Ladybug

LadybugThe Game: You control a nice, big, juicy ladybug waddling around a complex maze, gobbling up food and avoiding your nasty fellow insects. Doors in the maze can throw pursuers off your track momentarily – or they can trap you into an See the videoeven worse situation than whatever you’re trying to escape. (Universal, 1981)

Memories: Like Lock ‘n’ Chase, Ladybug is a fine example of a game which, though clearly inspired by Pac-Man, features enough unique game play elements to make it an individual game. And it’s a rare instance of a game I have to praise for its music and sound effects – they were really rather catchy. Continue reading

Lock ‘n’ Chase

Lock 'n' ChaseThe Game: You’re in charge of a getaway car loaded with crafty criminals. Your job is to sneak around the maze, avoid four colorful cops who are hot on your trail, and grab all the dough – and, of course, to escape so you can steal again another See the videoday. But the cops can trap you with a series of doors that can prevent you from getting away… (Data East, 1981)

Memories: Obviously, Lock ‘n’ Chase was yet another variation on the basic game play of Pac-Man, but in this case, just enough was changed to make it a discernably different new game, instead of just another clone. But even the most open-minded player could be forgiven for looking at the maze full of dots, populated by cutesy “cops,” and walking away, thinking, “Yep, it’s another Pirhana.” Continue reading

Make Trax

Make TraxThe Game: You play the part of a free-roaming paintbrush, trying to fill an entire maze with color. Unfortunately, a couple of equally free-roaming (and, apparently, amphibious) fish are out to stop you. You must avoid them at all costs. There are two rollers you can use to squish the fish, but they’re only found in two parts See the videoof the maze – and you can only roll them so far. Periodically, such things as kittens, cars, and mice will run through the maze, leaving tracks in your fresh paint which you must then cover up. You can also stop them dead in their tracks by running over them. (Don’t ask me why two fish are a threat to you when your paintbrush can ice a whole car.) Fill the maze with the pigment of your imagination, and you’re off to the next level. (Williams Electronics [licensed from Kural Electric], 1981)

Memories: One of Williams’ only non-shooter entries (and one of its few games licensed from Japan), it’s easy to see that Make Trax is inspired by Pac-Man, even though the connection is very cleverly covered. Instead of clearing a maze by eating everything in it, you clear the maze by painting it. This makes things a little harder than you might expect – every pixel of the maze has to be filled. In Pac-Man terms, this would be equivalent to the yellow one leaving crumbs in corners of the maze that have to be cleaned up. Messy eating metaphors aside, it makes Make Trax very challenging. Continue reading

Mouse Trap

Mouse TrapThe Game: In this munching-maze game (one of the dozens of such games which popped up in the wake of Pac-Man), you control a cartoonish mouse who scurries around a cheese-filled maze which can only be navigated by strategically opening and closing yellow, red and blue doors with their color-coded buttons. See the videoOccasionally a big chunk o’ cheese can be gobbled for extra points. Is it that easy? No. There is also a herd of hungry kitties who would love a mousy morsel. But you’re not defenseless. By eating a bone (the equivalent of Pac-Man‘s power pellets), you can transform into a dog, capable of eating the cats. But each bone’s effects only last for a little while, after which you revert to a defenseless mouse. (Exidy, 1981)

Memories: Though its seemingly Tom & Jerry-inspired food chain made a cat vs. mouse variation of Pac-Man virtually inevitable, Mouse Trap frustrated that potential with a complex control system – too complex, actually. Continue reading

Thief

ThiefThe Game: You’re on the run from the long arm of the law, and the police radio dispatchers have put an an APB out for you. Money lines the city streets, and you must evade the cop cars and stash away all the cash until the screen is cleared. Four special items in the corners of the screen enable you to turn the table on your pursuers and temporarily eliminate them from the screen – but they’ll be back. If the police cars catch you, you have the right to remain silent; if they catch your last getaway car, you have the right to see “game over” on the screen. (Pacific Novelty, 1981)

See the videoMemories: 1981 was the summer of Pac-Man Fever in the United States. Midway, who licensed the game from Namco, had to contend with any number of challenges to its sovereignty as the sole distributor of Pac-Man, from bootlegged rip-off ROMs such as Pirhana to games like Thief which, while they didn’t pirate the actual game code of Pac-Man, certainly lifted its basic game play concept wholesale. These were the days before the video game industry was bogged down by lawsuits for every day of the week. It was a wild frontier, and it seems somehow appropriate that Thief fits in that genre. Continue reading

K.C. Munchkin!

K.C. Munchkin!The Game: As a small blue spherical creature whose sole sensory organs consist of two eyes, two antennae and an enormous mouth, you are on a mission to eat twelve dots which are floating around a small maze. Pursuing you are three See the videomulticolored jellyfish-like horrors who will gobble you up on contact. (North American Philips, 1981)

Memories: K.C. Munchkin!, for its similarities to Pac-Man, actually got Magnavox sued…by Atari! Huh? Follow me: Bally/Midway were, at the time, the U.S. copyright holders of the concept and code for the arcade Pac-Man…should they not have filed that suit rather than Atari, which was still fuming over the richly-deserved flood of negative reviews for its horrible Atari 2600 Pac-Man adaptation? Continue reading

Muncher

MuncherThe 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, See the videolarge 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. Continue reading

Jawbreaker

JawbreakerThe 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)

See the videoMemories: 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. Continue reading

Taxman

TaxmanThe Game: As a round white creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, and apparently somehow tied to the Internal Revenue Service, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots and evading four colorful See the videomonsters 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 for an escalating score. 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, after spending some noncorporeal time floating around and contemplating taxation without representation, return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (H.A.L. Labs, 1981)

Memories: Alas, the folly of H.A.L. Labs and Taxman. Clearly a copy of Pac-Man – with only the names changed – this game was crippled by keyboard controls that were counterintuitive even back then. The sad thing is, given the graphics and sound limitations of the Apple II, the rest of the game was stellar, a near-perfect port of Pac-Man. Continue reading

Changes

ChangesThe Game: Players guide a caterpillar around a maze of twigs and branches, snatching up nourishment and the occasional treat, and avoiding other insect life; some parts of the branches can be turned. Some of the See video of this gametreats will allow the caterpillar to consume other insects for a brief time. Portions of the maze can be rotated, which can work against the player (cutting off the best or only escape route) or can work to the player’s advantage (effectively shutting a door in pursuers’ faces, or even smashing them if they’re in the wrong place at the right time). Clearing the maze allows the caterpillar to turn into a butterfly and escape (who needs a pupal stage anyway?); the player advances to the next level, where a new caterpillar needs help navigating a new maze. (Orca, 1982)

Memories: Just like Hollywood blockbusters, there’s development turnaround time for video games, both then and now. That may explain why this Pac-Man knockoff didn’t show up in arcades until long after the Pac-saga itself had moved on to such titles as Ms. Pac-Man and Super Pac-Man. Continue reading

Eyes

EyesThe Game: The eyes have it, and you apparently want it. You’re also an eye – that’s right, a perfectly normal disembodied eye, wearing a little Oktoberfest hat, wandering through a maze, and shooting at stuff. You’re basically trying to shoot everything on sight. You see, the maze is filled with tiny objects, and you must shoot them all (running over them won’t cut it). The maze is also filled with a number of equally disembodied-and-yet-armed eyes who are out to get you. Clearing the maze of objects advances you to the next level, but you may only get a brief look at it since the eyes are even faster and more aggressive. Rock-Ola [under license from Digitrex Techstar], 1982

See the videoMemories: A bizarre little game among the glut of Pac-Man imitators, Eyes is an obscure little number that falls between the cracks of video game history by being neither particularly outstanding or awful…just strange. In a world where a game about a mobile yellow mouth is king, I don’t think anyone was looking for anything that they could take literally, but Eyes was simply odd. Continue reading

Clean Sweep

Clean SweepThe Game: Years before Robovac and Roomba, there was Clean Sweep, a vacuum cleaner patrolling the vaults of a bank and picking up stray bits of money. (Makes you wonder who programmed it, and who’s emptying the bag!) As you grab more wayward currency, your bag fills up; when you hear an alarm sound, you have to go to the center of the maze to empty your bag and start anew; until you do that, you can’t pick up See the videoany more dead presidents. But those aren’t the only alarm bells going off here: things that look alarmingly like huge forceps are chasing you around. If they grab you, it’s your money and your life. There are four corners in the vault that will power up your vacuum cleaner temporarily, enabling you to suck up those forceps and (for a brief while) grab all the cash in your path without filling your bag. Clearing the maze advances you to the next level; losing all your lives leaves the bank wide open. (GCE, 1982)

Memories: This interesting little take on Pac-Man for the Vectrex is so fun, it’s hard to put down. I’ve been somewhat merciless about Pac-clones in the past, but Clean Sweep shakes things up enough to be fun, making you go back and do things like empty your vacuum bag without really slowing the game down significantly. Continue reading

Jawbreaker

JawbreakerThe Game: Ever had a sweet tooth? Now you are the sweet tooth – or teeth, as the case may be. You guide a set of clattering teeth around a mazelike screen of horizontal rows; an opening in each row travels down the wall separating it from the next row. Your job is to eat the tasty treats lining each row until you’ve cleared the screen. Naturally, it’s not just going to be that easy. There are nasty hard candies out to stop you, and they’ll silence those teeth of yours if they catch you – and that just bites. Periodically, a treat appears in the middle of the screen allowing you to turn the tables on them for a brief interval. (Tigervision, 1982)

Memories: When Atari’s licensed version of Pac-Man hit the store shelves in 1982, it gained an instant notoriety as those looking for the perfect home Pac experience muttered a collective “screw this” and went elsewhere in search of a better game. Tigervision, a subsidiary of Tiger Toys making its first tentative steps into the increasingly-crowded video game arena, gave them that game. Continue reading

Jawbreaker II

Jawbreaker IIThe Game: Ever had a sweet tooth? Now you are the sweet tooth – or teeth, as the case may be. You guide a set of clattering teeth around a mazelike screen of horizontal rows; an opening in each row travels down the wall See the videoseparating it from the next row. Your job is to eat the tasty treats lining each row until you’ve cleared the screen. Naturally, it’s not just going to be that easy. There are nasty hard candies out to stop you, and they’ll silence those teeth of yours if they catch you – and that just bites. Periodically, a treat appears in the middle of the screen allowing you to turn the tables on them for a brief interval. Sierra On-Line, 1982

Memories: Faced with the threat of imminent legal action from Atari, Sierra – known by its original name, On-Line Systems – yanked the very Pac-Man-like Jawbreaker off the market, replacing it with a new version that was less obviously attempting to copy the game mechanics of Pac-Man. Those familiar with the Atari 2600 edition of Jawbreaker will find this game familiar: the maze is out, and the horizontal rows of dots with “sliding doors” are in. Though there are still elements similar to Pac-Man – at this point, really just the power pellet-like energizers in the four corners of the screen – the whole thing is different. Continue reading

Munch Man

Munch ManThe Game: You control a round creature consisting of a mouth and little else. When the game begins, you’re given about two seconds’ head start to venture into the maze before blobby monsters are released from their cages and begin pursuing you. As you move, Munch See the videoMan leaves a trail in his wake; you advance to the next level of the game by “painting” the entire maze with that trail. (Texas Instruments, 1982)

Memories: A nifty Pac-Man clone done with simple character graphics and a few game play twists designed to make it lawsuit-proof, Munch Man miraculously seemed to be spared being on the receiving end of Atari’s litigious wrath – surprising since Atari was suing Bally, Magnavox, and just about everyone else trying to put a Pac-Man-like game on a home console at the time. Continue reading

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