The Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period. Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (Bally, 1981)
Memories: 1981 was the year of Pac-Man fever, when everybody wanted to get the yellow gobbler on their console, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof. Bally – having already tried to play fast and loose with licensing by releasing a dead-on accurate but unlicensed version of Galaxian under a different name – took another roll of the dice (appropriately for an outfit that also had a healthy stake in the casino business)…and lost.
At issue, obviously, was Muncher‘s similarities to Pac-Man. Actually, “similarities” doesn’t do it justice: Muncher was Pac-Man, full stop. The opening song, the sound effects and everything go beyond a mere homage. So it’s probably understandable that, with Atari eyeing potential lawsuit targets after successfully getting an injunction to prevent Magnavox from selling K.C. Munchkin, Bally yanked Muncher in record time.
On its own merits, Muncher is one of the better titles in Bally’s library, showing that the Professional Arcade was more than capable of pulling off decent arcade ports, with a very good audiovisual likeness to the source material. Sadly, Bally had only its early Midway arcade titles to draw on to demonstrate this, which probably kept the Arcade from being a contender among such systems as Intellivision and Colecovision.