The sweeping success of the original Pac-Man arcade game is not something that can be replicated. With the new cartoon, console game and now this mobile runner, it feels as if Namco Bandai is forcing Pac-Man into increasingly awkward situations against his will. I feel bad for him.
The original Pac-Man arcade game took everyone by surprise. No one could have antipated the worldwide craze that followed its release. It was an enormous wave that crashed over the world, bringing toys, spin-offs, cartoons, toys, books and other merchandising in its wake. It was a natural process — well, as natural as marketing can get.
This is not.
This is how Pac-Man looks at the end of every level of Pac-Man Dash!, a the new mission-based runner for iOS and Android. It's supposed to evoke, I dunno... confidence and showmanship? What I am getting is "Help me. I am trapped in this nightmare. I cannot wake up. Call the Dream Warriors."
In this game, Pac-Man isn't running from ghosts. He's chasing them — they turn blue and flee as he approaches. He's not eating power pellets. He's eating cookies. Cookies. Look for those soon in your grocer's snack aisle.
Instead of clearing board after board of pellets, Pac-Man is in a race against time to complete a set of arbitrary goals — travel 1500 meters, eat 500 cookies, eat 15 ghosts — that sort of thing. His reward is those cookies, which can be used to purchase new power-ups to help him take on harder goals on different stages.
For instance, the freeze power-up transforms Pac-Man into Iceman.
It's a clever little idea, mixing Pac-Man with Nintendo's Kirby. Even more clever when one realises that each power-up coincides with a Pac-Man toy coming to stores soon, and by scanning those toys into the game you get trial versions to play with and a discount on purchasing them in the game's marketplace.
So we've got the cartoon. We've got the toys. The only thing we're missing is a revolutionary experience that changes the way we play games at the arcade and at home. Pac-Man Dash! is a well-polished piece of borderline advergaming, but it's got nothing on the real thing. You're better than this, Pac-Man.