The story goes that, in the late 1970s, videogame designer Toru Iwatani was working on concepts based around the word 'eat', intending to create a game that would appeal to women as much as men (whom he considered were well catered for by games involving the slaughter of invading aliens).
Having ordered a pizza and taken a slice, Iwatani had a 'eureka' moment and the design of his game's character flashed through his mind. Legend or reality (and Iwatani claims to this day that the story is true), the character that became Pac-Man certainly did appeal to women.
In fact, he appealed to everyone; the game generated billions in revenue, Guinness World Records cites Pac-Man as the most recognisable videogame character to date, and a 2009 survey said 94% of Americans could identify the yellow dot-gobbler - more than those who recognised Nintendo's fat plumber-cumprincess rescuer, Mario.
Much of Pac-Man's appeal lies in the simplicity and elegance of the game's design, with it being the classic mixture of easy-to-grasp and tough-to-master. All you need do is roam a 2D maze, eat dots and fruits, and avoid ghost monsters - unless you eat a power pellet, in which case you can temporarily get your own back on your foes.
And with Pac-Man being so simple, it's been converted to almost every games system, and the iPhone version is ancient (by iOS standards), having first arrived in August 2008. Its original insanely ambitious price tag of £5.99 is now a merely ambitious £2.99, but for that you do at least get a solid, authentic version of the arcade original.
During the 1980s, Pac-Man games kept coming. In Japan, Super Pac-Man deviated from the original, as did Pac & Pal, and both titles are largely forgotten today. But in the USA, wily developers General Computer Corporation created a Pac-Man add-on kit called Crazy Otto, expanding the game with improved enemy intelligence, roaming bonus items, additional mazes and superior graphics.
After legal squabbles and firm handshakes, the game evolved into Ms. Pac-Man, and the iOS version is the best 'classic' Pac-Man game for the platform. (1987's Pac-Mania, an isometric, scrolling variation on Pac-Man, is also available for £1.49 on iPhone, but even taking into account the score-attack 'scramble' mode, it's not a patch on the original pair.)
It's just a pity Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man aren't Universal apps (iPad versions are available separately for £2.99 each) and lack Retina display support. Our advice: grab Ms. Pac-Man on your favoured device during one of Namco's sales.
Two more 'typical' Pac-Man games exist for iOS. Pac-Man Remix (£1.79, iPhone) is notable for some fun features (dash tiles, teleporters, boss fights), the worst virtual D-pad we've ever seen (which can thankfully be replaced with swipe controls) and a vibrant graphical style that - like other aspects of the game - borrows heavily from Namco's 1996 Pac-Man Arrangement arcade game.
It's also on the easy side, which is something that can't be said of Pac-Man Championship Edition (£2.99, iPhone), which was originally released for Xbox Live Arcade and designed by Pac-Man's creator Iwatani. The mechanics remain similar to the original, but Championship Edition is a much faster game, played in a splitscreen manner; clear half the maze and a bonus appears on the other half that, when eaten, regenerates the cleared half, usually with a new dot layout.
The game's speed means the controls sometimes let you down, but it's nonetheless hugely playable, a lot of fun, packed with content and the best of Namco's iOS Pac-Man games.
On leaving true Pac-Man games behind, you find a slew of titles featuring our yellow hero outside of his usual environment, including, depressingly, Doodle Jump clone Pac'N-Jump (£1.49, Universal). To be fair, it's not a bad game, but Pac-Man's an icon and he deserves better than being welded to gaming mechanics from someone else's hit title.
One exception is Pac-Chain Compact (£1.99, iPhone), a block-clearing game with ghost monsters rising from a well. You tap to clear groups of ghosts and swipe Pac-Man around to munch a power pellet and then the remaining ghosts in order to clear the level. While not a bona fide Pac-Man game, Pac-Chain Compact retains enough of the original's flavour and fun to make it a worthwhile spin on the concept. Avoid the iPad version, however, because its increased size unbalances the gameplay.
Oddly, Pac-Man tributes are fairly rare (unlike, say, the dozens of Space Invaders clones littering the App Store), but there are some good ones.
Sunday Lawn (69p, iPhone) has similar gameplay to Pac-Man, but has the protagonist mowing a lawn while avoiding dogs, hedgehogs and other hazards. The title includes dozens of mazes, a cute mini-game involving sheep jumping over fences, and may be a Universal app by the time you read this, adding to its value. Our only minor criticism is that it could do with tighter controls, much like EVAC (69p, iPhone, iPad).
However, to counter the iffy controls, EVAC adds basic stealth attributes (read: hiding in holes in walls where enemies can't get you) to the Pac-Man formula and it's also beautifully scripted and designed. We found that the iPad version worked really well with the Fling joystick, propelling it into recommended territory.
Stealth fans should also consider Treasure Grab (69p, iPhone), which uses sneaking around as a means to rob rich people. Again, the controls are iffy, but deal with them and you'll find the game an exciting variation on Pac-Man.
Finally, three games get their controls right and also offer plenty of individual character. Naughty Bear (£1.79, iPhone) is totally over-the-top, starring a crazed teddy bear collecting cupcakes, finding weapons and literally beating the stuffing out of other bears. The oddball sense of humour and lack of depth seems more suited to a cheap iOS game than the (poorly received) Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 original, although you'll still need a slightly twisted sense of humour to fully appreciate the game.
Rather less controversial is Brandon Williamson's masterful Forget-Me-Not (£1.49, Universal), which builds on Pac-Man by creating generative mazes (read: infinite, semi-random levels) and populating them with a huge array of psychotic creatures. Unlike Pac-Man's relentless ghost monsters, Forget-Me-Not's creatures are as intent on obliterating each other as you.
And then there's Sneak Out (£1.49, iPhone, iPad), which isn't as obviously a Pac-Man-style game as many of the others we've picked, but you're still running round mazelike offices, grabbing items (in this case, stars) and avoiding foes (your bosses and their steely gaze, aiming to catch you sneaking off early).
The path-drawing controls are a far cry from the digital joystick of Iwatani's creation, but Sneak Out retains the same sense of fun, elegance and urgency, but makes the chase element all the more apparent.
First published in Tap! Issue 06
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