RELEASE DATE: 01/29/91 – (JP), 10/1991 – (US)
Join Sega Does now as we hop back in time to a Sega of Japan executive meeting circa December 17th, 1990, almost two months after the Game Gear launch in Japan.
NAKAYAMA: “Gentlemen, I have disheartening news. Columns isn’t the system-selling, Tetris-destroying monolith we all thought it would be. Game Gear sales are already down 5000 percent from October. Such numbers are unthinkable. We need a game that will prop up the Game Gear, at least for a few months or so.”
NAKA: “Sir, there’s that House of Tarot game that’s just about finished. That could pull in some untapped demographics.”
NAKAYAMA: “… any other ideas? Think broad. Something familiar that will keep people coming back for more.”
SUZUKI: “What about Ms. Pac-Man, sir? It will tug at the heartstrings of those who played it in their youth. And they will be able to take it with them wherever they go, in color, for the first time.”
NAKAYAMA: “Brilliant, Suzuki-san. Call Namco. Pay them whatever they ask. We must save the Game Gear!”
ALL: “Save the Game Gear!”
SUZUKI: “Sir, I’ve reached Nakamura-san. He also wants the Game Gear to be successful, but he is asking 500 billion billion yen for Ms. Pac-Man.”
ALL: *slight murmuring*
NAKAYAMA: “Impossible. Surely we can come to a different agreement…”
SUZUKI: “… he says we can have Pac-Man for 5,000 yen. As long as we advertise it as one of our premier 1991 titles.”
NAKAYAMA: “… Pac-Man… what choice do we have? I will not bankrupt Sega just to save the Game Gear. Tell him we accept.”
And that, my friends, is how Pac-Man came to be on the Game Gear…
No? Not buying it? Alright, you win. Sega Does does not have a time machine, which means this meeting was a complete fabrication of my mind. But this absolutely fake meeting does raise an interesting point. Columns, the flagship puzzle game for the Game Gear that Sega totally thought was going to sell millions of copies, failed to ignite a fire in consumers a la Tetris on the Game Boy. So what do you do? Do you let Columns have a few extra months on the market and hope for positive word-of-mouth? Or do you take an already established title and hope that 80s arcade game nostalgia will bring in aging baby boomers?
Pac-Man isn’t a puzzle game, but it is a ubiquitous, familiar, and addictive title that – one might think – would have sold a few people on the Game Gear. True, a Game Boy port released a couple months prior to the Game Gear port, but that one was spectacularly gray and laggy. Pac-Man on the Game Gear is in bold, beautiful color and contains zero lag! And it’s better than Columns!
Then again, perhaps this Pac-Man port was yet another Pac-Man port in a world inundated with Pac-Man ports. Whatever the landscape behind Pac-Man‘s plop down onto the Game Gear in 1991, Namco did a fantastic job here. The game looks and sounds and plays as it should. Sure, the resolution isn’t as sharp as the arcade version, and the entire maze can’t fit onto the tiny Game Gear screen, so there is some scrolling involved, but neither aspect hinders the gameplay in any way.
Pac-Man is an eternally great game, and the Game Gear port is better than the funky NES or Game Boy versions… but it’s not a system seller. And hey, maybe it was never intended to be. With little available information about the Game Gear port on the Internet, I might be digging too deep into a conspiracy theory of my own making. I just find its late January release date fascinating. Pac-Man was the 12th release on the Game Gear (in Japan, anyway), and the first title on the system with potential mass-market appeal. Sega must have hoped a solid Pac-Man port would make their handheld more enticing to a wide variety of demographics. Given the Game Gear’s limited reach in Japan (the system only sold 1.6 million units in four years on the market), I doubt it made much of an impact.
MY CONSPIRACY THEORY: C+