As seen in: Pac-Man (Arcade)
Also in: Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures (Super NES)
Distinguishing feature: An endless, remorseless hunger.
Strengths: Turning the tables with the all-too-rare power pellet.
Weaknesses: One-hit kills are soooo 1980.
If anything, Pac-Man is a testament to our vanity as a species; who else but humanity could anthropomorphize a yellow circle with a wedge cut out? This isn’t to say that Tōru Iwatani intended his landmark creation to symbolize the human condition or anything -- hardware limitations at the time made abstraction a necessity. Still, much of Pac-Man was shrouded by mystery, even in an age when more primitive games gave the player at least some flimsy pretense of a story. Who was this yellow ball? Why did he spend so much time cruising around mazes that murdered him more often than not? Most of us ascribed our own motivations to Pac-Man, simply because the idea of a famished little circle munching on ghosts had no connection to anything we experienced in real life without the assistance of LSD.
While Namco was happy to let Pac-Man exist as the sole hero of his universe, opportunistic hackers expanded this nebulous mythology by supplying him with a longtime girlfriend and an infant—either born out of wedlock or left on his Pac-porch—while ignoring the fact that the Pac-Man narrative (or lack thereof) was never intended to carry so much weight.
It may seem strange to concentrate on one of the most transparent characteristics of the series, but the rigidity and inscrutability of the Pac-Man universe may indicate why we’ve seen so few true sequels to the original game. Okay, maybe you can blame Pac-Man’s papa for waiting until 2007 to deliver a legitimate Pac-Man follow-up, but he could have just been bitter about questionable Japanese business practices preventing him from achieving the bazillionaire-hood he so richly deserved.
Namco still makes attempts to expand the Pac-Man universe with kart racers, 3D platformers, and digital board games, but there’s just something about the little fella that belongs in a world without context. It’s very difficult to say anything about him as a character, and that’s how things should be. Give him some gloves, some boots, a car, a domestic life -- nothing sticks.
Walls, dots, and four ghosts: That’s all Pac-Man needs.