Two letters can make all the difference.
There aren’t a lot of characters that can be credited for transcending their chosen medium to become pop culture icons in their own right. Batman is obviously one, having become a household name in pretty much every form of media available beyond his comic book origins. Punky Brewster would be another obvious example. But ask most people to name video game characters, and most people would get to Pac-man pretty quickly.
Pac-man was originally released in arcades in 1980 by Namco. In it, you play as a yellow blob with an appetite…FOR DESTRUCTION. You are trapped in an eternally looping labyrinth, doomed to run away from ghosts as you wonder aloud to the godless black void what you have done to deserve this punishment, hoping for a cyanide-laced cherry to break up the monotony and release you to a sweet grave. Also, there was a Saturday morning cartoon based on it.
Despite this infinite Hell, Pac-man has been a mainstay in pop culture ever since, and seems to remain a happy chap.
To compare Batman and Pac-man, well start from the most obvious point: their breakfast cereals. Full journalistic disclosure: I have not tracked down or eaten any of these cereals personally–partially out of laziness, but mostly because I don’t want my gravestone to read “David B Cooper: Died From Eating A Breakfast Cereal Older Than He Was.” Frankly, I think it’d be mean of them to even put my cause of death on there.
As you can see, Batman wins in terms of quantity. As for taste, well, let’s face it–all cereals taste the same, except the healthy ones that no one buys because they suck. Pac-man has an ace up his sleeve though. In 1983, a young, almost unrecognisible Christian Bale appeared in a commercial for Pac-man breakfast cereal. And when you have Batman himself shilling your sugar coated garbage, I think we can agree this is a draw.
Pac-man’s most famous enemies are his four ghosts: Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde. Batman’s fought his fair share of ghosts in his time, but his most famous ghostly adversary is probably Gentleman Ghost, one of the cooler villain designs in the DC universe.
Pac-man wouldn’t stand a chance against Gentleman Ghost. He can barely hold his own against his usual foes, who do very little other than move in a straight line. In terms of villains, Batman wins this round.
One mark of a hero is how they choose to act in defeat, whether they can show dignity in death. Pac-man, on being slightly touched by a ghost who is sometimes his friend, chooses to turn his entire face inside out and vanish into nothing, an animation I always found slightly terrifying.
With Batman, his actions in defeat are a little harder to quantify, in that Batman has never lost at anything, ever. The closest I will concede, however, is the 2010 series The Return of Bruce Wayne. Following the events of the Batman RIP and Final Crisis storylines, Batman is believed dead by the DC universe, and has to fight his way through the timestream to return to Gotham. This results in a variety of great Batmans (Batmen?) throughout the ages, including Caveman Batman, Pirate Batman and Cowboy Batman. Not once does Batman choose to turn his head inside out, and therefore is a more noble warrior in defeat.
Perhaps the simplest and most direct way to compare Batman and Pac-man, however, is to simply compare their vidjagames. Let’s take the excellent Arkham games off the table, as that seems unfair. In fact, let’s compare the very first video games of both of these characters. You’ve heard of 1980’s Pac-man, but have you heard of the 1986 ZX Spectrum and Amstrad classic “Batman”?
If we break down the core Pac-man gameplay to a basic level, what is the goal? The player attempts to navigate a maze, avoid enemies, and collect all the collectables.
The core gameplay of Batman (1986)? The player attempts to navigate a maze, avoid enemies, and collect all the collectables.
There are no recognisable characters beyond the Caped Crusader himself, and all the enemies are weird monster things scattered throughout the world. The entire game takes place in the Batcave, and the plot consists of collecting all the parts of the Batcraft (a hovercraft, perhaps Batman’s most famous vehicle,) to save Robin from an unrevealed threat.
This game is just one of the many reasons I find Batman so interesting–he’s so versatile. There are many Batmans (Batmen?) due to a basic mythology filtered through so many different lenses. It’s hard to believe this game came out the same year as Dark Knight Returns, for example.
A full walkthrough of the game is available on YouTube, or you can play a full colour fan remake that was released a couple of years ago. Warning: if you choose to watch the original walkthrough below, turn the sound down/off. You’ll see why ALMOST IMMEDIATELY.
The game was received well at the time, with quality gaming publications such as the world famous Crash and Your Sinclair giving good reviews (93% and 9/10 respectively). Keep in mind, this was before we solved the crisis of corrupt gaming journalism forever in 2014, so take those scores with a pinch of salt.
So why is this game better than Pac-man? Well, for one thing, it has Batman in it. But also, it oozes charm–the variety of strange little locations, enemies and level layouts ensure prolonged interest far more than a game of Pac-man will. The isometric perspective even allows for use of the THIRD dimension! How’s the third dimension been treating you lately, Pac-man?
Next week: Ms Pac-man vs Batgirl! (Note: this is a lie, that’s not even a competition.)