When he wasn’t hunting out communists in his own organisation and alienating geniuses like Carl Stalling so badly that they upped and took their peculiar talents to Warner Bros., Walt Disney would often expound on the things that made Mickey Mouse such a successful creation. The design worked, according to Uncle Walt, because Mickey Mouse was made from circles – one for the belly, one for the head, two for the ears – and human beings particularly love circles. That’s why Fritz the Cat with all his sharp edges was never going to give Mickey any serious trouble. Also, Fritz was totally a communist.
If that theory’s true, it makes Pac-Man once of the greatest pieces of character design ever. As Google might have informed you last week as it shredded something like 500 billion man hours which could have been spent washing oil out of unfortunate herons or plugging vents in Iceland’s volcanoes, Pac-Man has hit thirty. Like many thirty-year-olds, he’s probably trying to get a bit of perspective on things: he’s probably wondering if his greatest victories are behind him, and whether his prescription drug addiction has left him with any lasting syndromes.
Just as human beings like circles, many of us seem to feel a little bit delicate about Pac-Man too, and not just because he was a glowing neon icon of our childhoods. Thirty years out, it’s nice to know that one of videogaming’s greatest early superstars wasn’t shooting people in the head or rolling a tank into enemy territory. Instead, he was quietly getting on with the life of a late capitalist, consuming, addicted, and enjoying a brilliantly schizophrenic table-turning power pill mechanic which has been ripped off surprisingly infrequently given how elegantly it works.
Updates have followed – Pac-Man Championship Edition is almost certainly the best – and now, to celebrate his birthday, Namco is releasing Pac-Match Party. It’s coming out for the iPhone and iPad imminently, by the looks of things, but there’s a free version here, so you can see what all the fuss is about there.
And the fuss is about taking some of the arcade’s greatest icons and blending them with our current puzzle preoccupation: the match three genre. There are plenty of cute little variations that the license provides, all of which I’ll leave you to discover for yourself, but at its heart, Namco’s built a solid and extremely attractive game, and one that is worth at least a few minutes of your time, and probably much longer.