Pac-Man's origin is a confusing mystery, with two unique claims that contradict each other, neither of which can be 100% proven true or false.
Pac-Man's first appearance was not in the original arcade game; unknown to many, the series originated as a line of toys by Tomy in 1974, six years prior to the game. The first of these was a toy bank, in which Pac-Man (also referred to as "Je Je" on some models) would munch down coins by flipping them into his mouth via a lever. Subsequent toys include a board game and a water game, both of which were released overseas as "Mr. Mouth".
The arcade game, originally called Puckman in Japan, was created by Namco employee Toru Iwatani. Some inspiration was seemingly drawn from the toy line (although the gameplay premise itself was unique), and the actual Japanese katakana (パックマン "Pakkuman") was identical, despite the English reading "Puck" instead of "Pac".
After the game's release, Tomy seemed to have worked out a licensing deal with Namco, becoming the only company to sell Pac-Man toys in Japan. This would imply some form of agreement was met between the two, in exchange for Namco having the full Pac-Man character rights. Namco, to this day, takes heavy proceedings to try and deny the existence of the toy line.
According to more commonly cited reports, Pac-Man was based on a pizza with the first quarter of it cut out, which inspired Toru Iwatani to create the character. This story sounds suspiciously like a cover-up, especially as it only started being cited in the mid-2000s, but still cannot be completely disproven.
Main article: Pac-Man (game)
The original Puckman arcade game was released in Japan on May 22, 1980. In the game, you navigate Pac-Man through a maze to eat all of the dots, while avoiding Ghosts.
As previously stated, the game was called Puckman in English, despite being closer to Pac-Man in Japanese text. By the time it was released in the U.S., the name was altered to the intended Pac-Man name, although this was actually changed due to fear of machine vandalism (changing "P" in "Puck" into an "F").
Toru Iwatani has stated that while developing Puckman, he wanted to create a game that could appeal to women, as most (if not all) arcade games at the time did not. This strategy worked, and Pac-Man attracted both male and female audiences.
Popularity in Japan and Overseas
Pac-Man had moderate success when the arcade game was initially released in Japan; it was not heavily advertised or well-known, and lagged behind games such as Space Invaders and Galaxian in popularity. However, his debut in America proved widely successful, becoming the most popular video game at the time of its release. The popularity of Pac-Man in America led to a bigger marketing push for the game in Japan, leading to it becoming a big hit in its home region as well. To date, Pac-Man is still the highest-grossing arcade game of all time worldwide.
After the huge success of the first Pac-Man game, the game's U.S. distributor, Bally Midway, made several of their own sequels to Pac-Man. Each title starred a newly-created member of Pac-Man's family. The first game was Ms. Pac-Man, which starred his wife and featured a larger challenge than the previous game. Ms. Pac-Man became an even bigger hit than the original in North America, outselling it by several thousand machines; despite this, it was not widely distributed in other areas of the world - not even receiving a Japanese arcade release.
Following Ms. Pac-Man's groundbreaking success, Midway created several more Pac-Man titles; however, they never asked for Namco's permission beforehand. Ms. Pac-Man had minor creative input from Namco and was approved by them for release, but Midway's future installments did not. Midway's following Pac-Man games included Jr. Pac-Man, Baby Pac-Man, and Professor Pac-Man, among others. While the former two were somewhat successful, Professor Pac-Man was a commercial failure, selling less than 500 machines. Namco eventually terminated their license with Midway due to the unauthorized line of sequels.
After a 1980s licensing dispute, the rights for Ms. Pac-Man were turned over to Namco; the other Midway titles, however, were not. This has led to the other Pac-Man games released by them receiving almost no official acknowledgment since the 80s, as it is unclear who even owns the copyright for the games themselves. In 2006, it was ordered that Namco had to pay royalties for using Ms. Pac-Man to General Computer Corporation (who partially coded the original game), leading to Namco rarely being able to utilize anything produced by Bally Midway and associates since then.
Namco also produced several arcade sequels of their own. Namco took a more "quality over quantity" approach with their sequels, leading to more unique gameplay between titles. These include Super Pac-Man, Pac & Pal and Pac-Land. The first two were never very successful in Japan, but Pac-Land was rather popular. Despite a large North American marketing push for Super Pac-Man, all three titles received little attention overseas.
Pac-Man reached practically unparalleled fame by the 1990's, with games consistently being released throughout the decade. After numerous other console games, Namco Hometek released Pac-Man World, a 3D platformer for the PlayStation. The game was very successful, resulting in two sequels.
Throughout the 2000s, many original Pac-Man games continued to be released, including innovative titles like Pac 'n Roll and Pac-Pix, both of which were received very well with critics and fans alike. During this same period however, rather bizarre, low-budget Pac-Man games were also pushed out, such as Pac-Man Fever, Pac-Man All-Stars, and Pac-Man Pinball Advance. Reception on these games were mixed, with some harsh negatives between them - it is believed they may have hurt the Pac-Man franchise in the long run.
It is worth noting that almost all of Pac-Man's sales during this period came from overseas; Japan did not take much interest in the Pac-Man titles from the 1990s onward, and very few games were even released or developed in the region. This seemingly led to several attempts to "Americanize" the franchise (e.g: adding darker storylines and locations), changes which were not received well by many.
Reboot and Re-Design
In 2006, Namco merged with toy company Bandai, forming Namco Bandai Holdings. This led to all Pac-Man games scheduled for an 05/06 release being canceled (with the exception of Pac-Man World Rally and Pac-Man World 3 - the latter of which nearly was canceled). Despite that Pac-Man was still doing successfully at the time, the newly-formed company decided to take the series in a new direction, and a reboot for the franchise was greenlit.
The reboot officially started in 2010, with the announcement of Pac-Man Party and a then-unnamed Pac-Man TV series. Almost every character besides Pac-Man himself were removed, giving him a new cast of friends and updated versions of the Ghosts. The characters were more childlike, and almost none of them were Pac-People. The entirely new character cast was likely created due to the aforementioned ownership change of Ms. Pac-Man.
The animated series was eventually titled Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, first airing in 2013. The show's plot involves a teenage Pac-Man trying to find his parents and bring back the yellow race, which was entirely wiped out by a ghost named Betrayus. The show spawned two video games, simply called Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 1 and 2.
The games released in this era received generally mixed reviews with some of the changes, particularly the lack of longtime classic characters such as Ms. Pac-Man and Professor Pac-Man (though the two would have counterparts in the form of Cylindria and Sir Cumference in the Ghostly Adventures franchise), being criticized by both critics and longtime fans alike. While Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventure debuted to high ratings, outside of this, the Ghostly Adventures franchise as a whole, arguably the main focus of the reboot, only obtained cult status.
Because of this, and the fact that Pac-Man Championship Edition DX and Pac-Man 256, two games from this timeframe that take the style of the classic 80s Pac-Man titles, scored near-perfect scores from critics and were well-received by fans, Bandai Namco dropped the reboot completely, with most media reverting to Pac-Man’s classic design, and is currently releasing titles more in line with the Championship Edition series.
- Pac-Man - The main protagonist in most of the Pac-Man games. He is able to eat many large amounts of food at one time.
- Ms. Pac-Man - Pac-Man's spouse. She is often concerned about her husband, and plays the role of a supporting character in most Pac-Man games.
- Jr. Pac-Man - The first-born child of Pac-Man & Ms. Pac-Man.
- Baby Pac-Man - The second-born child of Pac-Man & Ms. Pac-Man.
- Professor Pac-Man - An old, wise man. He knows a lot about the history of Pac-Land and Pac-Land in general.
- Blinky - The red ghost, considered the de facto leader. He sticks close on Pac-Man's tail and always takes the fastest route to him.
- Pinky - The pink ghost. Appears to work in unison with Blinky to ambush Pac-Man.
- Inky - The light blue ghost. Has a unique method of approaching Pac-Man, but may shy away at times.
- Clyde - The orange ghost. Typically depicted as timid and cowardly.
- Sue - The purple ghost. Though not quite as fast as Blinky, she is a lot more aggressive, continuing to chase Pac-Man even after the ghosts reenter "scatter" mode.
- Chomp-Chomp - Pac-Man Family's pet dog.
- Sour Puss - Pac-Man Family's pet cat.
- Funky and Spunky - The two commons that appeared in Pac-Mania. They are both able to jump, and the latter can jump higher than Pac-Man, making her a greater potential threat than Funky.
- Kinky - The yellow ghost that only appeared in Pac-Man Arrangement (1996). He can fuse with the other ghosts to make larger, stronger, faster duplicates of them which contain special abilities. Kinky is the only ghost who has shown the ability to do so.
- Spooky - A powerful ghost. He was sealed away years ago by Sir Pac-a-Lot, and later by Pac-Man.
- Miru - Pac-Man's friend. She helps out Pac-Man in Pac & Pal by moving items away from ghosts. She was replaced by Chomp-Chomp in the American release of the game.
- Yum-Yum - The daughter of Blinky who has a romantic relationship with Jr. Pac-Man.
- Pooka - An enemy from the Dig Dug series. He has, somehow, formed a friendship with the Pac-Man family.
Notable Pac-Man Media
- Pac-Man (TOMY board game) (1976)
- Pac-Man (arcade game) (1980)
- Pac-Man (Atari 2600 game) (1982)
- Ms. Pac-Man (1982)
- Super Pac-Man (1982)
- Baby Pac-Man (1982)
- Jr. Pac-Man (1983)
- Pac & Pal (1983)
- Pac-Land (1984)
- Pac-Mania (1987)
- Pac-Man Arrangement (1996)
- Pac-Man World (1999)
- Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness (2000)
- Pac-Man World 2 (2002)
- Pac-Man Vs. (2003)
- Pac-Pix (2005)
- Pac 'n Roll (2005)
- Pac-Man Championship Edition (2007)
- Pac-Man Championship Edition DX (2010)
- Pac-Man 256 (2015)
- "Wreck-It Ralph" (minor cameo) (2012)
- "Pixels" (major cameo) (2015)
- "Kamen Rider Heisei Generations: Dr. Pac-Man vs. Ex-Aid & Ghost with Legend Riders" (2016)
- "Pac-Man Cinema Manner Movie" (Japanese theatrical short film) (2019)
Additionally, there were several plans to release films directly titled "Pac-Man", starting as early as 1984, but nothing ever came to fruition.
- "Pac-Man Fever" (Buckner & Garcia, 1982)
- "Pac-Man" (Beatles "Taxman" parody) ("Weird Al" Yankovic, 1982)
Pac-Man is such a universally known franchise that many real-world objects and events use the term "Pac-Man" in their name, often to coin a comparison with said thing to the video game. These include:
- Pacman frog - Name given to a species of rather round frogs with large mouths. Scientifically referred to as Ceratophrys
- Pacman nebula - A nebula with a Pacman-like appearance. Scientifically referred to as NGC-281
- Pacman octopus - Species of octopi that looks similar to Clyde, the orange Pac-Man ghost. Scientifically referred to as Opisthoteuthis californiana
- Pacman defense - A legal strategy where a smaller company purchases a larger company that is trying to take them over, similar to Pac-Man eating a Power Pellet.
The alias "Pacman" is also used by several athletes, including Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao (boxer) and Adam "Pacman" Jones (football player). Pac-Man has also had countless appearances and references in other media, including appearing on the cover of Time Magazine.