For a couple months now, I’ve seen cans of Red Bull with Pac-Man on them. Not being a Red Bull drinker, I thought it was interesting, but didn’t pay it any mind, really. But today my curiosity finally got the best of me, and I really got to wondering: what is going on here, and more importantly, why?
Red Bull’s Pac-Man promotion mainly involves Bandai Namco’s Pac-Man mobile game. Under the tabs of these cans, there is a code which you can input into the game to earn special in-game currency, which you use to unlock your choice of special Red Bull-themed mazes. So that’s what Red Bull is getting out of the deal: buy more cans, get more mazes. I guess that’s simple enough.
So, purely in the name of research, I bought a can of Red Bull and downloaded the Pac-Man app. There, they got my sale.
The game is free, and I suppose I should be chastised for not already having it, but whatever. Actually, as much as I love Pac-Man, the mobile version is far from the ideal way to play it. I’m not a big fan of the swiping control, and the timing and pacing of the game is way off. Still, it’s hard to pass up a free game of Pac-Man, so it’s an okay way to pass some time.
Anyway, you enter your Red Bull code into the app and pick from a few different sets of new mazes, all of which are somehow Red Bull-themed. One looks like the bull logo, one resembles a can, another has the Red Bull car parked in the middle of it. I picked the one that looked like the bull logo.
As a Pac-Man maze, the bull logo board itself is not great from a playability standpoint. But finishing that maze leads to more mazes, and the next one is decidedly less Red Bull-themed and more Ms. Pac-Man-esque in its design. The layout is nice and there are a few dangerous paths to carefully traverse. There are also some paths that are only accessible via the edge-of-screen tunnels, which is a pretty interesting design feature that I don’t think we’ve really seen in a Pac-Man game before, so that’s actually rather cool.
The Red Bull mazes also introduce a new gameplay twist. Enter the bouncing Red Bull can, again echoing Ms. Pac-Man’s bonus fruits as it travels around the maze for you to catch. When Pac-Man grabs the can, he’s surrounded by an electrical charge which allows him to pass right through ghosts even when they’re not in power-pellet blue form, and also zaps ghosts that are down the corridor from him for bonus points.
If you don’t have the app, but you have a 7-11 convenience store near you, there are also custom Red Bull Pac-Man arcade machines on display, complete with a refrigerator in the bottom. Of course, you can play the new Red Bull mazes on these units as well.
To round out the promotion, there’s a dedicated website at pac-man.redbull.com which has some extra features like a soundboard to play around with (the site tends to actually work better on mobile than desktop, from what I can tell).
This still leaves me with my main question, however, which is: Why? Why did Red Bull, a colossal modern brand, team up with Pac-Man, a nearly 40-year-old nostalgia franchise, in 2018?
Well, retrogaming seems to be getting hotter these days, and becoming a mainstream interest (which is a topic I’m delving into in issue 2 of the Retro Game SuperHyper fanzine, should you be interested in reading more about it). Also, Red Bull does have a big presence in the gaming scene, sponsoring some pretty big e-sports tournaments and actually having a “Gaming” section as part of their official website. The official press release from Red Bull mentions “…combining two iconic brands born in the 80’s,” even though it originated as “Krating Daeng” in Thailand in 1976, was modified and introduced as “Red Bull” in Austria in 1984, and didn’t make it to the US until 1997 (thanks Wikipedia). So to link them as ’80s brands seems a bit of a stretch to me, but at least there’s the gaming connection. The press release goes on to include a cheeky quote from Toshihiko Naoe, Bandai-Namco’s Director of Mobile: “After nearly 40 consecutive years of chasing ghosts, even PAC-MAN sometimes needs a Red Bull…We’re excited to unite these two revolutionary brands for an electrifying partnership. We can’t wait to see fans take a bite out of the brand-new in-game content, available via a Red Bull Energy Drink PAC-MAN can.”
The thing is, I’m personally not crazy about Red Bull. I drank about half my can today and dumped the rest — btw, have I mentioned that this is not a sponsored post or commercial endorsement? Some of my coworkers are Red Bull drinkers however, so I suppose I can just get a few more codes from them and check out the rest of the mazes on the app. But regardless of whether you drink the product or not, this is an interesting cross-promotion that actually brings something to the gaming side, and not just some new graphics on a drink can. And I’m all for bringing back a little touch of the Pac-Man Fever, aren’t you?