In the great pantheon of video games, few titles loom so large as Pac-Man. Developed by Namco and released in 1980, the game was wildly successful, creating legions of devoted fans.
That same year, Commodore released the 8 bit VIC-20. It marked an important step in the world of home computing, as the first truly affordable unit available to the public. It sold for $299.95. By comparison, the original price point for the Apple II, released three years earlier, was $2638.00. The Commodore PET, released the same year as the Apple II, sold for $795.
Video games became one of the primary uses for the new system and a wide variety of titles were developed for it. Commodore also ported a number of games to the system. One of those titles was Jelly Monsters.
Jelly Monsters was the American and European given name given to the VIC-20’s port of Pac-Man. Commodore had received the right to distribute Pac-Man in Japan and HAL Laboratory set about adapting the game for the VIC-20. However, in the 1970s Atari had purchased the home rights to many of Namco’s arcade titles, including Pac-Man. With Atari already in possession of the rights, Commodore adopted the name Jelly Monsters for their version hoping that this would avoid any sticky legal situations. It didn’t work.
Commodore’s Jelly Monsters was released in 1981, a year before Atari would release Pac-Man for the 2600. Atari quickly sued Commodore to have the title removed from shelves and won. Jelly Monsters was no more. The rub being that Jelly Monsters appears to have been the superior game. Of the Atari version, Electronic Games Magazine wrote, “Considering the anticipation and considerable time the Atari designers had to work on it, it’s astonishing to see a home version of a classic arcade contest so devoid of what gave the original its charm.” It didn’t get better with age either. Looking back on the version for the 2600, Next Generation magazine called it the “worst coin-op conversion of all time.” Jelly Monsters, by comparison, has been widely noted for its playability. Even the 1983 version of Pac-Man released for the VIC-20 by Atarisoft is considered inferior to Commodore’s original adaptation.
Despite its superior game play Jelly Monsters was reduced to a minor footnote in the story of Pac-Man, a curiosity in the cut-throat business of video games.