Midway, US release: 1981
By David Razi Dryburgh
Most people probably haven’t even played Ms. Pacman, and I can understand why. Similar name, same principle, and, really, a girl playing videogames? But then again, maybe such pagan thoughts were commonplace in the drug-addled minds of the 1980s arcade-going community. Science and cell phones have taught us better.
I hadn’t ever played Ms. Pacman until just a few months ago, but when I did, I was blown away. Or rather, I would have been, had I played it back when it came out, two years before I was born. A friend of mine happened to have one of those 6000-in-1 bootleg Nintendo cartridges and forced the game on me (because real friends pressure you into things) and I got really into it. Most incredibly, the mazes actually change. Now I know what you’re thinking: “But Dave, the maps changed colours in the first Pacman game.” Well that’s right, sport, but in Ms. Pacman the whole map changes its layout, not just the colour. See what I’m saying now? Mind-blowing.
The map changing actually introduces a significant element of difficulty to the game, especially when the walls are set wide apart and steering your little puck babe around isn’t governed for you by the tight confines of neon walls. Additionally, the ghosts no longer move on a set pattern, but randomly, making it hard to predict their movements. But if you’re anything like me, then you only ever played Pacman when drunk or a pre-schooler — neither scenario lending much to one’s ability to notice the patterns of scary ghosts trying to hide under my bed or kill my buzz.
Ms. Pacman pioneered Co-op gameplay. Okay, I’m not really sure about that, but I can’t be bothered to verify that, and chances are, neither can you, so let’s move on. You and a friend can alternate playing OR play together, with one player distracting the enemy ghosts while the other tries to collect the pills to save the world. Or are they eating them? I mean, are Pac-people, like, rodents? Anyway, it really makes things fun. Especially when you smack the controller out of the other player’s hand and claim the high score.
Now, between every few levels there’s what used to pass for a cut-scene. Pacman and Ms. Pacman meet, then they get married and eventually hatch a litter. I thought this was kinda cute until they stopped changing and it kept repeating the same one over and over. I guess the programmers didn’t expect you to survive very long. As if that wasn’t odd enough, the names of these two people struck me as perverse. Pacman sounds like a surname, very much like Freeman or Birdman. So if Ms. Pacman is a Miss, and unmarried, it would seem that she’s getting it on with a possible relative. I hope that for game sprites Pacman is a common last name, like Smith or something.
There’s a lot of good reasons for gamers to go back and experience Ms. Pacman. For one, game nerds suffer notoriously from yellow fever. The fetish, not the viral disease. Not only is she yellow, but have you seen those hooker boots she wears? You know she puts out. I’m not sure at what point she sprouted legs, but it certainly will make photoshopping PacPorn a whole lot easier and more dynamic.
Pros: Genuine fun, anyone can play, chicks seem to dig it.
Cons: Can be entirely frustrating.
Bottom Line: A totally neat way to kill a few hours, beats the HELL out of its predecessor. BURN IN HELL, PACMAN!