Over on Mastodon, Dan Fixes Coin-Ops has been documenting an epic quest: the repair of a Baby Pac-Man machine.
It’s one of the non-Namco Pac-Man spinoffs that Bally/Midway released in the wake of the original’s extremely high popularity. I’d like to remind readers that while Namco has been the sole beneficiary of Pac-Man’s heights lately, the original game, at first called Puck-Man in Japan, was not popular there. The spin-offs, console ports, handheld games, trading cards, stickers, clothing, cartoon show, Christmas special, breakfast cereal and unnumbered other items, that was all Bally/Midway’s doing. Toru Iwatani created and designed it, his team made it into a game and cabinet, Namco released it in Japan to middling success, and from there Bally/Midway got behind it and turned it into one of the most gigantic video game hits there’s ever been, a machine that at one point had one hundred thousand units.
Now, I’m not going to deny that their effort led to some erasure of knowledge of Namco’s existence at the time. All those Pac-Man machines and spin-offs mentioned “Bally Midway Mfg. Co.,” with nary a mention of Namco. But it’s undeniable now that erasure is happening in the other direction: a search over the History page on official Pac-Man website has no mention of Bally at all, even though the page acknowledges that the game was “a major hit in the United States.”
Some of that success leaked back to Japan and fueled some Namco-made sequels: Super Pac-Man, Pac N Pal, Pac-Land, Pac-Mania, Pac-Man Arrangement and eventually Pac-Man Battle Royale and Pac-Man Championship Edition, and more recently things like World’s Largest Pac-Man and Pac-Man Battle Royale Chompionship.
Bally/Midway made their own sequels. One of those, Ms. Pac-Man (created by GCC), came to eclipse the original in popularity, but in addition to their licensing of Super Pac-Man and Pac N Pal they made Jr. Pac-Man (also from GCC), as well as Professor Pac-Man and this game here. The one Dan Fixes Coin-Ops repaired. Baby Pac-Man.
Baby Pac-Man is a game that only could be made by Bally, because it’s a video game/pinball hybrid.
Bally, together with the company that would buy them, Williams, is arguably the greatest pinball maker there’s ever been. Up until around 2000 (a heartbreaking year) they made wonderful machines like The Addams Family, Twilight Zone, Attack From Mars, Star Trek: The Next Generation and quite a few others. In 1982 though pinball was in a slump while video games had reign over arcades. The decision to make a game that connected one of the greatest arcade games of all with pinball must have seemed obvious. (It wasn’t their only attempt to capitalize on their golden license with a pinball table, witness Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man, which I’m informed was released eight months before Baby Pac-Man.)
The combination of an arcade video game and pinball makes for a unique experience. It also makes for a game which breaks down even more often than your standard arcade game, as the thread notes: there’s three computers in the thing, and it’s subject to all the typical arcade game problems, all the typical pinball problems, and special problems with the portions of the machine that connect the two halves together.
The thread begins memorably:
In case y’all were tired of hearing about popular Fediverse people making bad decisions, just thought I’d let y’all know I bought a 1980’s hybrid pinball/videogame tonight
Like this isn’t for a client, I’m not working on it to earn. This game COST money. This is my game now, I paid for it and it lives in my house. I’m not gonna get to give anybody a bill.
This is such a perversion of the natural order of things. I’ll probably route it one day, but for now this is an arcade machine that I SPEND money on!
It’s taken me a little while to get it into the house and have a chat with the mate who sold it to me and let the littleun have a go and put her to bed and fix a couple things and have a go myself so I’ve not been catching up on my notifications, I saw some questions so I’ll do a little thread on it over the next couple of days
I cannot stress enough that you should not buy one of these things
Folk who like 80’s pinball want stuff like this or Haunted House and you shouldn’t buy a Haunted House either
These are games for pinball techs or people with money to hire pinball techs or very close friends of pinball techs
Except Baby Pac-Man needs you to be friends with an arcade tech too.
He finally got it working after three months of work, and what a journey it is. He did it for love of the game: while Baby Pac-Man is dissed in some circles it’s a genuinely interesting game. But to like it, you have to abandon the relatively lenient expectations of classic arcade video games. Pinball is inherently unfair, and that unfairness oozes out and coats even the video portion of Baby Pac: the ghosts don’t waste time in coming after you, and you start with no Energizers: you have to earn them in the pinball portion, which for the most part you can only visit once per life/board. You can return to the video portion temporarily though by locking the ball in a scoop.
Here is the full thread (to date) in Masto Reader, which is a Mastodon version of Threadreader. It takes maybe half a minute to collect the posts and present them though, so to read the whole saga you’ll have to be a little patient.
An interesting video about Baby Pac-Man (although with some bad sound) District 82 Pinball’s here (12 minutes), which covers the tech and gameplay:
And Joe’s Classic Video Games’ demonstration (25 minutes):
District 82 Pinball’s Baby Pac-Man play and tech tips (Youtube, 12 minutes)
Joe’s Classic Video Games on Baby Pac-Man (Youtube, 25 minutes)