Ms. Pac-Man is a game born out of the massive success reached from Bandai Namco’s very own Pac-Man. In 1980 Pac took the world by storm, quickly turning into a gaming phenomenon. Nowadays if a game releases and has even half the success of the original Pac-Man then it’s inevitable that we will see remakes, re-releases and even clones that try to imitate that success. However, back in the golden age of arcade gaming things weren’t quite the same, instead developers looked straight to sequels to keep fans clamouring for more of their favourite little 8-bit characters.
In 1982 however, came the release of Ms Pac-Man. Developed from the success of the original Pac-Man and as a thank you to all the female players of the original game, the name Ms. Pac-Man was decided.
It became a very quick success, selling a huge number of arcade cabinets and quickly placing its stamp in arcades as another great title. In doing so, it gave the final encouragement needed for Namco to adopt Ms. Pac-Man as an official title. But why? Why was a game that was essentially the same thing as that seen just two years previously becoming such a big success? What was different about this Pac adventure? And was this simply about to become gaming’s biggest clone!
The first difference obviously is the game’s protagonist, replacing the lovely yellow dot muncher with a female version fully equipped with a bow and red lips. The changes that make the biggest difference however, are found within the gameplay. It’s still very reminiscent of the original Pac adventure however it doesn’t take many levels to notice a few very important differences that make Ms. Pac-Man stand out.
First and foremost is the maze design, there are now four different mazes played throughout the game instead of the one maze we had before and this can take quite a bit of getting used to, especially if you have spent much time with the original Pac-Man. It isn’t just some fancy new colours that change either but the addition of an extra warp tunnel in three of the four mazes give players that extra way of getting to the other side of the screen.
The next notable change very much focuses on the fruit. Firstly, our collectibles are different this time round with a new one appearing throughout the first seven levels of the game. The second change is that this time you will no longer guide your dot hungry Pac lady all the way to the middle of the screen to collect your five a day. Instead a chase is required with the fruit now entering the maze through one of the warp tunnels on screen before bobbing around the maze. Unless you are quick enough to avoid each of the ghosts and grab your fruit then you can quickly see it leave through another of the tunnels, taking that valuable bonus score with it! The final change here is that after level seven a completely random fruit will enter the maze – sometimes it’ll bring you 5000 points, other times you’ll be left to struggle with 100. Gaining that much needed extra life can take much longer unless luck is on your side!
The enemies have also had a little edit from the days of Pac-Man. It’s not the look or even the purpose of the enemies that see the variety but it is with the way these pesky little ghosts behave. For many Pac-Man players it wasn’t all too obvious that the ghosts in the original game all had their own patterns and whilst the pattern changes every single time, with enough time and patience put into the game it is possible to learn the moves each one makes. So in order to stop this, each ghost has been given semi-random movement just in order to confuse you a little. Oh, and the other very minor change is that Clyde has now become Sue. Obviously.
The overall maze designs, and both the intro and death music have also obviously changed. There are also some interesting intermissions between certain levels, with the game now introducing Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man followed by a stork dropping off a baby Pac, something which points to the introduction of Jr. Pac-Man later in the series. The rest of the gameplay features are identical to the original Pac with dots still earning ten points on collection and full dot consumption being required before progression is gained to the next level. With the changes in place, playing through Ms Pac-Man in the same way as you would its predecessor will result in death much quicker than expected. Something which I was quick to find out. Instead players will need to learn when to use each of the teleporting tunnels within the maze and when best to grab those powerful pellets in order to progress to the later stages.
The one main flaw with this game, (and also with many produced in the 80’s) is that the coding isn’t entirely set for the elite players. With Pac-Man we had the famous level 256 bug and again we see it hit home with the female variety. The possibility of reaching level 256 is almost impossible due to other similar game ending bugs potentially popping up throughout the later levels, with the most notable being the one involved in level 142. Of course this in no way ruins the game – after all this is a game in which progression is based on pure instinct and reaction times rather than a linear storyline, however this is something the Namco guys didn’t want to leave out and so with this re-release comes another of gaming’s best fixes. Put in place within the options menu is the opportunity to play through to the tougher levels with the level 142 or 256 bugs turned off.
Other gameplay variations can be changed of course with options added to enable the player to start from any round previously reached or with extra valuable lives. There is also the chance to reset the high score board in the event that the one friend we all have who is good at everything comes and places that impossible to catch score over your best effort. Wipe and you can shine again!
With the new changes throwing the rule book out the window what’s stopping you diving back in for round two with lady Pac? Ms. Pac-Man is a great game with enough gameplay changes and tweaks made to make it unique. It is more than worth buying, especially if you’re a dedicated Pac-master.