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

Pac-Man Games That Aren’t Pac-Man: K.C. Munchkin!


K.C. Munchkin! was the first video game console cartridge that offered the world a chance to play…well, something like Pac-Man…on a TV set. Despite the lawsuits, it also wouldn’t be the last.


I remember in 1981 I got excited when I heard there was a home video game that was basically a knockoff of Pac-Man. My cousins had a 6-switch Atari VCS, and I was hoping it was for that system so I’d have a chance to play it next time I was at their house, as Pac-Man hadn’t yet been released for the VCS, nor do I think it was even mentioned publicly as coming in the near future. But as for the game I had heard about, I didn’t remember exactly what it was called, but it had the word “Munchkin” in the title. Alas, I found out that the game, K.C. Munchkin!, was for the Magnavox Odyssey², a game system that neither my cousins nor anybody else I knew had. Ah well, it was fun to hope.


Atari sued North American Philips over the Magnavox Odyssey2 game K.C. Munchkin!‘s similarity to Pac-Man. Yet this is what Atari eventually came out with under the Pac-Man name. I’m sure plenty of people would argue that K.C. Munchkin! was much more faithful to the arcade Pac-Man than the Atari 2600 Pac-Man was.

Nonetheless, the curiosity about K.C. Munchkin! stayed with me for over thirty years. My curiosity (and Pac-Mania) was so high that for a brief time I needed to have Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes for breakfast because each box had a chance to win an Odyssey²; but it wasn’t to be. To this day, I’ve never touched an actual Odyssey² machine, although I’ve had chances in the three trips I made to YesterCades in Red Bank, New Jersey. Have I played K.C. Munchkin!? Yes — but only via Odyssey² emulation…and on my Atari 7800.

The Game

K.C. Munchkin (punnily named after K.C. Mencken, president of Philips, owner of Magnavox) is a quirky-looking character who moves around a maze, his mouth making a constant chomping motion, and eats munchies, all while munchers are chasing after him. Munchkin can eat one of four blinking munchies and temporarily eat the munchers, who meanwhile go to a pen in the middle of the screen to eventually regenerate and resume the chase.

Sound familiar? Good. Because there are many differences between what you’re thinking of and K.C. Munchkin!.

  • On the surface, it looks like Pac-Man is just a yellow circle with a mouth. Munchkin is blue and has antennae and eyes.
  • When playing Pac-Man, Pac-Man will continue to move in the same direction until he either gets to a wall or is eaten by a ghost, regardless of whether you let go of the joystick. Munchkin, however, only moves a few steps unless you continue to hold the joystick in the direction you want him to travel.
  • Four ghosts chase Pac-Man. Three munchers chase Munchkin.
  • The ghosts specifically pursue Pac-Man. The munchies don’t necessarily pursue Munchkin, though; he is more likely to die by colliding into a muncher rather than by being chased by a muncher.
  • Pac-Man has 240 dots and four energizers, all stationary. K.C. Munchkin! has eight munchies and four blinking munchies, all of which move throughout the maze, moving faster as Munchkin eats them.
  • If Pac-Man eats a ghost, only the ghost’s eyes remain, and they return to the pen in the middle, where the ghost regenerates. If Munchkin eats a muncher, the muncher turns into a ghost, then returns to the pen where it regenerates.
  • Depending on the setting of the machine, Pac-Man has either one, three, or five lives, with a bonus life awarded after 10000, 15000, or 20000 points (if there’s a bonus life at all). Munchkin gets one life. Period.
  • In Pac-Man, the ghosts’ pen is longer than wide and has an opening on top, and Pac-Man cannot enter it. In K.C. Munchkin!, the munchers’ pen is square with an opening, and it rotates constantly, and with proper timing, Munchkin can enter the pen — and in one maze, he absolutely must enter the pen to clear the entire maze.
  • Pac-Man has one maze. K. C. Munchkin! has several mazes and includes a maze editor so you can make your own mazes; you can opt to play just one maze throughout the game or to play random mazes for every level.

More Different Than Same? Tell It To the Judge!

Upon enumerating the ways that K.C. Munchkin! is different from Pac-Man, you might think that there are so many differences that the two are essentially different games. Well…Atari’s lawyers would disagree with you. In 1979, Namco granted Atari the right to produce home video game versions of the former’s arcade games, which means that this license would include 1980’s Pac-Man. Although Atari’s version of Pac-Man wouldn’t hit any video game system for another year, Atari felt that Magnavox had infringed on said right with K.C. Munchkin! Atari took North American Philips to court, where a judge ruled that K.C. Munchkin! was not Pac-Man and was different enough to not infringe on that right. Atari, not satisfied with the verdict, appealed the case and won.


Had this prototype been released as the final product, Philips would not have had a snowball’s chance in court.

Now, that’s the short version of what happened. Rather than get into long, drawn-out details, I’ll give you some info that you won’t find on other web sites that just briefly touch upon the legal issues. K.C. Munchkin! was designed by an independent video game developer named Ed Averett. Not only did Averett and Philips testify that they had made every effort to not copy Pac-Man, but Averett also had said that he had developed a game called Take the Money and Run, in which your character would maneuver through a maze filled with robots, grabbing money along the way, and at certain times, you could turn the tables on the robots. Sounds familiar, right? Only allegedly this game was developed before Pac-Man was even thought of, and after various tweaks and revisions requested by the powers that be, the game evolved into K.C. Munchkin!

Atari initially filed a lawsuit on November 18, 1981, in the United States District Court here in my Sweet Home Chicago. On December 4 of the same year, Judge George N. Leighton took many of the aforementioned differences into consideration and ruled that Atari had not provided sufficient support saying that K.C. Munchkin! was infringing on Atari’s rights. Atari filed its appeal, and then on January 19, 1982, presented its case, which was decided in favor of Atari on March 2, just a month and a half later. Apparently what helped Atari’s case was that the character of K.C. Munchkin too strongly resembled Pac-Man, the mouth movements of the two characters were too similar, and the way the ghosts would be eaten and regenerate was also too close. After the ruling, K.C. Munchkin! was still available for sale for months thanks to a $1,000,000 bond posted by Philips that allowed sales to continue.

Of course, those who were into video games back in the day probably remember that K.C. Munchkin! was not the only Pac-Man clone to come about for home video games. Off the top of my head, there was Munch Man on the TI 99/4A and Clean Sweep on the Vectrex. So why did Atari sue Magnavox but not Texas Instruments or GCC (maker of Vectrex)? Well, one blogger opines, probably correctly, that it was jealousy: Magnavox beat Atari to the punch with a Pac-Man game, and Atari wanted to be the first. Since the aforementioned clones post-dated Atari’s home version of Pac-Man, they weren’t considered a threat to Atari’s ego, let alone bank account.

But did Magnavox let these Atari lawsuits get their spirits down? Not quite: Magnavox, in a display of humor and snark, released a game called K.C.’s Krazy Chase!, kind of a surprisingly enjoyable melding of Pac-Man, Centipede, and Nibbler, meant as a metaphor for all the legal challenges the company had to face.

Atari Users Can Have It Both Ways!


Why on earth would anybody think K.C. Munchkin! would be a good choice for a port on such an advanced (for the ’80s) video game system as the Atari 7800 ProSystem? Trust me: it’s quite addictive.


In a seemingly ironic twist of fate, the game that caused such a legal hassle on the Odyssey² was recently produced for two Atari systems. K.C. Munchkin! is (or at least was) available for Atari 2600 under the title K.C. Monster Maze!, and more recently under its original title for the Atari 7800. Now, I can’t speak for the 2600 version, but the 7800 cart is yet another excellent homebrew by Bob DeCrescenzo. I don’t know what more to say, other than that the game play perfectly replicates that of the Odyssey² version. The 7800 port actually has some enhanced graphics to take advantage of the more advanced power of the ProSystem; if you feel more nostalgic, there is a yet-to-be-exposed Easter egg that will allow you to play the game with its original graphics.

These are good times for Atari video gamers who like Pac-Man. With the three officially-sanctioned Atari 2600 Pac-Man titles, the numerous homebrew versions of the original for both the 2600 and 7800, and now K.C. Munchkin! on both the 2600 and 7800, there’s no shortage of ghost-chomping games available for these classic consoles.

You can watch Bob DeCrescenzo demo his brilliant conversion of this lawsuit-inducing game here:

And with all the Pac-Man knockoffs that existed for old systems and clones for more modern technology, this new, recurring feature in my blog won’t be going away any time soon.

Posted in Atari 7800 ProSystem, Atari VCS/2600, Pac-Man clones, Philips Magnoavox Odyssey2 | 1 Comment

So how long are the ghosts blue, anyway?

Happy 2015, all.

Well, I guess I’ll just jump right in without waxing philosophical about the new year, the holidays, and the weather.

Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man – Cantaloupes and Flagships!

Last time I posted, I spoke of how on Ms. Pac-Man, you have to pay close attention to when the ghosts flash between blue and white and to stop chasing the ghosts when your count gets to eight flashes (four on some levels). That strategy, by the way, also applies to Pac-Man and Junior Pac-Man, whether it be the standard speed or turbo, difficulty DIP switch set to “normal” or “hard.”

It occurred to me that I really don’t know which levels give you eight flashes and which levels give you four, however. All I know is that on Ms. Pac-Man, you get no ghost vulnerability on the fourth time you see the pink version of maze 3, and then two levels later the ghosts are never vulnerable again for the rest of the game. In retrospect, it’s probably because of my lack of knowledge as to what levels give you four flashes versus eight that it took me so long to get my Ms. Pac-Man Turbo high score — at a certain point of the game I’d chase the ghosts assuming I’d get only four flashes but then miss lots of scoring opportunities because I really had eight flashes.

I spent some time coming up with a matrix that shows 1) how long the ghosts are solid blue (if at all), and 2) how many times the ghosts flash between blue and white, for each level up until the ghosts are no longer edible after an energizer is eaten. Unsurprisingly, Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man are in sync with each other; after all, Ms. Pac-Man is a hack of (a hack of) Pac-Man. Jr. Pac-Man also is a hack of Pac-Man, but the ghost vulnerability stats are different for that game, no big surprise given the oversized mazes. Please note that the “seconds of solid blue” time is approximate.


So…why is the last “key” bordered? Uhh…I have no idea. This is a screen cap from a spreadsheet I made, and I’m guessing I had the cursor on that cell when I did the screen grab, so just ignore it. Notice that I have columns for “Normal” and “Difficult.” So how do you know whether you’re playing a game set to “Normal” versus “Difficult”? Simple: watch the ghosts’ pen when the game starts. If three ghosts leave the pen right away, you’re on a “hard” machine; otherwise it’s normal.

You might be scratching your head over a couple of the names of the Pac-Man prizes…cantaloupe?? Folks, this is coming straight from Namco, specifically the port of Pac-Man available for OSX via the Mac App Store. It’s basically an emulated version of the arcade game, but when a prize appears beneath the ghost pen, the name of the prize shows up in the bottom margin of the screen; that’s also where “flagship” comes from.

As for Ms. Pac-Man, I’ve included which maze is on which level. Level 18 gives you “maze F,” and then 19 through 21 also have “maze F.” After that, the mazes rotate from C through F, four levels each. I’m sure it goes without saying, but on the off chance it doesn’t, here are mazes A through F, respectively:


Maze “A”


Maze “B”


Maze “C”


Maze “D”


Maze “E”


Maze “F”











Jr. Pac-Man – as if it isn’t hard enough already!

Here’s a similar chart for Jr. Pac-Man — again, this applies to both standard and “turbo” speed:


Unlike with Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, a Jr. Pac-Man machine set to “hard” (or “difficult”) has not three monsters leaving the pen at the beginning of the level, but all four, so best of luck! On the hard setting, the ghosts are solid blue only on the first level, and just for approximately two seconds, so beware. (Betcha didn’t know that Jr. Pac-Man could be harder than the machines you’ve seen set to “normal” difficulty!)

Again, in case it doesn’t go without saying which mazes are which:


maze “A”


maze “B”


maze “C”


maze “D”


maze “E”


maze “F”


maze “G”

 Whither Super Pac-Man, Baby Pac-Man, and Pac’n’Pal?

Ha! Are you kidding me? Super Pac-Man and Pac’n’Pal have so many difficulty settings that it’d be virtually impossible to come up with a simple matrix. Also, these games don’t have a “rack test” setting, and I’m not good enough to advance level-by-level without cheating on those games! I do promise that if I observe any particular patterns when playing these games, I’ll be sure to post my tips here. As for Baby Pac-Man? Just…no.

Next time I think I’ll introduce my “Pac-Man That Isn’t Pac-Man” feature, starting with K.C. Munchkin. Meanwhile, be careful chasing those ghosts!

Posted in Game Strategy, Jr. Pac-Man, Jr. Pac-Man Turbo, Ms. Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man Turbo, Pac-Man, Pac-Man Turbo, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ms. Pac-Man Turbo: Grabbing the Fruit, Fourth Maze

Since we’re closing out 2014, I thought it’d be a keen idea to finally close out my discussion of Ms. Pac-Man Turbo mini-patterns that provide a good chance to grab the fruit/prize/thingy as soon as it comes out of the tunnel.

This fourth maze comes after you clear the third maze four times and see the “Junior” cut scene. (If it weren’t for the “turbo” variation of Ms. Pac-Man, I’d probably never see this maze.) When the dark blue maze appears for the first time, remember that when Ms. Pac-Man eats an energizer, the ghosts’ vulnerability lasts the full cycle, but after clearing the maze the first time the vulnerability significantly slows down. Remember to keep track of how many times the ghosts flash blue and white, and before the eighth flash (fourth on some levels!) happens, stop your pursuit! (Read on for more about eight flashes versus four flashes.)

As a final reminder, the bonus enters the maze via a tunnel after Ms. Pac-Man has eaten 70 dots (including energizers), give or take, depending on the machine, and the second prize comes out after the next hundred dots. If you pay attention to your score, you’ll be able to calculate at what point Ms. Pac-Man should be positioned by a tunnel for that second prize.

In terms of being positioned directly in front of a tunnel when the first prize of the screen appears, my pattern is pretty simple, so simple that it only requires one screen shot. What’s nice about the layout of this maze is that even if you’re not positioned at the correct tunnel, the tunnels are close enough together that a quick move to the path of the dancing prize is usually pretty easy to do.

As before, the recommended pattern is the green path (duh!). The parts of the maze highlighted in red are danger zones; be careful around those areas, because it’s very easy to get trapped. As luck would have it, quite frequently when I’m on this maze, as soon as I grab the prize, there’s often a lot of clearance between where I eat the prize and the end of the red zone directly above the ghosts’ pen.


Many times it’s safe to go straight for the red zone above the ghost pen immediately after following the green path and eating the prize. The sooner you clear the red paths, the better.

If you happen to play a machine in which the prize comes out before you eat 70 dots, you’ll be able to tell early on — just before you enter the tunnel — if you’re about to enter the wrong tunnel, so you’ll be able to make a quick change without having to reverse course at the last moment.

Maze Prize Mini-Patterns:  a Recap

It’s both a blessing and a curse that Ms. Pac-Man is a much more random game than its predecessor. The randomness in the ghosts’ artificial intelligence provides much more challenging gameplay than the original, but the randomness also means it’s virtually impossible to come up with a reliable pattern. Indeed, the mini-patterns I’ve posted in this blog even aren’t 100% reliable: you never know when one of the ghosts may make an unexpected move, forcing you off the path of the pattern. If that happens, just remember: eat 70 dots and the bonus enters the maze.

As for the second bonus after the next 100 dots? Well…best of luck — you’re on your own there!

I realize the patterns I’ve devised have been spread out over various posts on this blog, so below is an index of the patterns so you have them all in one place (just bookmark this page):

Mini-pattern for the first maze (also often works on the non-turbo version):

Mini-pattern for the second maze:

Mini-pattern for the third maze:

Third maze mini-pattern alternative for Atari 7800:

Another year over…

And so ends both 2014 and my Ms. Pac-Man Turbo grab-the-bonus-right-away mini-patterns. I used these patterns when I achieved my current high score of 760,000, and if you’re struggling to get a decent score, you’ll probably find them helpful as well.

I’ll be back in 2015 starting with a focus on keeping track of how long it’s safe to chase the ghosts after eating an energizer, covering not one, not two, but three games in the Pac-Man series. Also, I’ll be doing a monthly post about a non-Pac-Man game that was obviously…”adapted”…from Pac-Man; I’m open to suggestions!

Posted in Ms. Pac-Man Turbo | Leave a comment

Book review — Pac-Mania: Top Strategies for Home & Arcade Pac-Man

My favorite Pac-Man book from my childhood, still my favorite to this day!

Released before the arcade market was saturated with many Pac-Man sequels, both authorized and unauthorized by Namco, Pac-Mania is a small read that surprisingly tells you just about everything you need to know about what existed in the Pac-Man world at the time. If you can find one of these, do yourself a favor and add it to your collection. Over thirty years later it’s still a fun and fascinating read.

It was fully my intention to post this book review a little bit earlier, with a “In case you’re still shopping for that nerd on your holiday list…” vibe, but life is what happens…but happy Christmas, solstice, Hanukkah, etc.

I don’t remember the occasion, but I distinctly remember my mother buying this book for me; might have been that she saw it for a cheap price while shopping and thought I’d enjoy it. Over the years my copy had fallen apart from overuse and the general handling of a typical nine-year-old. A year or so ago I was fortunate enough to find a replacement fully intact for a pretty cheap price, probably on Amazon, so I bought it immediately. But before I get into the details, I need to give an update about a Ms. Pac-Man Turbo grab-the-prize-immediately pattern update.

Ms. Pac-Man Turbo Prize Pattern: Atari 7800 Update

Recently I fired up Bob DeCrescenzo’s most excellent Atari 7800 homebrew/hack, Pac-Man Collection! Since I was planning a trip to Underground Retrocade, I set it to Ms. Pac-Man mode, high speed, to get some practice in. Unfortunately, I noticed a slight problem with my pattern for the third maze: Inky would get in the way every time. However, I did find a reasonable workaround. In short, you just need to wait patiently when you get to the bottom right corner, as you can see here:

I apologize for the lousy video quality; for some reason I couldn’t get a bright capture from my Grass Valley device, but you should easily be able to see what’s going on.

Reading Material for the Pac-Maniac

At first glance, Pac-Mania looks like a haphazardly thrown together money grab to cash in on the Pac-Man craze. It might be, but it’s surprisingly well done. The editors of Consumer Guide didn’t make any serious earth-shattering revelations, nor did they go deep in to the origins of the game, but the range that this book covers is pretty wide. As with any other Pac-Man book, there are the obligatory maze patterns, but when I say wide range, I mean wide range: there are patterns not only for the arcade game but also for the Coleco table top and the Atari 2600 versions. There are write-ups about practically every known Pac-Man variation that was available at the time: in addition to the aforementioned Atari and Coleco table top games, Pac-Mania also delves into handheld electronic games (at least one of dubious legality), bootleg arcade games, and even K.C. Munchkin (recently released as a homebrew for Atari 7800, by the way).

What would a book about Pac-Man be without some maze patterns?

Pac-Mania really gives you a good idea of just how rampant the Pac-Man craze was at the time. The book is dense in its 64 pages filled with information about arcade games, home games, handheld games, Pac-Man fan events, and even political cartoons and discussion of legal issues. And this was all when the only Pac-Man arcade video games in existence were Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, plus the Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man pinball machine, which also gets a little bit of attention.

While Pac-Mania is loaded with information, it doesn’t have everything. There’s no discussion of the famous 256th level, nor is there any discussion of the original inspiration for the game, which itself is up for debate. There’s also no mention of Crazy Otto…or much history behind Ms. Pac-Man at all, come to think of it. But the information that is in the book is both educational and entertaining.


Now, how often do you see maze patterns published for the much-maligned Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man?


Even the infamous K.C. Munchkin! gets a significant write-up.


The bootleggers knew they had to cash in, too. Pac-Mania gives these folks the attention they…deserve?

I felt the need to include a lot of pictures to give you an idea of just a fraction of the variety covered by Pac-Mania. Of course, to be fair and encourage you to actually get the book, I had to leave some stuff out, including discussions of the Tomytronics Pac-Man handheld game and the obscure Entex PacMan2 electronic game that gets kind words from the editors of Consumer Guide. And even though technically it’s not a Pac-Man game, the Odyssey2 game K.C. Munchkin! surprisingly gets a great deal of coverage in both a discussion of the game itself and a separate spread about the lawsuits that Atari filed against Magnavox in an attempt to put an end to the game’s distribution. Having said that, I have not done the research, but I’m guessing that games like Clean Sweep for the Vectrex system and MunchMan for the TI99/4A computer — and even the arcade game Lock’n’Chase — hadn’t yet been released to the public at the time Pac-Mania was written, or else the book would have also included discussions on those games, given their obvious Pac-Man influences. (Starting in 2015, I plan to feature one Pac-Man-like game per month in this blog.)


At the time of Pac-Mania’s publication, Ms. Pac-Man was the latest in the Pac-Man arcade video game series and therefore gets a two-page spread with a few helpful hints.

So I’ve mentioned several times about the wealth of information crammed into the 64 pages of this spiral-bound book, but that means there probably wasn’t enough room for pictures, right? Wrong. There’s also a surprising wealth of interesting photos, including not only screen shots and drawings, but also seemingly random photographs of Pac-Man fan events across the country, a Pac-Man sound-alike contest, Pac-Man’s presence in Hollywood, and even a picture of hundreds of Ms. Pac-Man cabinets being assembled outside of Chicago.

Final Thoughts


I love video game lawsuits. So naturally, the Pac-Man & The Law article is one of my favorites in Pac-Mania.

As you can tell, I highly enjoy Pac-Mania. It’s a great addition to not only a Pac-Maniac’s library but also anybody who has an interest in video games. This book did an excellent job of capturing the Pac-Man craze, both in text and pictures. As I’m wrapping up this post, I see a few copies for sale on Amazon (which incorrectly states that the book is a hardcover) for about $50 and higher, but a nice copy on eBay for about six bucks; yes, this is a fun book, but not fifty dollars’ worth of fun. If you can find a decent copy for a reasonable price, don’t hesitate to claim it.

Posted in Atari 7800 ProSystem, Book Review, Game Strategy, Ms. Pac-Man Turbo, Uncategorized | Leave a comment