Pac-Man chomping iPods

[UPDATE] Venerable Namco game to be part of new $5-per-title game catalog available on iTunes, along with Bejeweled, Tetris, Zuma, and more.

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For the better part of a year, rumors have run amok that Apple was getting into games. In May, GameSpot was told by a tech-sector recruiter that former LucasArts developer Mike Lampell was heading up a group inside Apple's storied iTunes division, which was recruiting "C/C++ coders with a 'gaming background.'"

Today at a "special event" held by Apple in San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Apple finally made it official. As of today, games will be available for download on the company's popular iTunes service. Unlike iTunes video downloads, iTunes games are not playable on a PC or Mac, only the iPod itself. The cost per game will be $4.99, the same price as many Xbox Live Arcade games.

Ironically, many of the iPod games Apple is offering are already available on Xbox Live Marketplace. Foremost among them are Namco Bandai's arcade classic Pac-Man and the puzzlers Bejeweled and Zuma, both from PopCap Games. Other available titles are Cubis 2 from FreshGames and three Electronic Arts offerings--Mahjong, Mini Golf, and the mother of all puzzle games, Tetris. Two other games, Vortex and Texas Hold 'Em are also available, but their publishers were unclear.

[UPDATE] According to Apple, "Each game plays perfectly on your iPod using the intuitive click wheel as a controller." However, the controls proved problematic to GameSpot editors who downloaded Pac-Man. The game forces players to look in two directions at once at the same time by maneuvering the titular yellow hero by using the scroll wheel to change direction on a recreation of a joystick in the lower right-hand side of the screen. The control scheme for Tetris, however, which involved pushing either the fast-forward or rewind-track buttons on the click wheel to rotate and the pause/play button to "hard drop," was more intuitive.

Unfortunately for owners of older models, all Apple games are playable only on fifth-generation video iPods, which were released last year in 30GB and 60GB versions, and the new models announced today, which will be on store shelves in 30GB and 80GB flavors in October. The new iPods will retail for $249 and $349, respectively, will be 30 percent thinner than their predecessors, and will sport screens that are 60 percent brighter and have higher resolution. Apple also announced an 8GB Nano model and a new $79 1GB iPod shuffle, though neither will be able to play games.

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