The Power Pellet In Pac-Man Shifted Power Back To The Players


Nothing cures Pac-Man's appetite like downing a power pellet and munching on ghosts

July 15, 2022

Video game power-ups provide all kinds of colorful ways for you to smite your enemies and send them to that big pixelated cloud in the sky. And what better way to assert dominance over your enemies than by simply eating them alive? That was the power bestowed to you in the 1980 classic Pac-Man. By digesting the famed Power Pellet, Pac-Man would gobble up enemy ghosts while you gobbled up those who rank above you at your local arcade.

It’s fitting because the creation of the powerup was influenced by the famous cartoon Popeye, who gained massive amounts of strength and abilities after he ate spinach – often during his most pressing times of need. What makes the Power Pellet one of the best – and one of the most important – powerups in video games is that you need to consume it in order to beat the game and stay alive. The Power Pellet is credited as the first powerup in video game history, which makes it very important for the medium.


Each board in the game contains 240 pellets, four of which are Power Pellets. In order to not lose a life by running into one or more of the ghosts who chase you across each board, you have to eat the Power Pellets to flip the odds in your favor and gain more points. The Power Pellets make the ghosts turn blue for 10 seconds, during which time you can eat them and send them back to their box at the center of the stage.

The Power Pellet becomes more and more important as you progressed, with the ghosts getting faster and faster, and spending less time in the ghost chamber on each board. Their increased speed mixed with their various types of movements also forced you to be more cautious about how many of the Power Pellets you used within a certain time frame. If you gobbled them up too early then you were stuck with having to navigate the later boards containing the faster ghosts with no way to physically eliminate them. Using all four of the Power Pellets too early would shift all of the power in their favor for a longer period of time and put you in a constant state of flight.

The ghosts became more aggressive in the later stages and would chase, corner, and ambush you rather than using more random movements like they did in earlier stages. If you spaced out the consumption of Power Pellets tactically, then you could turn the ghosts’ increased aggression against them by lining them up just as you ate the Pellet, creating a feast for Pac-Man and a bounty of points for you – not to mention an escape out of their multi-colored ambushes.

As the years passed and different video game series came out, the influence of the Power Pellet and the invulnerability it gave could be seen more and more, shifting power away from enemies and back to the players. In Super Mario Bros, Mario and Luigi can use stars to become invulnerable and defeat them by just running right through them for 12 seconds – the length of the star power differs in each game. If you use the clock item in The Legend of Zelda you can freeze enemies in place and if Link does not take contact damage if he runs into them. Grabbing the green orb in Doom gave you nearly 30 seconds of invulnerability and allowed you more time to clear out demon-infested areas when you were low on health.

Many games put the power back into players’ hands with this powerup, and we have Pac-Man to thank for it.

Nick Battaglia

Nick Battaglia is a Features Writers For DualShockers with a specialty in writing about accessibility in video games. Though his gaming journey began with Super Mario Bros. 3, he finds himself wandering Los Angeles looking for a Galaga cabinet to spend his time in front of. When he's not spending quarters he can be found returning the Lakers back to prominence in NBA 2K.

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