The 80’s were a weird and wonderful bit of our timeline when it came to gaming and the intense culture spike we saw from it…
While games were delegated to arcades and early consoles in the beginning of the 80’s, Saturday morning cartoons had been around for decades. Pac-Man found mainstream with young kids then.
Back in 1980, Namco (now Bandai-Namco) released an arcade cabinet called Pac-Man into the steadily burgeoning video game atmosphere of the late 70’s. While arcades were already cropping up everywhere with a few games having limited success, Pac-Man’s simplistic puzzle-like gameplay had people setting quarters down and lining up to get more of it. Upon the release of home consoles, Pac-Man grew even bigger to the point that Namco decided to hook up with Hanna-Barbera animation studios to get a cartoon out to the current young culture. Citing the boom of Pac-Man merchandise geared towards young kids, Hanna-Barbera saw this as a slam dunk and got to work on a cartoon that would debut in 1982 and continue on for 42 episodes and 2 holiday specials.
Yes, there are 42 episodes of a Pac-Man cartoon out there; the handful of folks I spoke to about it were like “There was?!,” which turned into an animation history lesson. How did so many people forget?
Pac-Man as a cartoon show was a completely different and confusing entity compared to the character we know in the games. This yellow dot that ate smaller dots until antagonized enough by ghosts to devour them whole? Yeah, they gave him a backstory, a family and a villain character. Heck, sometimes the ghosts weren’t even all that bad! Just little henchmen to a larger peculiar super-villain type along the lines of Inspector Gadget’s Dr. Claw. This villain, mind you, was named Mezmaron and had a real Gargamel from The Smurfs vibe.
Despite this peculiar villain, Pac-Man had a lot to protect in this era. He had a wife, a child and a couple of pets that he was obviously quite fond of and so was Mezmaron. Oh, did I mention that Peter Cullen, the incredible voice actor behind Optimus Prime from The Transformers also did a voice in Pac-Man? “Hey, Candice! What voice did Peter Cullen do? Was it Pac-Man? Mezmaron the bad guy? I bet it was him!” you may ask. I’d have to squint my eyes and lean in, cupping my hand to the side of my mouth as I respond: “No, my friend. Peter Cullen voiced Sour Puss. You know, Pac-Man’s pet cat.” And that’s when you’d probably question everything you ever knew. Sorry about that.
The show wasn’t really reinventing any wheels, as it was standard Saturday morning stuff for its time. Pac-Man had a strangely placed 80’s stereotypical New York accent in some places that would wildly change between that and Bostonian. Appearing to lean on Popeye‘s sensibilities, Pac-Man gained super strength by eating pellets and those ghosts were mighty antagonistic until those pellets came out. The ghosts were not really making huge efforts to be the worst enemies and you’d often find them engaging in slight harassment before worse came along. Then, those ghosts would just sad-face and beat it out of the story for the most part. Sometimes the story revolved around Pac-Man finding out about some plot Mezmaron was up to, with the ghosts trying to beat Pac-Man to the drama first to act as guard-dogs. Ever wanting to please Mezmaron for some strange reason, the ghosts would act like simpering little pout-monsters, making them almost sympathetic.
Listen, the cartoon was peculiar at best but for the 80’s, a time we were obsessed with this game, it just made sense. As a toddler, I watched this show and had so much Pac-Man merchandise that you’d think a two year old REALLY cared! It was the iconography of Pac-Man that made him so accessible to children, teenagers and adults alike. It was a simplistic concept that could easily be given a thousand iterations of every item and clothing piece imaginable. Get that money, honey! If your game is a smash hit, then why not make yourself a Saturday morning cartoon? Why not pump out lunchboxes and kids toys? I say good on them.