The Game: As the offspring of a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a bigger maze than your parents ever had to deal with, gobbling small dots and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. Six large flashing dots in the maze enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period. Periodically, assorted toys will begin hopping through the maze, turning every uneaten dot they touch into a larger dot which yields more points, but also forces little Pac to slow down to digest them. 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… (Namco, 1983)
Memories: In yet another sequel to the most profitable and popular arcade game of all time, the backwards-titled Jr. Pac-Man did away with the life-saving warp tunnels of Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, instead confining the little Pac and his opponents to a larger, horizontally-scrolling maze. The only other innovation was the digestion dilemma caused by the bouncing toys – equivalent to the earlier Pac games’ fruit – turning uneaten dots into larger dots which slow you down enough for the monsters to catch up.
In some ways, Jr. Pac-Man was an apology for the abominable pinball/video game hybrid called Baby Pac-Man. In that game, the side tunnels were turned into two bottom tunnels which “led” to the pinball section of the game, and only by returning the ball to a specified receptacle could a player resume the video portion of the game. Needless to say, Baby Pac-Man tanked in a big way, so Midway was quick to save face with a much more traditional game – hence, Jr. Pac-Man.
Now, for a moment of introspection. As with its predecessors, Jr. Pac-Man included animated intermissions after the player cleared every second maze. Over the course of the four intermissions, Pac Jr. meets a young ghostlet, takes a shine to her, and despite their parents squabbling and gobbling at each other, the two become fast friends. Allowing for the fact that Jr. Pac-Man came long before video games were expected to have any kind of social redeemability or acceptability, here’s a sweet little message about getting along with others and making friends, no matter what kind of people they are. Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man pursued, and were pursued by, the ghosts without any hope for a reprieve. Pac Jr. makes friends with one. It may seem like an incredibly insignificant gesture in the big picture, but it’s a message that bears repeating. I like it better than, say, any message one might get from Tapper.
Separated At Birth? The mystery, to this day, is: are Baby Pac-Man and Jr. Pac-Man the same creature? According to Hanna Barbera’s short-lived Pac-Man cartoon series, there was only one child in the Pac household. However, officially, Namco views each game’s star as a separate entity; the animated intro to the recent Playstation game Pac-Man World depicts Pac Jr. and Baby Pac as two different characters. There, glad we got that solved.
Atari actually managed to come up with an outstanding Jr. Pac-Man cartridge for the Atari 2600, trading in the horizontally-scrolling maze for a vertically-scrolling one, but otherwise the port was admirable, right down to the music, graphics, and sounds. It was Atari’s last Pac-Man game, and they finally nailed it.