Review by Golden Road

Reviewed: 01/04/04

Mommy, How Do Pac-Men Have Babies?

Video game hacks; they're not hard to find nowadays. Some may be masterpieces, but more often than not, they're not particularly good. Still, they're free. The creators of the hacks aren't making any money off their creations.

Go back more than 20 years, and you find things were quite different; a time with hacks of video games commercially released. A time when a game that was a hack of Pac-Man might've been released without creator Namco's consent. A game like Ms. Pac-Man.

While Namco was busy creating an official sequel to Pac-Man (Super Pac-Man), their business associate for the US, Midway, was impatient. They wanted something new, something now, something wow! Or maybe not something wow; truth is, Midway wasn't overly picky. They've created several Pac-Man derivatives, though one certainly shone far above the rest: Ms. Pac-Man.

Namco and Midway eventually cut ties, largely due to Midway's improperly creating all the Pac-Man games, and Namco eventually acquired Ms. Pac-Man, and while once resentful of the game's success, Namco seems to happily accept Ms. Pac-Man now.

But why is the game so popular, though? Why is Ms. Pac-Man, seemingly, the most popular arcade video game ever? Heck, walking into any random arcade nets you about a 3 in 5 chance of finding a Ms. Pac-Man machine (or one of the newer Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga combo machines).

It's simply fun, like Pac-Man. It's very easy to learn how to play, but tougher to get really good at the game, like with Pac-Man.

Heck, the game plays a lot like Pac-Man. You still need to eat all the dots in each maze to clear it, and go to the next. You still need to avoid the ghosts, else lose a life. Still have 3 lives, still get an extra one at 10,000 points. The power pills are still in the corners of the maze, and eating one still turns the ghosts dark blue and edible. Still 10 points for each dot, 50 for each power pill. Fruit can still be eaten for bonus points. And the main goal is still, essentially, to earn as many points as possible.

The ghosts are the same (except for one small change). Blinky is red, Pinky is pink, Inky is light blue, and Sue is orange. Yeah, the orange ghost is no longer named Clyde, but she seems to act much like Clyde from the original Pac-Man. The ghosts look much like Halloween costumes, with googly eyes. When dark blue, the ghosts eyes turn beady, and they grow mouths, with a sort of worried expression. When eaten, the googly eyes look nice, rushing back to the ghost house.

You get 200 points for eating the first ghost, 400, 800, and 1600 for each ghost after that. The counter starts back at 200 if you eat another power pill, though, even if the first didn't wear off yet. But do note that in later levels, the power pills don't last as long. However, when the mazes change, the power pills will temporarily last a bit longer. For example, while they don't last long in level 5, when the maze changes design in level 6, the power pills last for quite a while. But do note that in later levels, the power pills stop working all together, and only force a change in direction for the ghosts.

So what are the differences, then? First, and the most immediately obvious difference, are the graphics. Ms. Pac-Man, like Pac-Man, is still a yellow circle, but unlike Pac-Man, she's got eyes, lipstick, a mole, and a bow on her head.

The mazes in Pac-Man were black, with hollow blue walls. Here, the mazes are still black, but the walls are much more colorful, and no longer hollow. Mazes come in either dark pink, light pink, dark blue, light blue, or brown. The dots change color for each maze color as well: white, aqua blue, white, yellow, and red, respectively. Personally, the light pink and aqua blue dots is my favorite color scheme; the dark blue and white dots, my least favorite. Still, the changing colors make the visuals more interesting. It's a very visually appealing game, even still today, even if the graphics won't awe anyone today.

In Pac-Man, the ''fruit'' was stationary, under the ghost box. It simply appeared, and if you took to long to eat it, it disappeared. In Ms. Pac-Man, the fruit bounces out of one escape tunnel, around the ghost box, and into another. The fruit gains value quickly, from 100 points for cherries, 700 for a pretzel (the only non-fruit bonus item), up to 5000 for a banana. After the first seven levels, though, the fruit is random. And you may play differently for it; you may not be willing to risk your life for the cherries, but if a banana pops out, you may find yourself stopping everything else, perhaps putting your life in mortal danger, just to snag up that 5000 points!

Before long, you'll spot another difference between this and the original Pac-Man. In Pac-Man, each maze was identical to the last. Here, though, Ms. Pac-Man is chased through 4 unique mazes. As you progress through the levels, you'll eventually get to see them all! Again, the variety makes things more interesting!

Like in Pac-Man, there are still intermissions every few levels. Unlike in Pac-Man, they tend to be more interesting. They tell the story of when Ms. Pac-Man and Pac-Man meet, when they try to woo one another, and have babies. Apparently in the Pac-Universe, babies are delivered by stork.

The ghost movement in Pac-Man was fairly easy. Some people have memorized patterns that avoid all the ghosts 100% of the time. Even if you haven't learned them, like myself, the ghost movement was still fairly easy. At the beginning of the level, the ghosts would move toward their favorite corners, and would return at regular intervals, up to 3 more times.

Not as easy in Ms. Pac-Man. While Inky and Sue move to their corners at the beginning of each level, Blinky and Pinky do not. They move about the level randomly for several seconds, to prevent people from being able to create completely reliable patterns for getting through each level. You need to be aware of them at the beginning of each level, since you never know where they are heading. Also, to make things more difficult, the ghosts never go back to their corners. After the first few seconds, the ghosts will constantly chase, without break. No more relief time for getting those extra-tricky dots!

The sound in Ms. Pac-Man is excellent! The sound for getting an extra life is the same as in Pac-Man (which is an excellent bell-clanging sound). The sound for eating fruit is slightly different from that sound in Pac-Man. Not really better or worse, just a slightly higher-pitched sound. The ghost siren is still constant in the background, but milder, and less annoying, than it was in Pac-Man. I liked that siren more, personally, but my parents were none-too-fond of Pac-Man's ghost siren. It still gets faster and rising in pitch as you eat more dots, though. The sound for eating dots has also changed. In Pac-Man, the sound was louder, and likely better; here in Ms. Pac-Man, it's just a little click sound.

The sounds that really shine in Ms. Pac-Man, though, are the sounds having to do with the power pills. In Pac-Man, when a power pill was in effect, it make a special sound to indicate it, but at the same time, it was somewhat on the bland side. In Ms. Pac-Man, though, a really cool ''rising notes'' sound plays when a power pill is in effect. It starts over again when Ms. Pac-Man eats a ghost, though. However, it does not start over when eating another power pill, if the first did not yet wear off, so if you like, you can keep the sound playing for close to 24 consecutive seconds in the first level. It eventually loops, but I swear, it is the absolute coolest way of looping music I've heard in any game, with the high notes melding with notes lower than when the sound started!

Eating a ghost also sounds much better than in Pac-Man. Pac-Man had a generic sound effect, whereas Ms. Pac-Man has a ''watery'' sound effect. The sound of ghosts returning to the ghost box to regenerate their bodies is very... bassy, I guess, to describe it. In Pac-Man, there was a somewhat screechy high-pitched sound effect.

Despite all those changes, the game is Pac-Man at heart. Pac-Man with improvements; Pac-Man nirvana, if you will. One of the greatest, most addicting games ever. If you like older games, it's definitely worth a quarter or two. Even if you don't usually like older games, this game has a good chance of being the exception, with graphics that hold up quite well, considering its age. Worth a shot. Or two. Or hundreds!

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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