Category: Retro Encyclopedia

Ms. Pac-man Arcade Game

Mrs. Pac-Man

What do you give the video game that has everything? The original Pac-Man was all that a good arcade game should be easy to learn, difficult to master, incredibly addictive. Machines became choked on quarters as players plunked down coin after coin to keep munching those glowing dots. But not even millions of dollars in revenue could buy that little yellow fellow the one thing he lacked: love. So, one year later, Bally/Midway created Ms. Pac-Man.

In reality, Ms. Pac-Man was designed to address a few concerns about the original. First were the Pac-maniacs who had managed to memorize unbeatable patterns, allowing them to play for hours on a single quarter. Ms. Pac-Man fixed that little quirk by making its four ghosts – Inky, Pinky, Blinky and Sue (filling in for Clyde) smarter and therefore deadlier. The new game also featured four different mazes, each with different side exit locations, adding to the challenge for veteran gamers.

The second concern was that video game players were still predominantly male. Ms. Pac-Man’s saucy good looks were designed to change all that. The yellow, round, missing-slice body remained intact, but the Ms. knew how to accessorize-bright red lipstick, cheek mole and a red bow on top (along with a single eye, one more than her male counterpart). The game’s new look was also reflected in the brighter graphics, which changed color schemes with each new maze.

Mrs. Pac-Man

Gameplay, of course, remained the same. Ms. Pac-Man chomped her way through a maze of dots, pursued by the four ghosts. The four energizer pellets turned the tables on the spirits, allowing our hero a limited amount of time in which she could chomp them into temporary oblivion. Once a maze was cleared of dots, a new one began, occasionally preceded by an inter-act animated retelling of the Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man romance.

The only other major change was in the nature of the bonus fruit. Instead of sitting invitingly in the center of the maze, Ms. Pac-Man’s treats – cherry, strawberry, peach, pretzel, apple and more – bounced around the field, playing hard to get.

The changes may have appeared minor…some technical, some cosmetic, but they made a world of difference. Ms. Pac-Man carried on the Pac-Man family name with pride, becoming a mammoth success in its own right. Of all the Pac-Man games (and there were many), this is the one most likely to still be plugged in and ready to play in a small corner of your local arcade. She may not have been first, but in the minds of many Pac-fans, this little lady will always be the best.

Pirates of Dark Water

Pirates of Dark Water

Saturday morning cartoons got a little more grown-up with the debut of Hanna-Barbera’s Pirates of Dark Water in 1991. Blending sci-fi with swords and sorcery, the show had more in common with Japanese anime than it did with other Hanna-Barbera properties, including the similarly-themed Galtar and the Golden Lance.

Originally aired as the five-part miniseries Dark Water, the show began in the ravaged kingdom of Octopon on the planet Mer. A strapping young teen named Ren discovered a battered old man washed up on the shore near his lighthouse. The man turned out to be King Primus, former ruler of Octopon and Ren’s father. The entire planet was menaced by an evil liquid being known as Dark Water. In the past, Dark Water had been held prisoner by a ring of thirteen treasures, but somehow the entity managed to escape, and it sent its servants to scatter the treasures.

Continue reading “Pirates of Dark Water”

Do You Remember Tom Corbett, Space Cadet?

Tom Corbett Space Cadet

As television rose to prominence in the early 1950’s, it provided a new entertainment frontier for science fiction to conquer. The result was a flood of sci-fi shows like Captain Video, Space Patrol, and the ever-popular Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. Tom Corbett began his life as a character in Robert Heinlein’s 1948 novel Space Cadet. Two years later, he received his own 15-minute television show. That program’s success inspired a wide-range of tie-in items that included eight novels, a line of comic books, Halloween costumes, and (of course) plenty of toys.

Tom Corbett, Space Cadet stood apart from other space operas of the time because its main character was a teen. Since the show’s kid viewers identified with Tom, it was natural that they would want to re-enact his adventures at the Space Academy when playtime rolled around. Toy manufacturers picked up on this and produced a large assortment of toys for budding space cadets to snap up. Like many shows of its era, Tom Corbett, Space Cadet made toys available for its fans both at toy stores and as premium items available by mail or inside cereal boxes.

Tom Corbett Space Cadet SHip

Premium toys included rocket balloons, a membership kit that came complete with a decoder, a cardboard helmet with a one-way plastic “viewport,” and space goggles. One of the most amusing premium items was a set of ‘Space-O-Phones,’ a futuristic-looking plastic update of the ‘tin-can telephones’ that had been popular with kids for decades. There were also Tom Corbett, Space Cadet premiums that fans could get by purchasing the item they came with, like the free Space Rings inside boxes of Pep Cereal.

In the toy stores, Corbett fanatics could treat themselves to an array of space gadgetry. The coolest of these by far were the colorful, handsomely designed ray gun toys. There was the Space Cadet Sparkling Gun, a tommy-gun-like toy that spat sparks, and the Atomic Pistol, which let out a beam of light and made a buzzing noise when fired. Other interstellar weaponry included the Space Gun and the Space Rifle. The latter looked like a comic book weapon brought to life, making it a prized find for sci-fi toy collectors today.

Tom Corbett Space Cadet Sparkling Gun

Tom Corbett, Space Cadet ended its successful run in 1955, and the toy line was retired around that time. No attempts have been made to revive the show since then, but the popularity of the show and the merchandise it inspired live on today. Corbett merchandise, especially the prized toy ray guns, regularly changes hands among collectors and traders. The continued popularity of these toys is easy to understand—as long as people have a soft spot for the sci-fi shows that fired their imaginations as children, there will always be room on the collector’s shelf for Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.

The Dudley Do-Right Show

Dudley Do-Right

Originally just one segment on the hilarious The Bullwinkle Show, the Canadian Mountie soon brought his chin-cleft good looks and high morals to his own program, The Dudley Do-Right Show.

Dudley’s main interest, aside from his duties as a Mountie, was the fair Nell Fenwick, daughter of his boss, Inspector Ray Fenwick. But alas, Dudley’s love was unrequited. Even though the wavy-haired hero was constantly saving the redhead, she was more in love with Dudley’s horse, Horse, than she was with Dudley. Such bizarre comic fare was the norm for all the Jay Ward shows, including The Bullwinkle Show and George of the Jungle.

Many cartoons parody other genres, but who else but Ward would have thought to take on the melodrama? Every week, Dudley and Horse would free Nell from the clutches of Snidely Whiplash, whose handlebar mustache, long coat, and black top hat recalled the great silent movie villains of yesteryear. Even Snidely’s methods of torturing Nell, such as tying her to a railroad track or strapping her to a log-cutting machine, were right out of these melodramatic movies. But somehow Dudley, with his high, modulated voice screaming, “Stop in the name of the law!” always managed to save the day.

Bill Scott was the co-creator of the show, as well as Dudley’s voice, while the voice of Rocky, June Foray, played the damsel-in-distress.

Eventually, the show went off the air, but Dudley’s segments could still be seen on Rocky and Bullwinkle. The hero’s own program was also rerun in syndication under the title Dudley Do-Right and His Friends. In 1999, the show got the live-action treatment in the feature Dudley Do-Right, starring Brendan Fraser as the title mountie.

Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales

Tennessee Tuxedo

Tennessee Tuxedo lived in the Megopolis Zoo, but he yearned for more than eating fish and swimming in freezing water. The determined penguin never stopped thinking of new and different ways to make himself successful. Whether it was starting a newspaper or winning a jumping contest, Tennessee tried his hardest, proclaiming, “Tennessee Tuxedo will not fail!” At Tennessee’s side was loyal walrus Chumley, who, like most sidekicks, often pointed out the danger of Tennessee’s schemes.

Whenever they would get in over their heads (which was often), the pair would seek out the advice of Mr. Whoopee. The ambiguously employed Mr. Whoopee would impart logical, easy to understand advice to Tennessee and Chumley with the help of a three-dimensional blackboard. The animated drawings on the 3DBB explained visually how things worked. Continue reading “Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales”

The Berenstain Bears

The Berenstain Bears

The characters of the popular children’s books by Stan and Jan Berenstain came to Saturday-morning in 1985. The episodes varied little from the books, emphasizing family and good moral behavior.

Living in Beartown, the family often had to deal with important issues, such as responsibility and sharing. Many stories revolved around the family’s close relationship with their community, including neighbors Big Paw Bear, Mayor Horace T. Honeypot, and scientist Actual Factual. Other times the family would be forced to deal with trouble caused by Raffish Ralph, a villain who enjoyed conning anyone he could. Whether Ralph was plotting to control all the honey in Beartown or causing earthquakes in the little community, the Bear family always found a way to work together and defeat him.

The popular Berenstain Books easily translated to a hit animated version. By keeping the family values intact, children could still learn from the same simple lessons that the Bear children were schooled on, as well as enjoy the warm and inviting animation that they came to love in the books.

It’s Punky Brewster

It's Punky Brewsrer

One of the most talked-about new series for NBC in 1984 was Punky Brewster. The show starred newcomer Soleil Moon Frye as the latest entrant in the “cute kid” sitcom derby (Diff’rent Strokes and the like). Punky was an orphan who, along with her dog Brandon, was discovered living in an abandoned apartment by curmudgeonly old apartment manager Henry. Soon enough, Punky warmed Henry’s heart and he decided to take care of her, opening the door to weekly adventures.

After one season, Punky became popular enough with viewers that NBC decided to give her a cartoon and a contraction. It’s Punky Brewsterfeatured the same characters as the live version and most of the same cast. The new addition was Glomer, a Gazoo-like character who would magically transport Punky and friends to faraway places.

The initial popularity of the primetime Punky wore off more quickly than expected, and the sitcom left the network for syndication in 1986. The cartoon followed suit a year later.