“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.
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.
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.
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!