In 1982, Atari released a now infamous port of Pac-Man to their Atari 2600 system. The game was a massive success, selling over seven million copies, making it the best-selling cartridge on the 2600 - in retrospect, however, the game has been heavily criticized for its differences from the arcade original, suffering from poor controls, graphics, and sounds.
The core gameplay of the original remains the same, but there are many key differences:
- The game uses a flicker effect to allow more sprites on the screen at a time. This can make the game hard to play if it is not on original 2600 hardware, as the flickering isn't handled well on more current devices.
- The maze design is different, as are the sound effects and scoring system (going by intervals of 1, instead of 10 like the arcade does).
- The ghosts always immediately pour out of the center box, even on the early levels (which is not the case with the arcade version). They also do not have four distinct personalities, meaning their movements are randomized.
- The dots Pac-Man eats were changed to dashes and renamed to “video wafers”. There is also only one fruit, which is called a “vitamin”.
- The Escape Route (tunnel) runs from the top and bottom of the screen, rather than the sides.
- An extra life is earned with the clearing of each maze.
Also, 16 "games" were included on the cartridge, which are really just slight variations of the normal game mode (Note: the box says there are only eight game variations, but each one has a variation for two players).
- Eat video wafer–1 point
- Eat power pill–5 points
- Eat vitamins–100 points
- Eat ghosts–20, 40, 80, 160 points (in succession)
A slow or a fast-moving Pac-Man can be chosen. Variations with ghost speeds can be chosen as well, due to their ratings of having “crawl”, “walking”, “jogging” or “running” speeds, along with expert and childrens’ versions. Putting the Difficulty Switch in the A position cuts down the time the ghosts stay blue, and vitamins don’t appear onscreen for as long as when the Difficulty Switch is in the B position.
Starting in the late 1990s, several homebrew developers began producing new ports of Pac-Man on the atari 2600. These were mainly created due to the infamously poor original, in order to see how much better Atari's Pac-Man could have theoretically been.
- Pac-Man Arcade (1999) - Released by Rob Kudla. Hack of the Atari 2600 port of Ms. Pac-Man, turning it into Pac-Man. Originally released under the name "A Better Pac-Man"; it was changed to "Pac-Man Arcade" for later reprints.
- Pac-Man (1999) - A very limited release by Ebivision. Cartridges were given away as part of a competition (?) for Pesco, another Ebivision game which was similar in gameplay to Pac-Man. Its limited release was reportedly out of legal fear.
- Hack 'Em (2005) - Released by Nukey Shay. Hacked version of the aforementioned Pesco in attempt to recreate the near-impossible to find Ebivision Pac-Man. Also includes ports of Pac-Man Plus and the bootleg Hangly-Man.
- Pac-Man 4K (2014) - Released by Dintar816. Very arcade-accurate conversion, done in only 4K of cartridge memory - the same amount the 2600 original used.
- Pac-Man 8K (2015) - Modified version of Pac-Man 4K that doubles the memory, adding a title screen and intermissions.
While all of these ports were originally created without permission from Namco (or Atari), it appears that at some point, Namco acquired the rights to Pac-Man 4K. Its cover artwork has been used on licensed merchandise and promotional pictures, such as an Arcade1UP tin sign. The port also appeared on the Atari Flashback Portable by AtGames, though its licensing here is debatable.
- The game was rereleased on the Atari Retro Handheld: Pac-Man Edition by Blaze in December 2019, marking its first official release in 37 years.
- For a long time, it was believed that Pac-Man for the 2600 released on April 3rd, 1982, due to that date marking Atarinational Pac-Man Day. After lots of digging by historians, it turns out the game was actually released about three weeks earlier, on March 16, 1982.
- Atari made more cartridges for Pac-Man than they had already sold consoles. This was done because Atari was counting on people who hadn't yet purchased an Atari 2600 buying one just to play Pac-Man on. This strategy theoretically did work, but not to the extent Atari had hoped it would.
- Pac-Man and E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial (another universally disliked Atari 2600 game) became the scapegoats blamed for the downfall of Atari, and to an extent, the Video Game Crash of 1983. However, while E. T. has gotten much more blame than Pac-Man has, it was Atari's actions regarding Pac-Man that put them in jeopardy in the first place.
- The level "Dungeon" in Pac-Man Championship Edition DX is seemingly based on this game.
- Pac-Man's enemies were originally known as monsters. The 2600 version called them ghosts in a way to explain the flickering, which is the name they've stuck with ever since.
- There is a bug in the game where if Pac-Man dies at the top of the Escape Route while moving down, he can move through walls while the death sequence plays.
- Originally, the game was to feature this very strange design for the boxart. Atari thought it would cause confusion, and could've scared children, so it was changed to the classic circle design.
- The game's sounds were recorded by Sound Ideas and became a commonly used stock sound effect; this led to 2600 Pac-Man sounds being used in many other forms of media, such as the Mooninites from Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
- Several future Pac-Man titles, such as Pac-Man: Adventures in Time and Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, feature the Atari 2600 version's sound effects in certain (minor) parts of the game. It is unclear if these were intentional references to the 2600 port, or if they (ironically) used the 2600 Pac-Man sounds unknowingly from the stock source.
- AtariAge Pac-Man page for links to (mostly negative) reviews, among other information