Nick DeMarco

TURN TO CHANNEL 3: Worse than ‘E.T.,’ ‘Pac-Man’ is a hard pill to swallow on Atari 2600

TURN TO CHANNEL 3: Worse than ‘E.T.,’ ‘Pac-Man’ is a hard pill to swallow on Atari 2600
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Touching upon it last week, today I am reviewing what I feel is the worst game on the Atari 2600 and is, if only in my opinion, more responsible for the video game market crash of 1983 than “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” which gets the bad rap reserved for today’s subject matter – “Pac-Man!”

But “Pac-Man” is such a beloved franchise! Why is this 1982 version of the game so horrid? Why do I feel that it is the worst game on the console? Pop some power pellets and read on, if you dare!

“Pac-Man” (Atari 2600)


Now look, I understand that all of us gamers have those games that we have fond memories of despite them being awful on all fronts. I’m not going to deny that “Pac-Man” was indeed one of the first games I played on the DeMarco family console back in the mid-‘80s, but any fondness in 2017 is truly for all the wrong reasons.

When you start a game of “Pac-Man” on the Atari 2600, it has a sound that can only truly be described as if someone held down some keys on an old landline phone and then somehow programmed it into an Atari 2600… poorly. To be fond of this would be like having fond memories of that time you passed gas during a student council meeting. Sure, it’s funny looking back on it, but at the time it was truly embarrassing and, in this case, only the beginning of the embarrassmentour ghost-eating hero would face on the 2600.

Oh, and I’d also like to add that the Pac-Man in this version does not sound like the iconic one from the arcade. In fact, you could say that this is like a bizarre Pac-Man cousin from some cornfield in Iowa that wandered into Atari headquarters in the ‘80s with a cold and somehow left the star of their port of the arcade hit. No, kids, Pac-Man doesn’t sound like the computerized twang of a rubber band.



One of the more enduring traits of Pac-Man is that, as he chomps away at pellets (and ghosts), his mouth is always moving, but not Bizarro Iowa Pac-Man, oh no. He simply absorbs said pellets and ghosts through his yellow face via osmosis because who has time to open their mouth to eat things when they’re having such a great time tarnishing one of the 1980s biggest pop culture icons? Come on, Atari, even the “Pac-Man Fever” song was better than this and, in 2017, you can find those in a bargain bin somewhere.

If Osmosis Pac-Man isn’t bad enough, the ghosts, which only flash when they are in the terror of being eaten in the arcade version, are flashing throughout the entire game, so you never know if you can eat them; the only help in this area is the terrible power pellet sound effect.


The levels all look the same, the controls are rather clunky, and what I mentioned above about the flashing ghosts makes this game unnecessarily challenging, but not in the fun way – in a way that makes you want to rip off the stick part of your Atari 2600 joystick and throw it at the wall in disgust!


My main argument against “E.T.” being unfairly dubbed “the worst video game of all time” or even “the worst Atari 2600 game” is that no one truly knew what we were going to get with it and, in the short timeframe developers had, we got the very best of what a programming prodigy could give us. “E.T.” was an entirely new concept in some ways.

Pac-Man is Pac-Man. How do you screw up something this simple? This, to me, is like if someone gave you the formula for Coke or Pepsi and all you ended up creating was brown tap water. Gross, I know, but so is this game!

“Pac-Man” on the Atari 2600, once the fondness in a “so ugly it’s cute” kind of way wears off, will only make you want to do one thing, and that’s play “Pac-Man” on an original arcade cabinet because that is a fine wine and this… this is an expired Ecto Cooler juice box – nostalgic and disgusting.

Next time on Turn to Channel 3’s “Atari August,” we move forward to the 5200 and the shoot ’em up game “Space Dungeon!”

Until then, as we make our way through the last month of summer, be sure to find a real “Pac-Man” port and game on!

Tune in to NEPA Scene’s gaming column, Turn to Channel 3, every Thursday for new perspectives on retro gaming as well as fresh twists on the classics. All ratings for Turn to Channel 3 are based on a scale of 1-10.