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PAC-MAN FEVER

Ainsworth launches first in a series of slot machines created in partnership with video-game giant BANDAI NAMCO ENTERTAINMENT

By Frank Legato

 

There’s a lot of talk these days about how casinos need to cater to players of the millennial generation. Slot-makers are offering up gaming machines that mimic the video games young players grew up enjoying on home game consoles and, more recently, on their smartphones.

But what is arguably the granddaddy of modern video games has been a constant not only to those twentysomethings, but to their parents as well. In fact, this game was born before the oldest millennials.

When the arcade game PAC-MAN was released in 1980 by Japanese game company Namco—Now BANDAI NAMCO ENTERTAINMENT —it revolutionized the young video-game business. Before PAC-MAN, the arcades supplemented the baby boomers’ beloved pinball machines with simple sports and shooter games.

PAC-MAN was something completely different—a grid containing a maze of dots through which the player would manipulate the game’s main character—a hungry little guy shaped like a pizza with a slice missing—on a quest to gobble up all the “pac-dots” while avoiding one of four enemies, ghosts named Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde. The player gained points and “Power Pellets,” which turned the tables and allowed them to temporarily eat the enemies.

PAC-MAN was an entirely different experience than what existed at the time, and it quickly became part of U.S. pop culture. It even spawned a hit song by Akron duo Buckner & Garcia, “Pac-Man Fever,” that hit No. 9 on the Billboard charts in 1982 (way better than its follow-up, “Do the Donkey Kong”).

The popularity of the game and the brand was not lost on executives of Australian slot manufacturer Ainsworth Game Technology, which has been making great strides in North American casinos for the past few years, and particularly since it opened its new U.S. headquarters in Las Vegas last year.

This spring, Ainsworth launches its own version of PAC-MAN for the slot floor. It is part of an exclusive partnership deal with BANDAI NAMCO under which Ainsworth will create slot games based on any of hundreds of titles from the Japanese game master—which include not only scores of PAC-MAN sequels, but a laundry list of household-name titles.

You will see Ainsworth slots based on a lot of those titles, but according to Mike Dreitzer, President-North America for Ainsworth Game Technology, there could be no better start to the partnership than the game that started it all.

“PAC-MAN is, hands down, the most popular video game in history,” Dreitzer says. “And, it speaks to players of all adult ages. They remember playing PAC-MAN as kids. People are just going to love it—because everyone loves PAC-MAN.”

PAC-MAN WILD EDITION, the slot game, was developed in close collaboration with designers from the Japanese owner of the band. “BANDAI NAMCO had a lot of involvement in the game design and development,” says Dreitzer. “There was a lot of collaboration; we had the best of both worlds.”

“PAC-MAN was designed by BANDAI NAMCO and our team to really heavily use the PAC-MAN ghosts, the fruit— all aspects of the original PAC-MAN games,” adds Ainsworth Product Marketing Manager Cody Herrick. “That includes the sounds—you get the ‘wakka wakka,’ the electronic music and other familiar sounds. It’s the real stuff, and players are going to recognize it immediately.”

PAC-MAN WILD EDITION is scheduled to hit casino floors in April and May.

RESPECTING THE BRAND

The fact Ainsworth collaborated with BANDAI NAMCO in developing the game means the new PAC-MAN WILD EDITION slots will remain true to the hit game that everyone knows and loves.

The base game is a 30-line video slot on the new A640 cabinet, featuring a high-definition, 40-inch vertical touch-screen video monitor, a 5.1 surround-sound system and a touch-screen button deck, with the classic “bash button” for spinning the video reels.

The game is packed with special wild features and bonus events, all harkening back to the familiar PAC-MAN franchise.

One of those bonus events can lead to one of three progressive jackpots—a Mini resetting at $25 or $50 (depending on the version offered by your casino), a Minor resetting at $200 or $400, and the Major prize, starting at $2,000 or $4,000. You must bet the maximum—$ 1.50 or $3 per spin, depending on the version—to qualify for the progressive. Minimum bets are typically 30 credits or 60 credits, but you’ll be well-advised to wager up to the max as soon as you can build up a nice credit bank—this is a more frequently hitting prize than most progressives out there.

But there are plenty of special features in this game aside from the progressives. Some of them are initiated on an extra row of reel symbols above the standard three-by-five reel grid. For instance, there are the eponymous PAC-MAN Wilds. During the primary game, whenever a PAC-MAN symbol appears on the extra top line of symbols, it drops down to make every symbol on the corresponding main reel wild. It can happen on any of the five reels in both primary and free-game spins.

“This can line up huge wins—big four- or five-of-a-kind combinations,” says Herrick. “It can also help you get into one of the other features.”

Other bonuses include the Fruit Feature, triggered when a PAC-MAN symbol appears on the first reel and a fruit symbol appears on the fifth reel. PAC-MAN gobbles his way across the row of symbols to eat the fruit. That awards a multiplier of 2X, 3X or 5X, applied to the base-game win.

Three PAC-MAN symbols scattered anywhere on the reels trigger a unique free-games feature. The base-game reels expand from three to nine rows, creating a reel set with 90 paylines (three times the lines in the primary game). The triggering spin awards eight free games in the lucrative special format, with five additional free games triggered when three PAC-MAN symbols land scattered on a free spin.

The extra row of symbols above the main reel set again comes into play for the feature triggering a possible progressive. Three “bonus key” symbols on the top line trigger the Wheel Feature. A giant bonus wheel appears on the screen. The player touches the screen to spin to win one of several credit awards or the Jackpot Feature.

If the wheel lands on the Jackpot Feature, the screen transforms to display the classic PAC-MAN video game grid, with our hero poised to take one of three paths through the familiar maze of dots and ghosts. The player picks one of the three routes. PAC-MAN then proceeds through the maze to chase down one of the ghosts, corresponding to one of the three progressive jackpots.

The wheel feature’s really intriguing,” says Herrick. “The graphics and the way they designed it are just extraordinary. The feel to the game and the PAC-MAN license is absolutely, 100 percent there, and it’s a really fun play.”

JUST THE BEGINNING

PAC-MAN WILD EDITION, which is likely to arrive at a casino near you within the coming months, is only the first fruit of the new partnership between Ainsworth and BANDAI NAMCO. “We have access to a significant suite within the BANDAI NAMCO family,” says Dreitzer. “They are a terrific partner. They’ve got a lot of ideas for games, a lot of fresh concepts, and a lot of opportunities to work toward making skill games in the future. We’re in the process of pitching our next titles beyond PAC-MAN.”

The potential for injecting skill into slot games—a trend beginning to gain steam with launches of new slots based on video games—means the possibility exists that sometime in the future you’ll be able to apply those skills you honed at the arcade or pizza shop in your youth to make money on a possible skill-based PAC-MAN, not to mention any of a host of other BANDAI NAMCO planned for the next few years.

“This relationship (with BANDAI NAMCO ) starts with this version of PAC-MAN,” Dreitzer says.

“And we are going to be utilizing this relationship strategically for titles within the BANDAI NAMCO library moving forward. In terms of skill elements, we will always look to find ways to maximize the player’s entertainment experience based on what the regulations allow.

Dreitzer says Ainsworth representatives will be on hand for many of the casino launches of PAC-MAN, to join with casino officials in officially unveiling the new game—literally, pulling a blanket off the cabinets for a “ta-dah” moment at each casino.

“This is the biggest brand we have ever offered at Ainsworth,” Dreitzer says. “The game looks amazing, and it’s packed with bonuses that will attract both slot fanatics and PAC-MAN fans.”

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