Ms. Pac-Man
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10  |  The Never Ending Buffet...
Darryl B. , 1/25/2006 2:19:42 PM
One of THE biggest successes in video games -- and still going on even today, over 20 years later, with the occasional spin-off and all -- is Pac-Man. Fueled by the arcade explosion just a few years earlier of Space Invaders, Pac-Man brought to the world a game that shattered most of the molds at the time, due to being non-violent and bringing the females into the arcades as well.

Then it's sequel, Ms. Pac-Man, actually ended up blowing it away (surprise!), due to having changing playfields, a female character as the lead (obviously), and moving prizes that bounced around the maze (the original's prizes would just appear stationary near the center of the screen when they appeared). And over 20 years after it's debut, it was re-released in the arcades, along with Galaga in one machine, another very huge, sophomore success (Galaxian being the first step towards Galaga).

And of course, the game got ported all over the place, even to the Sega Genesis, several years after it's arcade debut.

Just like in Pac-Man, your job was to eat all the dots on the screen before you could move onto the next one. Colorful monsters would pursue you; get caught by one, and you're one dead dot-gobbler. However, there were also four energizers on each screen that would allow you to turn the tables for a few seconds and eat the monsters in turn, but this would just be a temporary effect, as the monsters' eyes would escape from your stomach if eaten (dunno if Ms. Pac-Man was bulemic or something), then the monsters would re-materialize in their monster pen, and then come after you again (going down as one of The Worst Jobs That a Person -- Or Monster -- Can Have).

Also, like I said earlier, mazes change and the bonus prize appears from escape tunnels to bounce around the mazes, taunting you to be able to catch up to and eat it before a monster can catch up to you in return. (Guess no one explained to Ms. Pac-Man the thing about waiting an hour to exercise after eating, not during.)

That's the arcade version, in a nutshell, which pretty much everything about it, along with playing with another player, is incorporated into this port.

However, that's only barely scratching the surface (or "taking a nibble", if you want to get into bad eating puns).

Take the two player games, for instance: you can either play alternating (until one player dies) or at the same time. This is a lot of fun; one strategy that I recommend (that me and a friend always employ) is if a monster is on a player's tail, then that player is going to announce that they're going to eat an energizer, since nothing's worse than wasting an energizer if each player eats one within a second or so of each other. There's also a Pac Booster, which turning it on at the press of a button allows a player's Pac-Man to run around the mazes at a high rate of speed...try to steer clear of each other, though, since if the two players collide, they'll be propelled in opposite directions at full speed, and if there's a monster in their path...well, say goodbye to a Pac Person then (in a two player game, one person is the original [Mr.] Pac-Man).

Co-op is the most fun, but if you decide to go the competitive route, once an energizer is eaten, the other player is frozen, with a sad little look on their face (hah!), until the energizer effect wears off; the person who didn't eat the energizer won't be able to chase after and eat the monsters (was it something they said...?).

There's also a choice of maze styles, be it Arcade, Mini, Big (which, for most screens, you have to pause the game, then press the controller up or down to scroll around to see the entire maze, which is why it's a good idea for two players to be in roughly the same playing area together for the most part), or Strange mazes (my favorite).

Aside from the great-looking intro screen, there isn't much more to the graphics than the arcade version couldn't produce, so you're not really looking at anything killer here, as far as 16-bit "power" (or not, in this case) goes. The controls usually work pretty well, although it can be hard to turn corners and all at full speed (I recommend a joystick on this one, as this was THE game that I bought a joystick for, which I don't use it for anything else!), the sounds are good (try listening to the prizes thump thump thumping around the maze over a pair of headphones!), you get several continuances, there's plenty of replay value with all the mazes to go through, along with the fun of having two players at the same time, and this was one of the earlier games for the Genesis (coming out a year or two after it's debut), yet I think it was still in print when the Genny's production plug was pulled on it years later, which there had been games that went out of print within a YEAR of release (plus it's dirt cheap nowadays, I'm sure).

The only bad thing I can think of about this game is that it doesn't have all the arcade levels as the original; the game will always end if you clear level 32. Granted, the original had over 100 mazes, so it's doubtful many people could clear them all, so this is a small thing (and barely worth mentioning).

I saw a thread on Atari Age once asking what was THE best version of Ms. Pac-Man on pretty much any console. Only a few people said this one, which is the correct answer (no, it's NOT an opinion!); I can't speak for them all, but I think most of the others only had a few variations -- even though still a good version, due to the small amount of memory the machine had, the Atari 2600 version didn't even have two players, the 7800 didn't have any of the bonus boosters or mazes or anything, etc. -- or just the arcade adaption, and that was IT, nothing like this version at all, with all the extras.

So eat all you want; they haven't made any more of this game in years, but there's still plenty to go around for everybody. 10/10

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