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'Pac-Man' on Amazon's Alexa isn't at all like 'Pac-Man'

Not my first choice for a narrative-based video-game adventure.
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Bandai Namco

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Pac-Man might never have left the public eye, but with Wreck-it Ralph, Pixels and Ready Player One, the iconic elder statesman of gaming is now in front of people that may have never touched an arcade joystick. To that extent, Pac-Man's latest 'game' makes sense — it's arriving on Amazon's Alexa as a skill today.

Pac-Man Stories is more bed-time tale than arcade throwback, and will encompass several stories aimed at the family. 'Pac-Man and the Ghastly Garbage' is the first title, and as Lee Kirton, Chief Pac-Man Officer (real title), explained to me, it's a "choose your own adventure" kind of experience. It'll combine moral decisions, interactions with characters and lightweight, kid-friendly puzzles. There's an educational tone to it all, but when most kids have a blank slate with regards to Pac-Man, why not?

"It is a story, but also a game. You'll earn Power Pellets depending on the choices and decisions you make," explained Kirton. I tested it out earlier this week, and it sounds like a kids' audiobook, albeit peppered with occasional Pac-Man melodies and chip loops. Fortunately, the audio interface is pretty slick and it's easy to figure out what you need to say to the speaker.

It's smartly tailored to appear like you can say anything to some characters in the game, even if there are only a handful of genuine answers that will move the story along. (For example: you press an intercom and are allowed to say, well, whatever you want. Alas, the doorman can't hear you. Cue sad trumpet noise.)

Alexa is reliably sensitive to what you say, and cartoon character-esque voices are inoffensive and appropriate: Bandai Namco has put some effort into this at least -- even if it's not really a Pac-Man game, pellets or no pellets.

According to Kirton, the stories will each be "unique in their own way" while featuring new real-world characters and other famous characters -- hopefully that kids will recognize. Bandai Namco insists that "over 90 percent" of the population still recognize Pac-Man, and this project is aimed at maintaining that familiarity.

It's the first launch for Bandai Namco's Europe-based innovation department, and reaching people beyond another re-released arcade game is key. Kirton added: "All our stories will focus on something important that affects the world. Our aim is simply to provide a fun experience that is different to any other experience and on a platform we like a lot -- Amazon Echo."

The challenge will be figuring out what new fans are looking for when it comes to Pac-Man. Given how much gaming has evolved, the big yellow guy has at least gone in a different direction. The Alexa skill is English-only for now, and launches in the US, UK and Ireland today. More stories will roll out this summer.

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Mat once failed an audition to be the Milkybar Kid, an advert creation that pushed white chocolate on gluttonous British children. Two decades later, having repressed that early rejection, he moved to Japan, learned the language, earned his black belt in Judo and returned to UK, and soon joined Engadget's European team. After a few years leading Engadget's coverage from Japan, reporting on high-tech toilets and robot restaurants as Senior Editor, he now heads up our UK bureau in London.

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