Microsoft Waxes Nostalgic With ‘Pac-Man’ Update

It is perhaps one of the most distinctive sounds in video game history — the “wakka, wakka, wakka” of 1980s pop culture phenom “Pac-Man.” Now, 26 years after the game was first introduced, Microsoft has kept the beloved sound but flipped the script on Pac-Man, Blinky, Inky, Pinky and Clyde with the game’s first revamp since its worldwide release. Game designer Toru Iwatani, who brought the world the first “Pac-Man,” was also behind the creation of the latest game.

“‘Pac-Man’ was the game that ignited the world’s passion for video games, with every member of the family hooked on avoiding Clyde and eating up all the Power Pellets,” said Jeff Bell, corporate vice president of global marketing for Microsoft’s interactive entertainment business. “It is a tremendous honor that Namco Bandai and Toru Iwatani are going to use the power of the Xbox 360 and Xbox Live Arcade platform to deliver the next evolution of ‘Pac-Man’ to the world.”

Microsoft announced the release of its 21st century “Pac-Man Championship Edition” Tuesday during the title round of its Xbox 360 “Pac-Man” World Championship. In addition to competing for the title of “Pac-Man” World Champion, the 10 finalists received an unexpected thrill when they became the first gamers in the world to play the revamped version of the iconic 1980s video game.

Outdated No More

“Pac-Man Championship Edition” has been updated with a bevy of new features, including new mazes that dynamically change shape during gameplay, six new timed game modes and new soundtracks. The developers kicked the game up a notch further with high-definition (HD) graphics.

Designed especially for the “Pac-Man” World Championship’s final round by Namco Bandai and Iwatani, “The Championship Mode,” one of six timed games, features redesigned mazes sporting wide maze walls and a widescreen configuration to enable high-speed game play. Players have a scant five minutes to complete this mode.

Each subsequent mode bumps up the gaming quotient with fewer Power Pellets and Reward Mazes on the “Patience and Reward Course,” and a darkened maze only partially illuminated on “The Darkness Course.” Pac-Man hits warp speed on “The Freeway Course,” while “The Manhattan Course” allows the ever-hungry muncher to cruise a maze based on the famous New York borough. For an extreme challenge, “The Overall Course” provides gamers with a mixture of all other modes.

Lovers of the 2-D classic game need not feel left out; Microsoft has included something for everyone. They can now enjoy the game’s more modern look in HD, Microsoft said.

“Pac-Man Championship Edition” is available beginning June 6 for 800 Microsoft Points via the Xbox Live Arcade.

“This is the first time anybody has modified the mazes for ‘Pac-Man’ since there was a ‘Pac-Man,'” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. “So this is a major change for what was an old staple.”

Courting Casual Gamers

At the time the original “Pac-Man” reigned supreme, casual games were incredibly popular, Enderle said, It was a time when a lot of today’s older gamers were growing up. “This is the way video games came into the market. This is how video games came to be,” he added.

“Pac-Man” is a game that a lot of people liked in the past and that many more will enjoy in the future, making this a significant coup for Microsoft, which has reset its sights on Nintendo’s Wii, the current market leader. Microsoft gets some good press and it attracts casual gamers, a group comprised largely of women, therefore expanding the Xbox 360 customer base, Enderle explained.

Microsoft will likely aggressively pursue the casual gaming market, he said. One factor pointing to the console maker’s commitment, he noted, is Microsoft’s development of a Wii-esque controller of its own.

“It has some motion controls that at least they think will be as good if not better than what Nintendo has on the market,” Enderle pointed out. “They have caught on to the fact that the PlayStation 3 is increasingly not a target because the market has pretty much rejected that product. They are now rethinking what they are doing and starting to target the Wii more aggressively.”

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