can eat the energizers (“super pellets” in this game) to eat the ghosts (and the ghosts stay vulnerable for quite a while, too); and prizes appear in the maze. But as with many modern re-purposes, there are some differences.

First, there are no cut-away animations; you clear a level, and you go right to the next level. Also, from what I can tell, there are only 25 levels; clear level 25 and the game is over — and I mean legitimately over — no kill screen! (I say “from what I can tell” because I haven’t gotten good enough yet to find out; I’m going by videos I’ve seen on YouTube.) Unlike in the arcade games, the four ghosts have virtually no distinction other than color; they all move with the same speed and artificial intelligence. However, one thing that was held over from the arcade game is how eating the dots slows down Pac-Man slightly. But be careful, because if there’s a ghost on your tail, you need to get away from the dots fast — even the turning-the-corner trick from the arcade games won’t help you here. You may enjoy that challenge, though, along with the challenge of having paths that come to dead ends.

As you probably would expect from a modern Pac-Man remake, Pac the Man X offers a few new features. The bonus prizes not only give you extra points, but many also have power-ups. Among such power-ups are point multipliers, speedups, and temporary invincibility. Also, the number and position of warp tunnels varies — some levels have several on top and on the sides, others have no tunnels whatsoever. (And just like with the original, the warp tunnels will help you if there’s a ghost closely following you.)

The Best of Both Worlds


If you choose to play as player 2 — even in a single-player game — you play as Ms. Pac-Man. Be careful with the Inky equivalent in this game, though: his blue color is very close to the shade of blue the ghosts turn when they’re edible.

In terms of overall look and feel, it’s clear that McSebi wanted to incorporate not only the 1980 classic but also elements of Ms. Pac-Man. The bonus prizes — which appear seemingly at random times and with no rhyme or reason as to which one you get at any time — move around the maze as with Ms. Pac-Man, but you have to act fast: they disintegrate pretty quickly. Also, you can choose to play the game as Pac-Man or Ms. Pac-Man; if someone wants to play a game with you, then you can have both characters going at the same time. And just like with Ms. Pac-Man, the mazes changes periodically…well, by “periodically,” I mean “every level”! So if you’re a Ms. Pac-Man fan, you’ll probably appreciate the extra care put into this game.


The documentation I could find on this game is very limited and doesn’t really say anything about scoring, so I can only report on my observations. The scoring mechanics in Pac the Man X are a bit different from what you may be used to. Each dot will give you five points, as will each super pellet. Bonus prizes are worth anywhere from 500 to several thousand, and the points, frequency, and even choice of bonus prize are all seemingly random. For the first several levels, if you eat ghosts, you earn 200 points for the first ghost you eat, 400 for the second, 800 for the third, and if you manage to eat all four ghosts, the fourth ghost is worth…2,000 points! After around level 7 or level 8, the point values go up to 400, 800, 1600, and 10,000; and sadly, I’ve so far not done well enough to see if those point values increase even still. Every 25,000 points gets you a bonus life, and as far as I can tell from my own experience and from the videos I’ve seen, there’s no limit to the number of extra lives you can rack up.

Roll Your Own


Don’t like the mazes? No problem: make ’em yourself! The level editor makes it possible.

It occurs to me that Pac the Man X incorporates features not only of Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, but also another game that is probably furthest from the minds of most people playing this game: K.C. Munchkin! from the Odyssey². No, really, hear me out! Pac the Man X comes with a level editor. You draw the paths, place the ghost pen (which is called a “citadel” in this game), determine how many super pellets you want and where they will go, and even where player 1 and player 2 start in the maze. You can choose the style of citadel, the background texture, colors, pretty much everything except the number of dots you can place. (Dots are automatically placed evenly throughout the paths.) What’s more, if you don’t like the default mazes but don’t feel like making your own, the game comes with several additional levels sets to futz around with.

Lost Opportunity for Yosemite Users

When I decided to review Pac the Man X for this blog, I did so under the impression that it’s a modern game, something you can get right now. You can imagine how surprised I was that it’s been unavailable for quite a while; the seven years since I first played it just flew by! If you have OSX Lion, you should be able to play it from the aforementioned link. And that’s another thing: it is upsetting that the only way to get the game is by hunting old links on archive.org. It’s a shame that McSebi doesn’t just keep the old games available for those who want it (and still keep the disclaimer that there will be no further support); I would have loved to have tried out MacDo and Bub & Bob X…actually, given that my MacBook is a bit on the old side, maybe I still can. But if you have access to a Mac with an old enough OS, I encourage you to give Pac the Man X a try; it’s a very enjoyable version of the Namco classic.

In the mean time, I might have some interesting news soon; let’s just say slightly reminiscent of my short-lived radio career.

Say…do you want to see Pac the Man X in action? Here’s a YouTube video! (And yes, that is the music from Pac-Mania; in fact, the name of the music selection is “Pac-Maniac.”)

Posted in Level 257, Pac-Man clones | Leave a comment

Level 257 (or: Okay, So I Lied: This Ain’t a Book Review)


Don’t let the picture fool you — the entrance is actually jet black. Also, be sure you’re on the southeast corner of Sears or you’ll miss it.

Did I say my next post would be a book review?? I think I was going by the definition of “book” that, according to Webster’s Fourth International Dictionary, is, “a trendy combination restaurant/amusement center for suburbanites who don’t get out much.” Yeah, that’s it.

I refer, of course, to Level 257, the new Pac-Man-themed restaurant/gaming joint located at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Illinois. In case you haven’t figured it out — and a surprising number of classic video game enthusiasts haven’t — here’s the explanation of the name: the 256th level of Pac-Man, of course, is the infamous split-screen thanks to a byte overflow bug, which to this day nobody has been able to figure out how to get past short of cheating via rack test. Level 257, then, would be the theoretical next level should you have that magical skill to move beyond the infamous buggy screen.

When Level 257 was first announced, I was under the impression that it was going to be a restaurant with trendy dishes and upscale prices. It’s much more than that, though; imagine a Dave & Buster’s, but owned by Namco and with a Pac-Man theme. Level 257 is located next to the southeast entrance of Sears.

At first I thought this statue was Pac-Man, but given how much bigger he is than the ghosts on which he is standing, it might be Super Pac-Man. Whatever the case, he greets you as you walk in; if you’re lucky, Duc Dang will be there with him to greet you as well.

Upon entering, a statue of Pac-Man, giving you a thumbs-up, greets you. Off to the left is a small gift shop full of Namco-sanctioned souvenirs: shirts, notebooks, pint glasses, backpacks, action figures, books, and other sundries. (In terms of characters, the paraphernalia in the gift shop only has Pac-Man and the four ghosts — there is no acknowledgement whatsoever of Ms. Pac-Man or any of the other Midway-created characters.) Also in the gift shop is a multicade cocktail table out for demonstration. It might just be my aversion to gift shops in general, but overall there wasn’t anything in there that I felt was worth spending my own money on, but if I received some of the items as a gift, they’d be cool desktop decorations. The gift shop and the Pac-Man statue are on the first floor; the real action is upstairs.

The Food (What? No bells, keys, or Galaxian flagships?!)


Your vegetarian friends will love the menu options available. Uhhhmmm…..wait a second…

This past Saturday I went to Level 257 with three friends. Our first priority: food, as none of us had eaten. In terms of price, the restaurant is a smallish bit on the expensive side, depending on what you order. Neal ordered a Chef’s Social for the table. This appetizer includes babaganoush, ricotta (which is technically not cheese, by the way), hummus, pita, celery, and cucumber slices. We were all quite impressed; very tasty stuff — not to mention my first tasting of babaganoush. (So why did I mention it then??) For the entreés, Duc, the vegetarian of our quartet, ordered “I Can’t Believe It’s Not ‘Steak’, a cauliflower-based dish that even I, as carnivorous as I am, thought looked quite delish;” I had the “Chicago C.B.S.,” a grilled chicken sandwich on a brioche; Carey chose the fennel sausage pizza, literally seconds after somebody had told me, “Don’t order the pizza — you’ll be glad you didn’t!” (I tried to subtly warn Carey but she didn’t get my signals!); and Neal went with the “Double Dot Burger,” which essentially is a double cheeseburger on a brioche, and subbed a salad for fries, a salad he highly enjoyed. Overall, we were very pleased with the meal, although Carey said that while it was okay, the pizza “wasn’t life-changing.” (Honest, I tried to warn her.) The service was fast and friendly.

The Games (Spoiler alert: no Professor Pac-Man)


I really would have liked to have bowled here, but until I can get about eight or nine more friends together, the $40 price tag is a bit much.

If you’ve ever been to Dave & Buster’s, the gaming situation is pretty similar. There’s bowling; in fact, when you walk into the main entrance upstairs, there are bowling alleys on either side of the restaurant. I do have to lament, however, that Level 257 missed a great opportunity: the bowling balls are black (with Level 257’s logo and “EAT LIFE UP” motto), and the pins are white. Really — why not make the balls yellow and have two fingerholes double as Pac-Man’s eyes? And why not at least paint blue frowning ghosts on the pins? Corny idea? Hell, yes! But at least you’re reminded that the theme is Pac-Man. Hanging on the wall alongside one of the bowling alleys is an array of retro-looking bowling ball bags, next to an array of bowling shoes. Cost to bowl: $40 per lane, with as many players per lane as you want.

PacManSmashWholeTHing PacManSmash
Because Level 257 is a modern arcade, a lot of the games are the types you’d find at a typical 2015 arcade, including not just those multiscreen environmental video games, but also the free throw game and a couple of air hockey tables. In fact, one of the air hockey tables is Pac-Man Smash, which from what I’m told is sort of a combination of air hockey and Hungry Hungry Hippos, what with several pucks in play at once, and it includes Pac-Man graphics on the table and with sound effects from the video game.


I have to admit I was quite surprised to see Baby Pac-Man — not just due to its relative obscurity, but also because I didn’t think that Namco would want this Midway hack on their gaming floor.

And speaking of video games, there are plenty of those as well. Despite being owned by Namco, Level 257’s arcade video game assortment goes beyond just those that are Namco-licensed. Among the standard arcade games I saw were Centipede and Galaga (both in the cabaret-style cabinets), Pac-Man (duh!), Tempest (there was a problem with the screen and so it was removed from the gaming floor while we were there), Pac-Man 25th Anniversary, a Dragon’s Lair/Space Ace multicade, Q*Bert, Space Invaders, Super Pac-ManAsteroids, and even Baby Pac-Man! There is also a small selection of pinball machines; as I’m not much of a pinball enthusiast, I didn’t really pay much attention to what was there other than the Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man pin. Regardless, the staff told me that there are a lot more games to come in the near future.


A customer enjoys the Midway cabaret version of Galaga.

Now, what I thought was cool is that at many of the non-restaurant tables, there are arcade games (most likely dedicated multicades) embedded into the tabletops — think of a fancy cocktail table-style video game — but with left-handed controls. (grrr…) In addition to the expected Pac-Man games, some of the tables also had other titles such as Defender and a unit I saw on which you can choose between Pengo and Pengo II. Level 257 has this babies as far as the eye can see.



Wanna play the split screen without having to learn all kinds of maze patterns and playing the game for hours on end? Here’s yer baby. The poster challenges you to make it to level 256. Come on — if you really want to challenge us, challenge us to make it to level 257! Billy Mitchell once put up $10,000 of his own money as a prize to whoever could do it…it went unclaimed.

Level 257 also includes two unique variations on arcade games. For one, there’s perhaps the newest in the franchise, the four-player Pac-Man Battle Royale — on a screen that takes up practically an entire wall. The cost appears to be 25 cents per play per person. And to me, the whole reason to take advantage of the gaming at all is a video game cabinet named Level 255. As you might conclude by the name, it’s a standard Pac-Man machine hacked to start you (with a complete set of lives) at the 255th level, the final level before the split screen bug, so that you have an opportunity to see and play the buggy 256th level without having to spend hours playing the machine. Next to the Level 255 game is a poster explaining the significance of this legendary screen.


Let’s face it: you will never see a MAME cabinet that’s cooler than these embedded tabletop video games. Glad to see that a few of them don’t force you to use a joystick on the left!

All these arcade cabinets, pinball machines, and redemption-style games must come with a cost, right? The games are card-activated. Tapping the card on a scanner by the coin slot enables the game. Once you first tap your card, you have a certain amount of time that the card is active, in fifteen-minute increments. The cost? Five dollars per quarter-hour, or an entire hour for $15. So if you’re good at a game, you may be paying five bucks to play one game; conversely, if you really suck at these games, that fifteen minutes could last for quite a few games.

When Games Get To Be Too Much…


Level 257 includes a small museum-style display case featuring items of yesteryear to bring back your Pac-Man memories. But honestly…how old IS that can of pasta?!

Let’s face it — even the most die-hard gamers get fatigued and need to get away from a video game screen for a while. Level 257 offers a couple of different options for those who wish to step away from the games. In the gaming area there’s a reading nook near shelving stocked with books for kids. (Speaking of which, there were a surprisingly large number of li’l ones running around.) If you have no use for this juvenile reading area, you can take a meander near the restaurant and admire a wall of museum display pieces of Pac-Man-related artifacts, including an Atari Video Computer System “light sixer,” an old can of Pac-Man pasta by Chef Boyardee, the Pac-Man board game, and a slew of other items of nostalgia, old and new (if there is such a thing as new nostalgia.)



I haven’t for sure made up my mind whether I’ll be coming back soon, but every time I look at this picture of the ginormous Pac-Man Battle Royale, I am tempted.

I believe I’ve mentioned before that the reason I gravitate toward video games of the ’80s as opposed to modern ones is that, despite the much more primitive graphics and sound, the games from 30+ years ago have infinitely more replayability than newer ones. With this in mind, I think my final thought will be based on the replayability of Level 257: that is…would I come back?

Much like the 256th level of Pac-Man, my mind is split. (Yes, terrible comparison, I know. Just deal with it, ‘kay?) On one hand, the atmosphere is really cool, the staff is friendly, the service is good, and for what you pay for the food you get pretty good quality. All things considered, the available activities, gift shop, and food, one thought ran through my mind: if my parents were there with me, they’d be on their knees thanking God that this place didn’t exist when I was nine years old, or else they would have been putting up with my nagging them to take me, and there’s no way in hell they would have driven all the way up to Schaumburg to let their whiny brat kid do that Pac-Man stuff at those prices.


Pengo and Pengo II…a twofer you don’t see very often, you gotta admit!

Which reminds me…none of the four of us did any gaming. We didn’t relish the thought of spending five dollars for fifteen minutes, especially when you consider that $15 can buy you either an hour of gaming at Level 257, or an entire day of gaming at Galloping Ghost or Underground Retrocade, both of which have a great many of the games you’ll find at Level 257. In fact, after we left Level 257, Duc and I chose that second option: we went to Underground Retrocade and invested three fins each and had a great time playing some retro games and hanging out with some of our friends. They knew we were visiting Level 257 and asked us how things were. When I mentioned the bowling alleys and the fees, one of these friends pointed out how not far from Level 257 is a really great bowling alley that is, and I quote, “cheap as shit.” Anyhoo…


What, you think a Pac-Man-themed air hockey table is just too much? Relax: they also have a plain ol’ bare-bone air hockey table at Level 257.

Universally, there seems to be a disagreement on Level 257 as a whole. Reviews are mixed: some reviewers hate it, citing slow service, bowling lanes never becoming available after being given a promise time, expensive gaming (and a relative paucity of game choices), and low-quality food; others give Level 257 high ratings for the atmosphere, game options, and food…so go figure. Of course, Level 257 has been open to the public for a few short weeks, so it’s too early to give a definitive rating. But based on my experience on March 21, I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars. What keeps me from giving it that extra star? The outrageous gaming costs. But Level 257 does have a promising future, as it seems there were more than enough people willing to pay for that gaming, and there will be some special events in the near future that might nudge me into making a return trip.


Kids these days…always playin’ their video games and not reading books…

Now…I was thinking my next post would be that book review, but…I now realize it’s almost the end of the month and I haven’t yet made a monthly “Pac-Man Games That Aren’t Pac-Man” post, so guess what I’ll be doing next. Only thing is…I don’t know if I should go retro or modern for this month. Only time will tell.

Posted in Arcade Trip, Level 257 | 1 Comment

Pac-Man Games That Aren’t Pac-Man: Clean Sweep

cleansweepboxSuburban Sprawl Welcomes Pac-Man Theme Restaurant

I knew about this months ago, but now Pac-Man fans’ Facebook timelines are undoubtedly filled with news stories about a new restaurant, Level 257, that just opened at the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, IL (which just happens to be on my way to Underground Retrocade). At first I was pretty judgmental. When the place was first announced, I saw pictures and mockups and figured it would be one of those eateries in which your food is given to you on those trendy rectangular white plates with one or two shrimps with a $29.99 price tag, so I was pretty skeptical.


Level 257, a Pac-Man-themed restaurant located at a mall right by a Sears. I hate suburban sprawl, but this might be worth checking out.

But this week Level 257 had its soft opening, its grand opening to come in April. It probably goes without saying, but Level 257 is named to symbolize the, as far as anybody can tell, impossible-to-reach level after clearing the infamous Pac-Man kill screen. (Yeah, I know, technically the kill screen is level 0, meaning that what they call level 257 is actually level 1, but…semantics!) I haven’t visited the restaurant yet, but from the articles and pictures, I gather that it’s not just a restaurant, but it’s a pretty significant entertainment complex for grown-ups. I was right about the trendy food if the menu is any indication, although the prices are much more reasonable than I expected. The food itself isn’t really Pac-Man-themed, but some of the menu items and headings (such as “Inspired By a Pizza,” which depending on what you believe is either true or just PR hogwash) are named after Pac-Man concepts. (Note the italics there to specify the title of the game.) Besides the restaurant, there are obligatory video games — and if the pictures are any indication then there’s a massive screen on which you can play Pac-Man Championship Edition (if my assumption is true, I can’t wait!!), an arcade, a bowling alley, and a gift shop. I plan to take a trip there in the next few weeks, so I’ll be sure dedicate a blog post with my findings. Until then, you can visit Level 257’s web site here: www.level257.com. Now, on to the theme of this week’s post…

A Confession

It occurs to me that I need to admit something I’ve absentmindedly suppressed for at least 25 years. To the best of my memory, both in this blog’s posts and in various gaming forums, I’ve complained high and low about how video games suddenly force you to play left-handed: that is, joystick on the left, buttons on the right. When I grew up, video games were either right-handed or ambidextrous: in the arcades, the games I usually played — Frogger, the Pac-Man series, Centipede, Millipede, Burgertime, and many others — had the main controller in the middle and the buttons on both sides to allow anybody of any handedness to play; the fire button on the Atari’s controllers for the Video Computer System/2600 was on the left (on both the joystick and paddle); even the handheld LCD Burgertime game I had was the stick-on-the-right, button-on-the-left orientation. I’ve always blamed the left-handed controllers on Nintendo: their arcade games — the Donkey Kong/Mario series and Popeye — were left-handed (stick on the far left, button on the far right — it wasn’t even feasible to play cross-handed)…and the Nintendo Entertainment System, as far as I was concerned, is what solidified this ludicrous arrangement because its controllers had the D-pad on the left, buttons on the right, prompting its rivals to do the same thing.

But then I realized something, just as I was about to type this blog entry: I had a Vectrex for a while. My older cousins had it but got bored with it, so they handed it down to me. I loved that little thing. The graphics were pretty darn cool, and the gameplay was great despite the monochrome monitor. Yes, there were overlays (I had a total of six games, CIB), but I seldom used them.

And you know what? The controllers were…left-handed: joystick on the left, buttons on the right.

But come to think of it…being the Pac-Man fan that I am, I’m sure I spent a lot of Vectrex time specifically on Clean Sweep, the Vectrex’s obvious Pac-Man ripoff made by GCE (“Entertaining New Ideas” is their motto — I guess a maze chase game was a new idea?)…and Clean Sweep only used the joystick and none of the four buttons, meaning I very well may have played that game right-handed.

Okay, Enough Already – What About The Game?!

Ahh, yes, well…sorry. The game is Clean Sweep, one of many Pac-Man clones that existed on various consoles and computers, but one that didn’t result in any lawsuits, as far as I’m aware. In this weird twist on the maze chase genre popularized by our yellow friend, you aren’t a walking mouth but instead you’re a bank president…stay with me, now! Four bank robbers blew up your bank, and your job is to take your vacuum cleaner and suck up the money that’s strewn about, while the robbers chase you around. (Why they don’t get the hell away from the scene of the crime, or at least attempt to pick up some of the loose money, is beyond me.)

In the middle of the maze is the bank vault, which is where…wait, the bank robbers start from? NO!…it’s whence you, the bank president, start! As with Pac-Man, Clean Sweep has escape tunnels — not only on the sides but also on the top or bottom. It is through these tunnels that the bank robbers enter the maze, one at a time.

“Pac-Man”? Never heard of it! Here…enjoy Clean Sweep! Totally original concept!

At first, this blurb might just emphasize how much GCE was trying to make you think it’s not a Pac-Man game with this desperate-sounding game plot, it actually is a unique concept for a game. It goes beyond the be-chased-until-you-get-energized concept, as there are new challenges. For one, your vacuum cleaner will fill up. As you suck up dollars, your vacuum cleaner gets progressively bigger until it can no longer pick up any more money. At that point, you need to maneuver the vacuum into the vault, where the money will be emptied from your vacuum cleaner and get deposited; if your vacuum cleaner is supercharged, however, it may continue to pick up dollars. The further you get in the game, the sooner your bag fills and ergo the more frequently you need to deposit your money. Even if your bag isn’t full, you can deposit your money at any point. If you clear a maze with money in your bag (well, you will have at least one dollar in your bag!), however, you do not get any deposit scores for what’s in the bag at the time, so plan strategically and accordingly. (I have yet to figure out whether you get points for depositing dollars you sucked up while supercharged, however.)

There are four bank robbers, who look uncannily like staple removers for some reason. Obviously you want to stay away from the robbers, but you can “supercharge” your vacuum cleaner and suck the robbers up. In each of the four corners is a room where you can enter and give your vacuum a single temporary jolt. As soon as your vacuum cleaner gets that jolt, you exit the room, which closes for the remainder of the level. When your supercharge is about to run out, your vacuum cleaner flashes.

You start off with five lives and earn an extra life when you get 10,000 points. In terms of scoring, predictably you get ten points for each dollar you pick up. For each dollar you deposit you get another 20 points. Supercharging your vacuum cleaner gives you 50 points; and vacuuming the robbers on a single charge gives you 100 points for the first, 200 for the second, 400 for the third, and 800 for the fourth — a similar geometric progression to that of Pac-Man but starting at 100 instead of 200.

Hey, wanna see Clean Sweep in action? Here ya go!

The Bank President Boozes It Up!

What I consider the Vectrex equivalent to the Atari 2600’s Pepsi Invaders is an extremely rare variation of Clean Sweep made specifically for the potent potable company Mr. Boston. The cartridge has a custom label, and the vacuum cleaner graphic in the game is replaced by a top hat. You can read more about the Mr. Boston version of Clean Sweep at the web site Vectrex Museum.

Does Clean Sweep Suck?

Time for another confession: I wanted to have another subhead here, but I couldn’t think of something, so I had to make the obvious vacuum pun. But really, does Clean Sweep suck? Not at all. It’s a very interesting variation on the Pac-Man premise with some extra challenges. I’d certainly love to see Clean Sweep ported to other systems as well. Given that I haven’t played the game in over 25 years, though (sure, I could run an emulator, but who has time?), I don’t recall my high score other than I considered myself to be a decent Clean Sweep player.

But yes, I had a Vectrex. Along with Clean Sweep I had Star Trek, Starhawk, Solar Quest, Berzerk, and Scramble…all complete (manual, overlay, overlay sleeve) and boxed. And I even remember learning the hard way about the level 13 reset bug in the Vectrex’s built-in MineStorm game. After I (thought I) outgrew the Vectrex, I handed it down to my then-five-year-old cousin. Given how sought-after Vectrex stuff is, I almost wish I hadn’t given that thing away. Unfortunately, I’m not really in touch with a lot of my relatives, and the last time I saw said cousin was at my grandmother’s funeral five years ago, and I hardly felt that her funeral was the appropriate time to ask if he still had it and was willing to let me have it back. Ah well…

Now, that was, what, only two posts after the last entry about a Pac-Man clone? February is a short month! I think next time I’ll do another book review.

Posted in Pac-Man clones, Vectrex | Leave a comment

Jr. Pac-Man Root Beer Strategy: fulfilling an old promise

I don’t believe in making New Year’s resolutions. To me, New Year’s Day is just another day that, for some bizarre reason, people make a big deal about simply because the number attached to a year increases, and our calendar resets to a new month based on duodecimal overflow. (Not that I’m complaining about a day off, however…) To me, every day is worthy of such celebration. Every day you’re on this earth you get opportunities to change for the better, to experience new things, to learn, to visit new places, to get that dream job, to find the lost chord, or even to achieve that high score.

Having said that, however, I did make not so much a New Year’s resolution, but more of a New Year’s “It would be nice if…” I thought to myself, “It would be nice if I could take two house high scores at Underground Retrocade this year.” I try to go there at least once a month. Shortly after my most recent posting to this blog, I made my first trip of the year, thanks of course in part to the gift certificate to the Retrocade that my wife gave me for Christmas. It was pretty late in the day, around dinner time; usually I try to go early in the day but I was just too damn busy and, unfortunately, missed seeing several gaming friends who were there. But I played some of my favorite games. Beat my high score on Asteroids Deluxe; finally cracked 100,000 on Millipede without using the continuation option; advanced ever so slightly on Kangaroo (I keep telling myself that I hate that game so much, yet why do I still play it); got a decent score on their Burgertime machine, a feat that proved elusive the whole time they had it despite my rather good progress on the same game at other arcades; beat both my score and highest rank on Gorf; and I figured, hell, let me see what I can do with Jr. Pac-Man Turbo, the game that was the reason I first went to Underground Retrocade in the first place.

If you’ve been following this blog regularly, you know about my history with Jr. Pac-Man Turbo. Long story short, for a short time I almost had the house high the second time I ever played the game, and had the #2 score in the word on aurcade.com for a very, very brief time, eventually falling to #13 as more and more people were scoring higher. On the night of Underground Retrocade’s grand reopening in West Dundee in 2013, I played the game some more but kept finding myself getting cornered on the seventh maze, the root beer maze. Yes, I had cleared it many times before, but it was pure luck that I was able to do that. I looked up, and there was something familiar about the face belonging to the guy watching the Galaga machine next to me. Ahh…it was Fred Ochs — his picture was on the Jr. Pac-Man Turbo machine as the current high score holder!

I tried playing a couple of more times, still kept getting trapped on the root beer maze. At this point, Fred was a little ways down talking to some other folks. Next time I was on the seventh maze I caught his attention and waved him over. I said, and I quote, “Fred, how in the hell do you survive this maze?!” Unlike many high-scorers in the gaming world whose egos are so inflated they refuse to share their secrets for fear of being dethroned, Fred actually very freely offered his strategy, with no “This is for your eyes only” disclaimers. And now I’ll share it with you!

Fred’s Strategy

See those boxed corners on the outer edges of the maze? That’s where I would always get trapped, and I have a feeling that’s where many other players often come to their deaths (assuming they’re able to get that far in the first place!) as well. On the left and right sides, you have a little box inside a large box on the top and bottom, with a rectangular box in the middle. There are only three barriers separating those parts of the maze from the middle portion of the maze, meaning that once you’re in there, it’s hard to get back out.


This picture shows the left side of the maze. Those boxes on top and bottom are the danger zones: these are where Jr. Pac-Man often meets his maker. Your best bet is to get into that rectangular box in the middle, and attempt to clear another box when the monsters are all in the upper or lower box.

But see that little section highlighted in turquoise? That’s the safe part. Actually, anywhere in that box is usually pretty safe. A ghost may follow you into that box, but if that happens, it’s usually easy to get out; if more than one ghost comes in, well, then not quite as easy. But usually this is the safest move: after you clear the middle part of the maze (and be sure to grab the root beers for 5,000 points a pop!), head to that middle box. The ghosts will most likely end up in the boxes above and below you; if you’re really lucky, all four will go into one box.

I’ve found that your position in the safety box usually dictates the ghosts’ moves. If you enter the bottom portion of the center box, the ghosts tend to enter the large box at the bottom; if you enter the top portion of the middle box, the ghosts go to the upper box. Once the ghosts are in a larger box, your position along that turquoise path will dictate whether the ghosts tend to hang out on the outer edge of their occupied boxes or on the inner parts, near where the energizers are. Once in a while, a ghost or two will escape from one of the corners and track you down in the middle, so be careful.

Now, what Fred did not tell me — I had to learn this for myself — is you absolutely have to be patient. You can’t just hastily go into one of those boxes and try to clear the whole thing in one swipe; it might take several attempts to clear just one corner, especially if you’re not on a “turbo” machine. What I found works best for me on the turbo machine is, as soon as all the ghosts are on the outer edge of the maze inside their boxes, I hightail it to the other end of the maze: if I’m in the boxes on the left, I get over to the right side (or vice versa) and clear whatever I can from one of those corners; if a majority of the ghosts are in one box, I make my way to the opposite box on the other side: if they’re on the upper box on the left, I’ll head to the lower box on the right. Also, what will help you is if you’re trying to clear a box and there’s at least one ghost on the outer edge, get an energizer right before the ghosts come all the way around the box — even on a later maze when the ghosts no longer turn blue, eating an energizer will force the ghosts to reverse their paths; just hope that your timing isn’t so that it’s not when they would go back on their own!

So Does This Strategy Work?

I do feel bad that I don’t have more graphics — especially video recordings — showing this strategy in action, so hopefully my words were helpful. I just don’t have any good screen recording software — hey, that costs money!

Of course, I’ve mentioned specifically the “turbo” version of Jr. Pac-Man many times in this blog, including this posting. This strategy also works on the standard version, although the caveats I’ve mentioned are about twofold with the regular, non-turbo variation. Execute the strategy with care and you’ll be pretty happy, just as I was when I got this score:


That makes two games in the Pac-Man series on which I can now score over half a million. Sure, they’re both hacks by Midway that are not authorized by Namco, and sure, they’re both the turbo versions, but dammit, it’s half a million!

There it is: 541,880; turbo version, of course. Fred Ochs’ score at the time: 534,400. I’m not saying this to brag; rather, I’m saying that because I’m just freakin’ honored that I was able to (just barely) beat his score: Fred is a helluva gamer, a force to be reckoned with.

It occurred to me when I checked the high scores to see if I did indeed get the house high that it was my first trip of the year to Underground Retrocade, and already I achieved half of my New Year’s “It would be nice if…” list; maybe just one more trip and I won’t have to go back again this year.


As if.

Posted in Arcade Trip, Game Strategy, High Score Update, Jr. Pac-Man, Jr. Pac-Man Turbo, Jr. Pac-Man Turbo, Underground Retrocade | Tagged , | Leave a comment