Pac-Man Ruled Everything in the 1980s: Even Cartoons

James Logie

When something becomes massively popular, you need to exploit it in every way possible. And that’s what happened with a simple arcade game.

Pac-Man was everywhere in the 1980s. It dominated the video game industry, was on every product you could imagine and even led to a cartoon show.

Hanna-Barbera put the Pac-Man cartoon out and it aired on ABC. It came out in 1982 and ran for 44 episodes.

Not only is Pac-Man an interesting story, but so is the cartoon as it took a unique approach compared to most cartoons of the 80s.

Setting the Stage For the Pac-Man Cartoon

The Pac-Man video game was created by Namco in 1980. All it was is just a yellow pie with a slice missing that eats a bunch of dots in a maze.

Pac-Man tries to avoid getting eaten by four ghosts who actually have names:

  • Blinky
  • Inky
  • Pinky
  • Clyde

Interestingly, each of the ghosts not only has a name: but a personality trait. Those traits being shadowy, speed, bashfulness, and pokey.

Pac-Man started out in Japan as Puck Man but was released in North America as Pac-Man by Midway Games.

The development of the game started in 1979 with the intent of appealing to both men and women. Up to that point, video games were directed more to males and it was thought a game that had universal appeal would bring in more females.

Apparently the iconic image of Pac-Man was designed after the creator, Toru Iwatini, saw a pizza with a slice missing.

He also made the ghosts look “cute” to further appeal to girls. Either way, Pac-Man was brought to the world and Midway made the smart move of changing the name from Puck-Man.

You can imagine what kids would have scratched out on the arcade cabinets to change that to…

The Success of Pac-Man

Pac-Man actually didn’t have a massive response in Japan but caught on like wildfire in North America. It quickly became more popular than any video game in history. At one point in 1982, upwards of 30 million people played it.

The popularity took everyone by surprise--especially distributors and other competitors. It would overtake Asteroids as the best-selling arcade game in American history and apparently grossed $1 billion in quarters.

Each unit sold for around $2600 and they would sell around 400,000 of them.

That’s another billion dollars right there.

If you convert that for today it’s around $2.6 billion for sales and income generated by quarters. It can’t be understated how massive this thing was.

Pac-Man made so much money--in just the first year--that it surpassed the income of any movie made before it; even Star Wars.

By the end of 18 months, it was estimated that 7 billion quarters had been used to play Pac-Man. It won the best commercial game at the 1981 Arcade Awards (which were a real thing) and is considered one of the most important games ever made.

It also would create massive spinoff products and an amazing/awful song called “Pac-Man Fever.”

All of these extra merchandising and spinoff products would generate another billion dollars. And that brings us to the Pac-Man cartoon

Creating the Cartoon

The series would ride the enormous success of the video game. What made this show unique--among some other things--is that it was the very first cartoon based on a video game.

Many others would follow over the years, but Pac-Man was the first.

The show was released by ABC and began on September 25, 1982. It would run until November 5, 1985.

In its first season, it was packaged together during the Pac-Man/Little Rascals/Ritchie Rich show. The next season it was combined with the Iconic Rubik, The Amazing Cube into a combined “top fads of the early 80s” cartoon hour.

Was There a Plot to This Show?

The show is all about Pac-Man and his wife Ms. Pac-Man who is actually named Pepper. They have a baby named Pac-Baby, a dog named chomp-chomp, and a cat named Sour Puss.

Pac-Man and his Pac family live in Pac-Land and it’s a world filled with spheres and different shapes. Everything is seemingly fine in Pac-Land but the ghosts show up aka Clyde, Blinky, Pinky, and Inky.

The ghosts assemble themselves as the “Ghost Monsters" and, like the video game, try to destroy Pac-Man’s life.

The Ghost Monsters have a boss named Mezmaron who is a Darth Vader-like character and is just pure evil.

There are a lot of connections between Mezmaron and Gargamel from the Smurfs which was another Hanna-Barbara show.

Mezmaron is trying to control the source of all the “power pellets” in Pac-Land. If he can control this main food supply he can essentially control all of Pac-Land.

There were also a few holiday specials including a Halloween and Christmas one.

The Response to the Pac-Man Cartoon

The response by kids was decent but not overwhelming, as it only lasted two seasons. Those who did have a great response to the show, however, were advertisers.

Pac-Man was a huge video game and the cartoon was awaited with great anticipation. This made advertisers salivate and practically line up down to block to get time slots during the show.

The overwhelming demand created commercial breaks that were twice as long as normal. This is not ideal for kids with minimal attention spans who just want to watch more Pac-Man.

In later years commercial breaks would return to their normal length.

What made Pac-Man unique was this was one of the only times a show was released due to the success of a product.

In most cases with cartoons, the show is used to launch toys. In this case, the intent was just to capitalize on the popularity of something that was already a success.

The cartoon would still create interest in Pac-Man but the intent was to put out more Pac-Man content as opposed to using the show as a 22-minute long commercial.

Pac-Man set the stage for more cartoons to be based on video games such as the Saturday Supercade which would feature games like Frogger, Donkey Kong, and Q*bert.

Final Thoughts

Over the years there have been a ton of shows and cartoons based on video games such as:

  • The Super Mario Bros. Super Show
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Sonic X
  • Double Dragon
  • Captain N. The Game Master
  • Pokemon
  • Carmen Sandiego

And none of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for a missing slice of pizza.

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.

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