By Ed Sum
This year marks the return of Pac-Man, an iconic video-game character from the 80’s, in both animated and video-game form. While this character had his own cartoon back then, which was like a blip in the radar of animated cartoon history, Pac Man and the Ghostly Adventures is an update which may blink out much the same way. The title alone does not sound all that thrilling.
The episodes are being broadcast now on Disney XD in a bid to generate interest to buy the game that’s scheduled to be released sometime during the Fall of 2013. It will be available across all platforms, the Wii, Xbox 360, PS3 and 3DS.
There is no Pac Man fever here. While this character is widely respected and the cartoon is hitting its target demographic, the older viewer may not find this CGI product all that nostalgic or inspiring. Not a lot of charm can be found in a series that takes on a few ideas from the original ‘toon. The series is designed with more of the 21st century interpretation of the icon, new video games n’ all. When part of the animation style looks like it has been borrowed from Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, the similarities must be noted. Even the etymology of the two mad scientists in both products—Sir Cumference and Professor E. Gadd—bear an eerie semblence.
At least the ghosts now have a back story. Back in the golden age of video gaming, not a lot of games had the weight of a story to tell. Unless people were playing Zork, they were products with a basic goal to reach. Arcade games were adaptive by increasing their difficulty variable after a wave of gameplay was finished. In Pac-Man, all he had to do was gobble up a ton of pills and reach a power-up in order to defeat the ghosts that were after him. If he did not he would disappear or die. As for where those Pac people go when they pass on, well, that fate is uncertain. They may come back as ghosts or their essence is passed on to the next generation. As for the other species occupying the Pac World, apparently they can come back as ghosts. That explains why Betrayus (a ghost voiced by Sam Vincent) has a grudge with President Spheros (also Sam Vincent). These two have some kind of sorted relationship which caused a rift between two “brothers.”
Even the pilot episode revealed the fact that some ghosts want—namely the ghostly gang of Inky, Pinky, Blinky and Clyde—to resume material form. Without their story (and the reveal that the ghost world is vast, varied and ruled by Betrayus) this cartoon may well be a passer than a must watch. This realm is interesting and to have this character provide much of the antagonism for the series does well to keep interest in this product alive.
Writers Tom Ruegger, Paul Rugg and Ken Pontac certainly do a good job in adapting the videogame material to a concept that makes sense. Their experience with producing video game style animated products and Animaniacs certainly helps. Sadly, they don’t push much of the ghost’s back story to viewers since the cartoon is meant to be fun and adventuresome.
The first couple of episodes is like watching an episode of iCarly just because of the crazy cast. Pacster is often accompanied by his best friend Spiral who looks like he should belong in an M&M commercial and gal-pal Cylindria who may fit in as a PowerPuff Girl. Most of their misadventures attain a certain perspective when viewers are in with Betrayus observing the ghost invasion from his TV. This concept works if these early episodes can remain consistent with that idea. Unlike Animaniacs, not all the episodes are geniunely funny. When origins need to be told, one key episode, “Pac to the Future,” reasonably works to explain what happened to Pacster’s parents and explain a bit about what the Ghost Wars were all about. Hopefully future episodes will look more into this particular bit of history. And somehow, Ms. Pac-Man, or the girl whom Pakky will meet and love will get introduced. In the original cartoon, she was his wife.
Right now, the only thing Pac Man is worried about is making the grade. He has all the typical problems a young teen may face, like concerns over being accepted by his peers and dealing with a bully. The show works to teach a younger viewer some lessons in how to deal with life, but ultimately, the series is a thinly veiled version of Ultimate Spider-Man. He is the reluctant hero. When the Pacster is responsible for accidentally activating a supernatural portal, he will have to do something to seal it. Pakky needs to realize that he has to undo what he is done. Like a child and the last of his kind, he has a lot of issues to shoulder. The series can do well to explore that more like with the episode “To Zit You or is Zit Me?”.
Puns aside, the series has the potential to be something good for both adults and youth alike. It just needs a few more episodes to establish its proper footing. Currently, the series feels like a mixed bag. The ghosts are far more interesting than the Pac Man or his pals. For the most part, Betrayus is the character to pay attention to by being the ghost with the most. This animation should be retitled to Bruticus and the Ghostly Quartret.