How many Pac-man inspired titles exist in the world? Well, one possible answer would be: as many Space Invaders and Arkanoid ones. These arcade classics were among the basic steps for anyone wanting to program an arcade-like title: (deceptively) easy to program and a surefire hit with gamers who, back then, didn’t really have a lot of expectations. Rootin’Tootin’ (which actually makes me think of a game like High Noon…) is probably one of the best early Pac-man-like one could find, but before arriving to the Commodore 64, we have to spend some time in the arcade.
It was Data East that first developed Rootin’Tootin (or La-pa-pa, as it’s known in Japan) for the arcades, in 1983, a year after the original Pac Man release. Unfortunately, it is not easy to find much information beyond that, so I’m not able to credit the original designer this time.
Rootin’Tootin’ is a fast paced maze game with a musical theme, the player manoeveurs a tuba trying to catch all musical notes in order to finish the “pattern” (level). Unfortunately, the rest of the orchestra is out for… hmm… tempo (BA DUM TSS) and hell bent on sending the poor tuba to its maker. While the freedom of movement is the same as the classic Namco title, the game adds his own spin on things: the notes collected are immediately launched around and can, thus, be used as bullets if directioned against enemies.
Also, all musical instruments have different powers to use against the tuba: some shoot, others drop additional notes for the player to collect. The piano enemy (Pianha) can actually chase the tuba around the level, completely disregarding the scale! There’s also extra lives to grab and a 1/8 rest which acts like a power pill, freezing all enemies. Also, the tuba can become temporarily invulnerable with the press of the single fire button.
The C64 conversion was develope by Bryce Nesbitt, one of these pretty much unknown programmers who apparently worked on only one game (he was the inventor of the 1541 Flash disk drive) and it was definitely a labor of love. The fast paced gameplay is smooth and fun and the one button design lends itself easily to the C64. The difficulty is, curiously enough, ramped up from the original arcade since all enemies move quicker and appear at a faster rate if the tuba isn’t fast enough to collect all the notes.
Every feature of the original – like the notes shot by the tuba potentially killing off the extra lives or bonuses – is mantained but Nesbitt also went one step beyond and wrote a terribly catchy tune for the soundtrack, which is the same for all levels but with different instruments playing it. One of these simple design idea to add some variety without much effort. It is also possible to turn off the music and keep the sound effects, which I know sounds pretty average but for 1983 was a pretty advanced feature.
While the graphics are less colorful than their arcade counterpart, they definitely hold their own as an early C64 title in replicating all the different enemies and features. Also – quite subjectively – the black/blue color scheme is easier on the eyes than the original red/olive green which ended up being a bit tiring after ten minutes of playing. The only real downside – if one can call it that – is that the home computer conversion presents the levels in a weirdly random fashion after the first four, but then again, it’s pretty hard to go beyond five levels without losing all lives. The manual says “we know of 21 levels” so I guess even the publisher wasn’t sure how long the game was supposed to go on for!
Rootin’ Tootin’ is the perfect example that a game inspired by the classics that still manages to be fun and refreshing even though the design looks to be all to familiar. In the arcade original, Data East managed to take and slightly tweak Pac-man’s design, as to be more difficult and unpredictable, with the musical theme also being a nice touch. Ironically enough, the only thing the game was missing was a memorable mascotte, since the Tuba is a quirky option but not really a character like Pac-man would turn out to be.
My version on the C64 was called “Strike up the band” which was a rather brilliant title, if a bit long. I loved to play this game as a small child and, after Burger Time, it was one of the very few arcade conversions on the C64 that I found myself coming back to again and again. I will never know for sure which is the first game I ever played in my life, but Rootin is definitely in that Top 10 list as one of my earliest childhood memories.
Mr Nesbitt’s work still shines through with its brilliant gameplay and infectious music. Since the official Pac Man conversion on C64 was derived from the Atari one, hence leaves much to be desired, I’d say this is definitely a potential candidate for the best Pac-man-like on the Commodore 8 bit home computer. Definitely recommended for a spin!