The impact Pac-Man had on videogames in the early ’80s cannot be understated. It penetrated pop culture like no game had before, generating all manner of merchandise, a breakfast cereal, a cartoon series, and even a hit radio song. Needless to say, it was hard to walk into an arcade (or grocery store, or restaurant, or movie theater, or gas station, etc.) and not find a Pac-Man machine of some sort.
But actually, it wasn’t just Pac-Man. Namco games in general were extremely common anywhere you might have found videogames. Arcades were rife with the sounds of Galaga, Dig Dug and Pole Position, and every Atari home console released in the ’80s, from the 2600 to the 7800, carried ports of several Namco classics as part of its featured lineup. Namco games didn’t just set standards, they were standards.
Of course, being so widespread is part of why they were so instantly recognizable, but there was something special about Namco. It’s hard to explain, but for me, Namco games defined the feeling of classic arcade games. Something about the graphics, the sounds, and the style just clicked and stuck with me. They’re like the quintessential classic arcade games.
I would play anything Pac-Man. My favorite was the American-developed follow-up Ms. Pac-Man, but I even like the generally unpopular Pac-Mania. The aforementioned Dig Dug and Pole Position were also go-to games for me, as well as the Galaga series, including the lesser-known Gaplus and Galaga ’88.
Perhaps one of the reasons Namco’s classic arcade legacy has endured over the years was due to its preservation in the the form of Namco Museum. First appearing on the original PlayStation in the later ’90s, Namco Museum was a series of compilations featuring their classic arcade catalog. The games were often actual ports to whatever hardware they were running on, but sometime they were simple emulations of the original arcade games. Sometimes they were also accompanied by updated versions of some of the games. Various incarnations of Namco Museum have appeared on just about every game console of the last couple of decades, although in more recent years, they’ve taken the form of digital downloads.
One of the best things about Namco Museum was that it didn’t just focus on the hits, but they would often include some obscure or even Japan-only titles for good measure. I, myself, enjoyed discovering games like Mappy, Bosconian and Xevious, which I don’t recall ever seeing in arcades back in the day. (Although it’s very likely they were there and I just don’t remember.)
I wish other companies took as much pride in their classic arcade catalog as Namco. I’m a sucker for classic arcade compilations.
Nonetheless, Namco was pretty much the king of the arcade back in the day, and I’ve got fond memories. But as the success of Namco Museum proves, the games still hold up today. In fact, I could go for some dot-munching action right now. I’ve got the Fever, and the only prescription is more Pac-Man.