Pac-Man (Atari 2600)


Developer: Atari
Publisher: Atari, Sears
Series: Pac-Man series
Genres: Maze
Release date(s): Northamericaflagsmall March 16, 1982
Flagofjapansmall Late 1983
System Atari 2600
Number of players One or two players
Input methods 2600 joystick

In 1982, Atari released a now infamous port of Pac-Man to their Atari 2600 system. The game was a massive success, selling over seven million copies, making it the best-selling cartridge on the 2600 - in retrospect, however, the game has been heavily criticized for its differences from the arcade original, suffering from poor controls, graphics, and sounds.


The core gameplay of the original remains the same, but there are many key differences:

  • The game uses a flicker effect to allow more sprites on the screen at a time. This can make the game hard to play if it is not on original 2600 hardware, as the flickering isn't handled well on more current devices.
  • The maze design is different, as are the sound effects and scoring system (going by intervals of 1, instead of 10 like the arcade does).
  • The ghosts always immediately pour out of the center box, even on the early levels (which is not the case with the arcade version). They also do not have four distinct personalities, meaning their movements are randomized.
  • The dots Pac-Man eats were changed to dashes and renamed to “video wafers”. There is also only one fruit, which is called a “vitamin”.
  • The Escape Route (tunnel) runs from the top and bottom of the screen, rather than the sides.
  • An extra life is earned with the clearing of each maze.

Also, 16 "games" were included on the cartridge, which are really just slight variations of the normal game mode (Note: the box says there are only eight game variations, but each one has a variation for two players).


  • Eat video wafer–1 point
  • Eat power pill–5 points
  • Eat vitamins–100 points
  • Eat ghosts–20, 40, 80, 160 points (in succession)

Game Variations

A slow or a fast-moving Pac-Man can be chosen. Variations with ghost speeds can be chosen as well, due to their ratings of having “crawl”, “walking”, “jogging” or “running” speeds, along with expert and childrens’ versions. Putting the Difficulty Switch in the A position cuts down the time the ghosts stay blue, and vitamins don’t appear onscreen for as long as when the Difficulty Switch is in the B position.


  • Atari made more cartridges for Pac-Man than they had already sold consoles. This was done because Atari was counting on people who hadn't yet purchased an Atari 2600 buying one just to play Pac-Man on. This strategy theoretically did work, but not to the extent Atari had hoped it would.
  • Pac-Man and E. T. (another universally disliked Atari 2600 game) became the scapegoats blamed for the downfall of Atari, and to an extent, the Video Game Crash of 1983. However, while E. T. has gotten much more blame than Pac-Man has, it was Atari's actions regarding Pac-Man that put them in jeopardy in the first place. All E.T. did was fail to save Atari
  • Programmer Tod Frye reportedly made a much improved 8K version (this one is only 4K in size), although supposedly Atari would not grant him a bigger budget for its release.
  • Pac-Man’s enemies were originally known as monsters. The 2600 version called them ghosts, which is the name they've stuck with ever since.
  • Pac-Man became the pack-in game for the Atari 2600 during some of its last years of production, replacing Combat.
  • There is a bug in the game where if Pac-Man dies at the top of the Escape Route while moving down, he can move through walls while the death sequence plays.
  • Originally, the game was to feature this very strange design for the boxart. Atari thought it would cause confusion, and could've scared children, so it was changed to the classic circle design.


AtariAge Pac-Man page for links to (mostly negative) reviews, among other information