The Game: You’re a mobile set of chattering teeth, gobbling up goodies in a maze as jaw-breaking candies pursue you. If you bite down on one of these killer candies, you’ll rack up quite a dental bill (enough to lose a life). You can snag one of four snacks in the corners of the maze and suddenly the tooth-rotting treats become crunchy and vulnerable. Advance to the next level by clearing the maze of dots. (On-Line Systems, 1981)
Memories: Atari’s home version of Pac-Man for the Atari 2600 was like a trail of telltale blood in a tank full of pirhanas. It was quickly apparent that there was one wounded one in the group, and other predators quickly closed in for the kill – or, in the case of Pac-Man, provided games for various platforms that duplicated the Pac-Man experience better than Atari could apparently manage to do.
Like Taxman, Jawbreaker made absolutely no bones about what game it was copying. But also like Taxman, this popular arcade-style Apple II game from On-Line Systems, Ken and Roberta Williams’ up-and-coming game publisher better known for elaborate adventure games, drew the legal ire of Atari. Now Jawbreaker was the wounded fish in the middle of a school of bloodthirsty legal sharks. An ultimatum was delivered to On-Line Systems: change the game, or pull it off the market, or wind up on the business end of a look-and-feel infringement suit.
According to designer John Harris (though Olaf Lubeck is given sole credit for the Apple II version, he was simply porting the original design that Harris created on the Atari 8-bit computers), the game was enough of a hot property that finding ways to change it without losing the essence of the game were a major priority. Thus was the sliding-door version of Jawbreaker born; these earlier, more overtly Pac-Man-like versions were pulled off the market, and the new version of the game was quickly released as Jawbreaker 2 for some of the machines that had gotten the original version.
Jawbreaker in its original form was actually quite a fun little game, even on the audiovisually limited Apple II. Harris and Lubeck succeeded in capturing most of the elements that made Pac-Man as addictive as it was, and yet changed a few things around. As fun as it was, many more changes would have to be made to keep Jawbreaker on the store shelves.