Disney’s “Cars” as rendered by Ralph Bakshi.
RELEASE DATE: 1983 (JP)
Pacar would probably be considered just another Pac-Man clone/rip-off – one of many to emerge in the early 1980s– if it didn’t bear some relation to Sega’s own 1979 arcade title, Head On. In Head On, you maneuver a white car around a maze, collect pellets, and avoid a red car that’s trying to crash into you. Sounds like the misadventures of the half-eaten pizza creature we all know and love, but Head On actually emerged a year before Pac-Man‘s release and is considered one of the earliest maze games to exist. Pacar expands upon Head On‘s simplistic formula – race cars, pellets, mazes, explosions – while also acknowledging the impact Pac-Man had on the maze genre and arcade games in general.
Perhaps every day is a winding road…
Pacar begins similarly to Head-On: control a green car around a maze of winding roads, collect red pellets, and avoid the blue car. The blue car is dangerous, but not necessarily aggressive until later rounds. The red car, however, won’t rest until it hunts you down, though it only appears after you’ve collected a certain number of pellets.
Unlike Pac-Man, who can turn on a dime and move quickly in any direction, your green car can’t move in reverse without significantly reducing his speed (just like a regular car – the realism!). Your car’s limitation forces you to be more aware of your surroundings and drive forward as much as possible; any slow, sharp turn in reverse could be your life.
As you drive around the level, you’ll notice larger red pellets stashed under the smaller ones (early game logic at its finest). Drive over the large pellets and your green car will transform into an unstoppable Super Car for a few seconds. Super Car can destroy enemy cars with a single touch, but the enemy cars will quickly re-spawn at a location in the center of the screen. The more cars you destroy in a row, the higher point combo you receive.
Interestingly, while Pac-Man and Pacar both use large pellets to change in-game circumstances, Pacar uses them to enhance the protagonist’s strength, while Pac-Man employs them to weaken Pac’s enemies, the ghosts.
After you’ve completed Pacar‘s two mazes, they repeat in a series of never-ending rounds. More blue cars are added with each subsequent round, making for a truly dangerous, chaotic rush-hour experience, but the pellet-collecting gameplay remains the same.
The cars in Pacar dwell in an igloo in the center of the maze.
There’s no doubt that Sega knew what they were doing when they came up with the name Pacar. Any company that put the letters “PAC” at the beginning of their game title invited Pac-Man comparisons, particularly in the early 80s when the Pac franchise was at its peak. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sega was using (or trying to use) the Pac-Man craze to their benefit (Pac-car), while also commenting on the fact that Pac-Man wouldn’t exist without Head On. SegaRetro’s entry on Pacar claims that the game is in fact a sequel to Head On. This claim may very well be true, but the author doesn’t cite any sources, and I personally found no other information in regards to the two games’ relationships.
Regardless of why Pacar exists, I’m glad that it does. The game is one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had with the SG-1000 yet. Pacar‘s fast, challenging, perfect for quick play sessions, and one of the purest representations of an arcade game that can be found (so far) on the system. How ironic, then, that despite the game’s arcade leanings, it was never released in the arcade: to this day, Pacar remains an SG-1000 exclusive. The game isn’t a system seller by any means, but if you were already a (deeply disappointed) SG-1000 owner, you could at least purchase Pacar without any regrets.