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.
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…
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.
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.