Review by Ryan Harrison
As much as it is regarded as one of the classics from the golden era of arcade gaming, the original Pac-Man game, I felt, wasn't quite perfect as there were a handful of potential areas where a few tweaks could have been made for some slight improvement. Said areas where there was potential improvement must have also gone noticed by Midway, who duly delivered a tremendous follow-up game that takes the original Pac-Man formula and makes a few minor changes and additions. The end result is what I'd consider marginally better though still perhaps maybe not quite so much as for me to notch the score up from the 9 out of 10 I gave the original Pac-Man.
Ms. Pac-Man, the 1981 sequel to the famous pellet-gobbling smash hit game doesn't change a great deal too much so those who are already familiar with the first game should feel right at home when playing this one. As before, the aim is to control the yellow circular being, manoeuvre your way around the map screen and consume all the pellets laid out, all while steering clear of the ghosts who will relentlessly chase after you the whole time. Power-ups and bonus items for more points come into play as ever, with the most notable difference in Ms. Pac-Man being obvious from the title: you control the female version of Pac-Man - his partner who exhibits all the same traits as her fella, only being distinguished by her eyelashes, bow and lipstick, and a different death animation.
In Ms. Pac-Man, the action takes place in an overhead-view maze lined with corridors, corners and portals that the player must navigate the heroine through in order to collect all the pellets and keep away from the pursing ghosts, with maze layouts changing after clearing a few boards, and the overall aim being to see how many rounds you can get through and how high a score you can achieve before you eventually lose all of your lives. It's a very simple and easily understood objective but still such an addictive game that it has stood the test of time, and these days remains as charming and fun as ever to come back to time and time again.
As a means of temporarily protecting yourself from the ghosts that chase Ms. Pac-Man around the map, one can find power pellets, which are much larger in size than regular pellets, placed in a few specific locations around the board. When Ms. Pac-Man consumes one, ghosts will turn blue and run away frightened, giving you the opportunity to chase after and consume them for extra points, with more and more points being scored if you can defeat several ghosts in succession on one power pellet.
However, much like before, you'll notice that the further you get on into the game, the shorter this invincibility effect will last, and the ghosts will also be a little quicker and trickier to anticipate. Underneath the pen in which the ghosts start at the beginning of a stage or where they briefly return when caught by a powered-up Ms. Pac-Man, a fruit item will occasionally appear that can be snagged for extra points (the amount depending on the type of item).
Control in the game is again very easy to understand as all the action is controlled with the mere use of the cabinet's control stick to make Ms. Pac-Man move in the corresponding direction that is held down if it is possible for her to go in that direction. It is perfect for the job and the control response is instant, though I still occasionally found that due to the frantic speeds this game can often reach, Ms. Pac-Man may still occasionally fail to turn a corner you want to head into in order to avoid an oncoming ghost!
The game come with a few simple trademark musical melodies, though the main action itself is done without any background music, instead letting the sound effects do the talking. Most of what you'll hear are still the classic Pac-Man sounds of gobbling pellets and ghosts shrieking as they run from you once you get a power pellet. There's not a whole lot else to hear besides this, but the sounds go with the game very well, and all the music and sound effects are identifiable.
Graphics of the game are the classic old-school stuff that aren't by any means the most impressive you'll ever see, but they work and do the job perfectly for this game due to their simplicity. The mazes just go with bog-standard black backgrounds, while walls are denoted by their thin blue outlines. The detailing on Ms. Pac-Man makes her stand out and easily distinguished from her male counterpart, and the colouring and detailing on each of the four ghosts - Inky, Pinky, Blinky and Sue (another subtle change from the predecessor) - all look good and give them a distinctive and identifiable look. Ms. Pac-Man also goes with a different death animation in that when caught she simply spins around in circles. After clearing a few boards, you also get to watch some cool, brief cut-scenes that tell a little story starring the main characters from the Pac-Man franchise, which I thought was a nice and entertaining extra touch.
These aside, the graphics are all the same as to what you would have been used to in the original Pac-Man game; recognisable though not the most appealing stuff on the eye you'll ever see from an arcade game.
This game is one that is easy to play and understand, though can potentially take a lifetime to master. As was the case with so many of these old-school arcade gems, the key to getting better and mastering games like these lies in understanding the gameplay mechanics and 'reading' the game; by anticipating enemy behaviour, knowing where to go to evade the ghosts and having a good deal of hand-eye coordination, you'll find the game to have a pretty firm, through reasonable challenge factor.
Ms. Pac-Man is by the nature of its simple gameplay, a very enjoyable and addictive game. With that little bit extra to offer compared to its predecessor you could very well find yourself coming back to this one more often than not due to it keeping the classic gameplay style though offering a slight bit more variety with the map layouts. If playing on an original cabinet, newcomers could very well find themselves unloading a fair amount of change into it to keep coming back and trying to obtain as high a score as possible and make the leaderboard, while experts could very well end up spending a couple of hours without having to spend an awful lot. It is a very enjoyable and addictive time-waster that is great to pick up and play, and can take anywhere from a couple of minutes to an hour or two off your hands at any one time.
Overall, Ms. Pac-Man is an excellent game and makes a couple of nice tweaks to make it a slight improvement over the original. The control and gameplay are very easily understood, and the incentive to clear as many maps, and amass as many points in your score as you can could very well see you returning many a time over. For fans of the old-school gems and those who appreciate the titles of the past, as well as fans of the Pac-Man franchise, I would very strongly recommend taking a look at this one, whether playing on an original arcade cabinet or by other means on a home console. Now, get gobblin'!
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Ms. Pac-Man (US, 12/31/81)
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