Ms. Pac-Man

The only hall of fame she'll be inducted in is the alcohol of fame on the wall of shame...

Source // Wikipedia

Back in the day, I thought Ms. Pac-Man was little more than a reskin of Pac-Man. The cynical side of me would be shouting 'Cash grab! Cash grab!' but nowadays, the more learned figure that I hope I am knows how wrong such statements are.

Ms. Pac-Man has a murky past. Perhaps not murky, but not as simple as you might imagine, starting life as another game before being shown to Midway, who were impatiently waiting for an official sequel to Pac-Man from Namco... in the rush to get something out into the public, anything of merit would do. This game would indeed do.

Given time and practice, Pac-Man can be beaten with the aid of your memory, not necessarily your skills. It would lose its challenge if you were dedicated enough to do so. For the everyday gamer looking for a quick round to pass the time, that isn't such a big deal, but for the hardcore gamer, it's not going to cut it.

Enter Ms. Pac-Man, with her multiple mazes, moving bonus items and randomized ghost movements. It is the very definition of 'improving on the original', and like the original, I'm going to try it out across a number of versions (definitely not because I can't run the arcade version).

Atari 2600, 1982


No really, yup. In stark contrast to the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man is rather playable. There's still some delay with directional input, possibly because of emulation or lack of skill, but if it's all you've got you'll pass the time with no problems. It's Pac-Man done properly, and if you believe Wikipedia, it was done so properly that it won awards for doing so.

The Wak-O-Meter says: Waka

NES, 1990

Displaying a full maze is still tricky on some devices, regardless of who makes the port it seems. While Pac-Man showed a full maze - albeit slightly squashed - years earlier, Ms. Pac-Man went with the idea of scrolling along with the player.

This is what we now know as "Not the best of ideas".

Do you want to check on your score? Move yourself towards the top of the maze. Want to know how many lives you have left? Move yourself to the bottom of the maze. Thankfully, the view is large enough that, for the most part, you don't encounter problems that we'll see below. A lapse in concentration might put you in a tricky position after the scroll, but the response is fairly snappy.

All in all, assuming you don't care too much about the HUD info, it's a worthy port. Levels, options, and even two player modes are available to tweak your experience.

The Wak-O-Meter says: Waka Wak

Game Boy, 1993

Back when I was playing Pac-Man on the Game Boy, I pointed out that grayscale wasn't a great choice when you needed to identify ghosts based on colour. With randomised ghost behaviour in Ms. Pac-Man however, colour isn't necessary. You can't plan ahead too much, and have to rely on your wits and reactions.

Emphasis on reactions because, as you've guessed, we're back to a scrolling maze with a hefty zoom too. You don't see much, and when you don't have a clue what the ghosts are doing and where they're doing it, chances are you'll find yourself walking into them sooner or later.

As a game of Pac-Man on the move, it'll do the job, but it's trickier thanks to the AI improvements.

The Wak-O-Meter says: Waka Wah

Atari 7800, 1987

Hopping back over to the Atari, this time the 7800, we see a drastic leap in the graphics department, but then you could have guessed that would happen. Gameplay doesn't change much throughout versions, though you can choose which fruit you start out hunting. Could have sworn I left it at cherries, but no, there's a strawberry there.

The Wak-O-Meter says: Waka Wah

Game Boy Color, 1999

And back to the Game Boy family, with the Special Color Edition release on the Game Boy Color. More of the same: zoom, scrolls, difficulty knowing for sure just where you are in relation to danger.

Nearly a third of the screen is taken up with the scores and lives, making the game feel squashed and frantic. With Pac-Man, I uhm and ahhed at whether that made it better or worse, because it does mean the gameplay is tweaked a little thanks to the new view.

Moving fruit takes a while to track down sometimes, and hopefully by the time you reach it you won't have run into a ghost out of nowhere.

The Wak-O-Meter says: Waka Wak

Final Word

You can't really go wrong wi-- no, I've done that one...

Ms. Pac-Man does what Pac-Man did and then a lil bit more. Maybe even more than that, depending on who you ask. Some think she should get all the acclaim over her 'overbearing husband', for example. I wouldn't go that far.

Is Pac-Man really overbearing? Are we going to point out that the old-school Pac-Man cabinets made him look like a bit of a doofus, whereas the Ms. Pac-Man cabinet had her in a pin-up pose seducing the ghosts she's no doubt about to devour for a few hundred points?

It's the Internet, so we could, but I won't, for it's far better to play than to look at, in any form you can find.

Fun Fact

Just like Pac-Man, the game just won't handle level 256, though Ms. Pac-Man has more bugs meaning more problems far earlier than that (and there's even a handy webpage detailing them: "Bride of Kill Screen" by Don Hodges)

Ms. Pac-Man, developed by General Computer Corporation / Midway, first released in 1982.
Versions played: Atari 2600, 1982, via emulation.
NES, 1990, via emulation.
Game Boy, 1993, via emulation.
Atari 7800, 1987, via emulation.
Game Boy Color, 1999, via emulation.