China Toy Fair


COMMENTARY: Different Licensees Mean Different Toy Takes on Pac-Man

Quite a few companies are taking on Pac-Man, the character featured in the classic arcade game by Namco. It’s easy to see why, as Pac-Man is the most popular video game of all time, not to mention a global icon that inspired a slew of merchandise during the ’80s. One current toy licensee is Paladone, whose recent Pac-centric products have included the radio-controlled PAC-MAN Racers Set, a plush doll, a candy dispenser, and much more. These toys are based around the basic character design: a yellow spheroid with a missing wedge for a mouth. Other than having eyes (shaped like small Pac-Men) and a handy third dimension, he doesn’t look all that different from Pac-Man in the original game.

Paladone Pac-Man and Ghost

Pac-Man original game

I passed on the candy dispenser (it still being swimsuit season), but as for the Pac-Man Racer, it is great fun on smooth surfaces. You control Pac-Man using a remote cleverly styled like an arcade joystick. There is a bit of a learning curve: For example, in order to get Pac-Man to turn, you have to move him forward or backward, and then bank hard left or right after he picks up some speed. Meanwhile, moving him out of certain tight spaces is not so dissimilar from parallel parking with a car (which is potentially good news for adults who need the practice).

You can get the Pac-Man Racer by itself, but the set comes with a Ghost Racer that allows multiple players to take turns chasing each other’s toys around, in keeping with the spirit of the old quarter-muncher.

As for Paladone‘s Pac-Man 6-inch Plush, it’s Pac-Man with a fuzzy exterior, so the resulting toy is about as fun and versatile as any six-inch, fuzzy yellow ball would be. You can throw him and catch him, or bounce him off walls. Squish him and he returns to his original shape almost immediately. It also comes with a sound feature: Push on the right spot, and it starts emitting the two-note, “wakka-wakka-wakka-wakka” that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever played the original game. Overall, there’s a lot about these two products that’s evocative of the old Pac-Man arcade machine.

Pac-Man toysLooking at other licensees, both Bandai and K’nex Brands have extensive lines of toys based on the current animated series Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures. The show created an ambitious and fleshed-out back-story for the video game, re-imagining the title character as a superhero-type, complete with special powers and a prophesized destiny to fulfill. The toy products, in turn, explode with color and attitude when compared to the original Pac-Man game: The action figure Pac-Men have more extensive facial features, including blue eyes that pop against their yellow skin, a full set of limbs, and red sneakers. Similarly, the K’nex play sets, like the cartoon, borrow visual elements from the game, but the end result is very stylized.

Personally, I don’t think either depiction of Pac-Man is superior or inferior. However, looking at Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, I can admire how far the character has come from his roots as a simple yellow blip that ate dots in a maze and was chased by ghosts. That’s how I always thought of Pac-Man, and perhaps it explains why I feel a particular affinity toward Paladone’s products and their stripped-down, downright embryonic depiction of the character. Nevertheless, given that Pac-Man remains popular more than 30 years after the original game’s release, there is probably room in people’s hearts for more than one interpretation.

For more commentary from Phil, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!