I am good at Pacman. I know that sounds arrogant. It’s the kind of thing people say to impress knowing they’ll never get called on it, yeah. But in my case, it really is true. I don’t care what you think of me. I am good at Pacman, so what if that makes me ‘cool’ in your books.
I used to work in a shop a bit like The Gadget Shop, where my main duties were demoing the Namco joystick and driving remote controlled cars into people’s legs. It wasn’t always the dream job it sounds like from that description, but I did become the Lord of Pacman in quite a short time. My optician came in one day and I advised him on a projector to run retro games in his waiting room. And one gloriously quiet afternoon I found myself in a 2-player Pac-off with the only worthy combatant in the neighbourhood: the boy from Gamestation down the road. Pretty sure I won.
But there’s one place I suck at Pacman, I discovered. Well not “suck” by your standards, but it’d be unfair for you to compare yourself with me on this one. I discovered this week as, iPod-less, I whiled hours on the Tube with anything portable and entertaining I could find lying around the flat, that I am severely handicapped by the interface of the Gameboy Advance SP.
For those who don’t know, the Gameboy Advance was a short-lived handheld console from the middle of this decade. It’s going for a retro NES feel, rather than a retro Gameboy feel, as you might expect, and actually pulls it off quite neatly, with the satisfying cartridge-loading and the retro games and the NES-handset style buttons. Ah yes, the buttons. Controversially, I do think the NES handset is the worst thing about the NES, because I’m not left-handed and my left hand is weak. Weak as a newborn kitten whose eyes have been put out with a mechanical pencil. Weak as a bottle of flavoured water with a picture of a strawberry on it.
And Pacman needs strength and power. Here are some other things I think it’s important to understand about Pacman.
1. Don’t spend all your time running away from the monsters. Sounds obvious but it’s very easy to actually spend ALL YOUR TIME doing just that: RUNNING AWAY from them. Keep checking on yourself. Am I just on the defensive? How about now?
2. So understand that the way to win is not through fear but through fast reactions. Get on with your job, forget about those losers. The last-second dodge will save you again and again (much much easier with a joystick than NES-style controls.)
3. Remember, although it may sometimes feel like it – especially on the higher levels – the monsters are not out to get you. They’re just trying to live their lives. Watch and respect them, they all have their set patterns and are actually pretty predictable. Pacman is the Big Cats Diary of the retrogaming world. Admire their beauty from afar and you will do fine.
4. Having said that, you know how Grizzly Man ends. There’s no excuse to get cornered.
5. The ‘pills’ might seem irresistible for monster-munching but don’t be taken in by the chance to get your own back on the monsters. Eating the pills is often no more than a useful way to buy yourself some immunity and get on with finishing off awkwardly-positioned dots without worrying about running into a monster. Chasing ghosts will more often than not get you into trouble. We should’ve all learned that lesson about greed from playing Tetris.
6. Much has been made of the trippyness of Pacman but it is actually little more than a game about trying to tidy up while being repeatedly interrupted. Tidiness is essential. The monsters are creatures of logic and your methodical approach will be rewarded.
7. “Release the ghosts” is still not a recognised phrase in public parlance.
8. Pacman is an excellent game. It’s cute (the monsters’ eyes MOVE when they change direction!), fun, addictive, and most importantly, it plays on all kinds of OCD.