Snapper, BBC Micro
When it comes to these Pac-Man covers, there seems to be three main categories: covers that straight-up say “hey, this is Pac-Man,” covers that take the hungry-orb-versus-angry-ghosts angle and twist it a little, and covers that slap on an entirely new theme like “jungle” or “fish.” Snapper falls into the first category. That’s definitely a screenshot of Pac-Man, even if it’s called Snapper and it’s a slightly different game now. In fact, I had to go and check whether that’s exactly the same maze layout as the original arcade Pac-Man. It isn’t, but the differences are so slight it might as well be. Consider this a baseline, then, but don’t worry – they’re going to get a lot weirder than this.
Ghost Chaser, Amiga
Ghost Chaser provides a good example of the second type of cover. A vaguely spherical creature composed of a) a mouth and b) insatiable hunger chases down a creature that could well be a ghost. A slimy, gloopy ghost, certainly, maybe the lingering spirit of a wad of chewed gum, but at least partly ectoplasmic. Then you look closer and realise that this Pac-Man wannabe has a tough, gritty edge – he’s packing a pair of six-shooters! And Sega thought they were being so original when they released Shadow the Hedgehog. They may be oddly-shaped, as though someone described the concept of a revolver to a blind person who then tried to shape one out of modelling clay, but they’re definitely supposed to be guns. Which is stupid, what’s the ghost chaser going to do, shoot the ghost? C’mon, man. On the plus side, the guns do mean I can’t help but imagine the ghost chaser has Revolver Ocelot’s voice. “Six Power Pellets. More than enough to kill any ghost that moves!”
Mazeman, ZX Spectrum
Then there’s the third kind of cover, with no ghosts or Pac-Men to be seen. Instead we’re treated to the comic-book stylings of Mazeman! That’s right, Mazeman. By day he’s wealthy millionaire playboy Theseus Mazeington, but when night falls he leaps into action as the mighty Mazeman, guiding the innocent out of hedge mazes in the grounds of stately homes and helping little kids solve the puzzles on their fast-food-restaurant activity sheets. He’s buff, he’s blonde, he provides a good example of why so few superheroes wear red-and-orange costumes – because they tend to look like walking piles of chicken nuggets and ketchup, that’s why. I’ve never played Mazeman and I don’t intend to, but if Mazeman doesn’t have a kid sidekick called Labyrinth Lad I shall be very disappointed.
Classic Muncher, ZX Spectrum
Speaking of superheroes, here’s the Batman villain Killer Croc, wading through his swampy home while he breaks in his new crocodile-man-sized jeans. Thanks for hiding your reptilian shame, Killer Croc. Of course, the real highlight of this cover is the discordant contrast between a hulking lizardman who uses human skulls as a kicky fashion accessory and the Bubble Bus Software logo. Beep beep, all aboard the Bubble Bus! It’s travelling along the Mini Bus line, stopping at Candy Town, Camp Giggles and Cannibal Monster Bayou!
Gulpman, ZX Spectrum
Gulpman’s cover is a great example of just how much imagination you had to use when playing these old home computer games – the game itself is composed entirely of solid lines and slow-moving ASCII characters, but the cover transports us to an exciting world of lasers, mysterious energy-ghosts and futuristic onesies. Apparently, developers thinking to themselves “you know what Pac-Man was missing? Guns.” was a thing during the eighties.
One thing that does fascinate me about these Pac-Man covers is the many and varied ways the developers chose to draw the “dots” that fill the mazes. In Gulpman’s case, they’ve been rendered as translucent yellow rectangles that are just lying on the floor where any passing Gulpman could trip over them. That’s a compensation lawsuit waiting to happen, that is.
Gulpman, Timex Spectrum
Here’s a, erm, different iteration of Gulpman. Rather than an exciting space adventure with laser battles, this version of Gulpman is all about humanity’s efforts to build the most punchable robot imaginable. They seem to have succeeded in their mission. It’s half Jimmy Olsen, half Gabbo from The Simpsons and all deeply unpleasant to look at. It’s got a propeller beanie, for pity’s sake. My theory is that Robo-Gulpman was designed as a training droid for the bullies of the far future to practice on. The fire blazing in his eyes represents his hatred for his creators, you see.
Maze Chase, ZX Spectrum
I really like this cover, it’s got a kind of “sixties kid’s book” vibe to it and that shark-demon-thing is great. It’s facial expression suggests it hasn’t got a clue why it’s chasing this man down but he can’t stop now, maze-chasing is all he knows. Well, maze-chasing and making finger-guns. Some fruit watches on, but it’s not just any fruit, and the game’s features list them as “magical strawberries” and “high-scoring lemons.” How wonderful.
Pakacuda, Commodore 64
It’s half Pac-Man, half barracuda with the fish-themed Pakacuda, as drawn by someone with only a tenuous understanding of what an octopus looks like. Yes, octopuses do have beaks but no, not like that. That’s more toucan than cephalopod. Still, nice use of green felt-tips to suggest the ocean waters.
Supercuda, Commodore 64
The octopuses are looking a bit better in the sequel Supercuda, but it doesn’t matter – I can’t see anything on this cover beyond the fact that the titular Supercuda has human eyes and eyelashes. Is that to make sure you know it’s a lady fish? That eye is genuinely creeping me out a little. If you look at the eel you can see that the artist had some idea of what a fish’s eye should look like, but they went with the human eye anyway, and as a result the Supercuda can at least get some other work appearing in Maybelline commercials.
Something I learned while looking at these covers is that giving Pac-Man teeth makes him roughly one thousand percent more sinister. The tongue isn’t helping, either. I dunno, maybe I just have trouble thinking of Pac-Man as a biological organism. I prefer him as some kind of rolling garbage-disposal automaton, kinda like Wall-E if Wall-E was perpetually haunted by the spectres of the dead. Of course, if Pac-Man isn’t biological then where did Pac-Man Junior come from?
Gobbleman, ZX Spectrum
Ah yes, Gobbleman, the one superhero with a worse power than Mazeman. This is what I mean about mouths - this thing is bloody terrifying, with it’s highly-detailed teeth and lack of eyes. It’s like a xenomorph facehugger managed to impregnate a dodgem, and I hate it. No wonder the pellets appear to be flying into Gobbleman’s mouth as fast as possible, anything to end their suffering faster is gratefully welcomed.
Gobble A Ghost, ZX Spectrum
I’m immature enough that the phrase “gobble a ghost” gets a chuckle from me. I’m not proud about that fact, but when I was growing up the word “gobble” meant two things – the sounds a turkey makes and fellatio. I wish it wasn’t so, but c’est la vie. At least this is a nice cover. You definitely know you’re getting a Pac-Man game with this one, although I can’t tell which way the ghosts are supposed to be facing: are they leaning to the right because they’re moving to the right, or are those black indentations supposed to be their mouths? What do you mean, “no one cares?” I care. No, wait, hang on, I don’t care. Next!
Paccie, Playstation 2
Moving away from the home computer games briefly, just to say that if you are releasing a Pac-Man clone – or indeed any videogame – then maybe you shouldn’t give it a name that’s a homonym for a racial slur. Just a thought.
Hungry Horace, ZX Spectrum
Hey, it’s Horace! The almost-mascot of the ZX Spectrum, star of a series of games that I wrote about a long time ago and a creature who appears to have had every last iota of joy sucked from his being. Is there an emoji for “depression” already? Because if not, hey, I know Horace isn’t doing anything. Well, besides appearing as graffiti around my home town. Whatever your views on the rights and wrongs of graffiti, it always cheered me up to look down near the Porter Brook and see Horace’s grim visage staring back up at me.
Jungle Jim, Amiga
From the cosily nostalgic to the downright nauseating now, with Jungle Jim the hideous explorer. Okay, so the tiger’s not too bad and the snake’s okay, but Jim himself is… ugh. His face looks like Graeme Souness had radical surgery to give himself anime eyes, but why does he appear to be covered head-to-toe in a thick layer of vaseline? He’s just so oily, which somehow makes the fact that you can see the stubble of his leg hairs even more disturbing. Combine that with being dangerously close to seeing right up Jim’s shorts leg and this is a cover that doesn’t bear looking at for long. Then again, even if you only glance at it for a moment, the thought of a greased-up Jungle Jim pressing his slimy body against yours while his enormous eyes stare deep into your soul will not soon leave your mind.
Oh Shit!, MSX
This is probably the most infamous cover on this list, and yes, there really was an MSX Pac-Man clone called Oh Shit! It’s so named because when you lose a life, a screeching digitised voice shouts “ohhhh shiiiiiit!” at you, presumably in an attempt to get you to stop playing Oh Shit! as quickly as possible.
As for the cover, well, the actual game is a straight-up Pac-Man clone with minimal graphical changes, so quite why the artwork shows you playing as Winnie the Pooh’s severed head is beyond me. I think the red things are supposed to be the pellets you’re eating? Nope, I’m sorry, this one has me stumped. All I can tell you is that when I saw the thumbnail for this picture a while ago, my brain decided to interpret the vague white shape as a pair of underpants, with the red bits being the legs sticking out of the pants. Maybe I’m just not getting enough sleep or something.
Oh Shit! was also released under the name Shit, the publisher apparently deciding that Oh Shit! is a snappy name but it could be snappier. The lack of punctuation on the word “shit” gives it a really underwhelming quality, don’t you think? “Aww shit, the Satanic force of incomprehensible evil is trying to push its way into our reality again. Honey, fetch me the crucifix, would you?”
Also, as noted over at Hardcore Gaming 101, this artwork is lifted directly from the cover of the horror novel The Howling III. I’m going to guess it’s a much more appropriate image in that context.
Oh Shit!, MSX
But wait, there’s yet another cover for Oh Shit! and somehow it manages to be even worse than the other two! What the hell has happened to this man to make him pull that face? He looks like someone’s just sprayed pure capsaicin up his backside. Or maybe he’s punched the screen of that arcade cabinet out of pure frustration, which would explain his mangled hand. Either way, I’m sure we can all agree that if this chap was a real person you’d see his mugshot below a newspaper headline like “Local Man Attempts Hold-Up With Banana” or “Local Man Steals Quad Bike, Crashes Into Slurry Pit.”
“So long, broom, I’ve rendered you obsolete! You hear me? Obsolete!!”
Cruncher Factory, Amiga
And now, a section I like to call “Pac-Man Analogue Menaced From Behind by Ghost,” beginning with Cruncher Factory. This Pac-Man’s simple facial features mean he’s not nearly as creepy as some of his contemporaries, but he’s expressive enough to capture a real expression of guilt as he’s caught eating the cruncher factory’s valuable metal ingots. That’s some very half-hearted spooking by the ghost, I must say. And what’s going on with its “hands”? Did it die as a result of a terrible high-fiving accident?
Ghost’s Revenge, ZX Spectrum
“I’ll get my revenge by staring at Pac-Man’s arse, that’ll teach him to eat my friends.”
Munch Man 64, Commodore 64
In which Fake Pac-Man is harassed by the Ku Klux Klan. The ghosts look as though they’re peer-pressuring Fake Pac-Man into trying ecstasy. Don’t do it, Fake Pac-Man, eat that nutritious banana instead.
Monster Munch, Commodore 64
Sadly, this game isn’t based on the corn snacks of the same name. I’m honestly shocked there wasn’t an officially licensed game based on the Monster Munch crisps, you know – the closest thing I could find are these handheld LCD Monster Munch games, and my life is a little brighter for knowing that these things exist.
Anyway, this cover posits the interesting concept of a vampire Pac-Man. It might sound daft at first – Pac-Man doesn’t even have a neck for a vampire to bite, for starters – but eating all those ghosts is bound to have some kind of supernatural effect on Pac-Man’s physiology. I’ve seen the episodes of the Ghostbusters cartoon where they enter the containment unit, and I can’t imagine Pac-Man’s stomach is much different.
Sprite Man, Commodore 64
Oh good god, I could have happily gone my entire life without seeing the unnecessarily detailed soles of a fake Pac-Man’s grubby feet. What is this, Deviantart? The rest of the Pac-Man isn’t any more appealing, with the kind face of face you’d see painted on a carousel vehicle at a carnival run by soul-stealing shapeshifters. The ghost’s pretty good, though, with those gaping, vacant eyes… hang on a minute! Horace, you take that sheet off your head right now and get back to either maze-chasing, skiing or avoiding spiders!
Beetlemania, ZX Spectrum
See, if I were making a game called Beetlemania I’d have gone down the route of having you play as one of the Beatles, picking up gold records while being chased by screaming fans. Instead, we’ve got regular old beetles. Okay, sure, the game’s inlay does describe them as giant homicidal beetles, but still.
Blobbo, ZX Spectrum
Now that’s not the cover I expected for a game called Blobbo. You’d think it’d star some jolly, rotund creature, not a robot so abstract it’s difficult to figure out where its head starts, a robot standing in a rain of crystalline fruit, licking the sun and firing its chest-lights into the gloom. Please note this is not a complaint. I’m all for game art that looks like the cover to a cyberpunk novel about an evil AI that takes over fruit machines.
Munch-Man, ZX Spectrum
I could go on (and on, and on – there are a lot of Pac-Man clones out there) but I think I’ll finish for today with my favourite cover of the bunch. It might not be the most professional, but it’s deeply charming in its simplicity and its basic execution manages to capture some raw emotion – forever pursued by the ghost of a banana, this fake Pac-Man is at the brink of exhaustion, his tongue lolling from his mouth as his stick legs somehow summon the strength to keep him moving, always moving, always searching for the Power Pellet that will save him. There can be no respite, however, and he knows that he is ultimately doomed to become one of the cursed undead. On that slightly depressing note, I’ll bring this article to a close. God speed, Munch-Man.