Gaming: The Best of Pac-Man

Before Mario, Sonic, and the rest of their pals ruled the video game mascot scene, Pac-Man was the unchallenged king of characters. 

When his self-titled first release found its way into arcades across the world in 1980, it started the first mascot craze in video game history. For historical context, Jimmy Carter was President of the United States and M*A*S*H was still going strong on television. Video games were barely on people's radar before Pac-Man.
Suddenly, Pac-Man merchandise was everywhere: T-Shirts, patches, bumper stickers, and boxes of Pac-Man cereal were just a few of the things you could buy to show your loyalty. There's still a rumor going around that there was a quarter shortage in 1980 because the United States had come down with a serious case of Pac-Man fever. This medical condition inspired a song by the same name, sung to the tune of schizophrenic rock star Ted Nugent's Cat Scratch Fever.
Namco cashed in on the craze quickly, releasing loads of Pac-Man related games over the next five years. Super Pac-Man, Pac-Man Plus, Jr. Pac-Man, and the strange trivia game Professor Pac-Man were all underwhelming versions of the original game, with a few cosmetic and gameplay tweaks.
With all that quantity, they managed to squeeze out some quality as well. There are five Pac-Man games that should be played by every video game enthusiast. Some are hard to find, but with emulators, Ouya, and the various download services available on current consoles, it shouldn't be too much of a chore to track them down.
"ooooooohhhh baby!!!"
5. Baby Pac-Man: This will be the toughest to find of all the games on this list, because its an arcade game unlike anything else I've ever seen. You control baby Pac-Man on the screen, much like the rest of the games in the series. When you go to the bottom of the screen, a pinball game starts! You try to rack up points using standard flippers. It's a particularly strange experience because the pinball table is about half the length of an ordinary table, so that you're not too far from the action when it returns to the video screen. It's a unique experience that's worth hunting down.
4. Pac-Land: Namco took Pac-Man out of his familiar maze and put him into a 2D side-scrolling platformer that provided a great challenge. They ditched the traditional joystick to move Pac-Man around, and replaced it with two buttons you had to continuously press to make him run in one direction or the other. There were a lot of tough jumps to make, and having to press those buttons with your left hand while timing jumps with your right was tough. It was a refreshing and fun change of scenery for Pac-Man, and the best home version of the game was released on the Turbografx-16, which holds a special place in my heart. Pac-Land was recently released in the WiiU eShop, so you can check it out for yourself without spending a lot of dough.
"Get back here, you little bastard!"
3. Pac-Mania: Pac-Man returned to the maze in Pac-Mania, but it's a very different experience from the earlier titles. It features a pseudo-3D isometric perspective, with our hero covering a lot more ground as the screen scrolls left and right to cover the entire maze. The coolest addition to Pac-Mania, by far, was the addition of a jump button. You weren't forced to run every time you saw a ghost anymore; instead, you could bounce right over his head. Things got tough in later levels when the ghosts gained the ability to jump, but the added mechanic made for a really fun experience.
2. Ms. Pac-Man: It started as a game mod put together by some college students using an original Pac-Man motherboard. It became the most popular Pac-Man game of all time. You can still go into almost any movie theater or children's pizza joint and find the Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga combo game, because they're two timeless classics that are still fun today. It was a wonderful evolution of the Pac-Man formula, with different mazes and item point bonuses that bounced around the screen. It's the first game I can remember that featured cutscenes, where the game told a little story in between levels. They were short and sweet, describing the relationship between Ms. Pac-Man and her eventual husband. The music featured during these cut scenes is still stuck in my head to this day.
"I am the champion!! Eat this!"
1. Pac Man Championship Edition DX: Nostalgia be damned, this is the best Pac-Man game ever made. It's available on PS3 and Xbox 360 for download, and it's a must-play for even the most casual fan of Pac-Man. The levels change while you're still in the middle of them. You can get insane combos, chomping fifty ghosts or more in one stretch. The game moves extremely fast in the later levels, so the developers gave players the ability to grind" or hug the walls so that you knew which direction you were going next. It's very addictive; however, when you look at the scores on the world leader boards, you'll probably find yourself thinking "How the hell do they DO that!?" Fortunately, they record the top players' games and show you exactly how they did it. Then you realize just how much time you'll have to sink into the game to come close to their scores.

-Tom McDaniel