Welcome to the latest issue of COIN UP! This is the review series where I go back in time and review those arcade games of the past that you probably remember or or have a memory vaguely playing at the local arcade- the game tucked away in a corner while you’re waiting for your turn at Marvin’s Maze. If you have a favorite game you would like to see in a review- let me know in the comments section below! Lets continue this Maze Madness series on the Pac-Man games of the Bally-Midway Era, with the one that is the most popular!
Is a 1981 maze game from Bally- Midway. You may notice that Namco isn’t named. We are going to get into that.
Let’s go back to late 1980. Bally/Midway, Making MILLIONS off Pac-Man, wanted to keep the money rolling in. What we have to keep in context- Bally/Midway was one of the U.S. distributors (the other being Atari), buying up Namco titles as quickly as they could.
Here’s the Namco games that Bally/Midway had distributed in the U.S. up until Ms. Pac-Man’s release-
General Computer corporation is a company formed in 1981 by Doug McRae, John Tylko, and Kevin Curran. They began as a arcade game vending company. Then, when they saw the profits fall on their machines, they realized- the kids were getting better at the games. And- playing longer. They were going to MIT at this point- they could figure out a way for the games to generate more profit… and they do.
Ill let them tell you their story.
Now- when did I first meet Ms. Pac-Man?
That’s easy- September, 1981.
I was at the bus stop one day, right after school went back in. They kids at the bus stop were talking about a sequel to Pac-Man. I couldn’t believe it!
I had just started at Dream Machine as a part time job on weekends. When I got to work Saturday morning, there it was!
It’s brightly colored cabinet stood out from everything on the first floor of the arcade! I coined up, and I was floored! The simple changes GCC made to the code, made the game a bigger challenge!
Lets go over the characters of the game, shall we?
This lady of the hour, Ms. Pac-Man. Her job is just like Pac-Man’s – to eat! And eat she does!
And now for the bad guys… The Ghost Monsters… 2.0. These guys (and girl) have been- updated. They are more random now- so patterns may not work the right way.
Here’s Inky! He is still the bashful ghost of the gang. If Ms. Pac-Man and Inky are about to collide head on, Inky may very well be the one who veers off course first. You should not count on him to do this every time however. He still may have no choice but to collide with you, if he ends up on the opposite side of a tunnel from you. As with the original Pac-Man game, his home corner is in the bottom-right.
Remember Blinky? He’s back. he’s still the most likely of all of the ghosts to be on your tail. When he is not in one of his random movement phases, he will attempt to traverse the shortest path between him and Ms. Pac-Man, and will usually lead the pack when pursuing her. As in the original Pac-Man arcade game, his home corner is the top-right.
Pinky’s back! He retains much of the same ambush tendencies that he had in the original Pac-Man. Pinky will attempt to move to the position that Ms. Pac-Man will arrive at shortly, in an attempt to head her off at the pass. His ability is not in effect during the brief random movement phases, and as with the original Pac-Man game, his home corner of a maze is the top-left (like Blinky’s is the top-right).
Clyde needed a break- so, here is his sister, Sue. She is NOT a fan of Ms. Pac-Man, so she does whatever she pleases with little regard to the rest of the pack. She is full on random!
Now for one of the biggest changes… the MAZES. that’s right… as in more than one maze. four MAZES.
Lets take a look shall we?
One of the things that is a constant in the mazes is the ghost houses. In the center. The power pellets are in the corners as well.
This is a Pac-Dot. Eat one for 10 points. Eat them all to clear the maze. Keep in mind- you slow down when you are eating Pac-Dots.
This is a Power Pellet. Four in each corner. Eat this, get 50 points, and the ghost monsters do this-
…Now you can eat them! And their point values if you eat them in succession are-
- 1st Ghost = 200 Pts.
- 2nd Ghost = 400 Pts.
- 3rd Ghost = 800 Pts.
- 4th Ghost = 1600 Pts.
…After that- all you can see…
ARE THEIR EYES!
As far as everything else, you can throw it out the window.
The bonus items are back- but now bounce AROUND THE MAZE! in one maze opening to another, they will hop just out of your reach- more than likely going through a ghost monster in the process!.
The points for the bonuses-
Cherry- 100 points
Strawberry- 200 points
Orange- 500 points
Pretzel- 700 points
Apple- 1000 points
Pear- 2000 points
Banana- 5000 points
And, then there are the intermissions of course! (spoilers ahead!)
With the new mazes, bouncing fruit, reprogrammed ghost monster “randomness” of Ms. Pac-man, normal Pac-Man strategies won’t work. So, I’ve compiled some of the best tips from the interwebs that I can find- It’s a doozy.
- Pink Board Strategy – Go around the perimeter of the board first, then work the bottom of the board. Afterwards use a strategy called “grouping”. At the start of each level the ghosts will come out one at a time and scatter around the board. After a while they will start to “group” together looking for you. When they do, wait for them near an energizer. When they get close eat the energizer and go after the ghosts. When you eat the energizer the ghosts turn blue and will run away from you. Try and get them all and remember, getting the fourth ghost scores you 1,600 points
- Blue Board Strategy – The top of the board is the most dangerous because the paths are restricted and you can get cornered easily. Try to have a path to an energizer while up there and get in and out. Use the lower portion of the board to evade the ghosts
- Orange Board Strategy – Ghosts turn blue for a shorter period of time and are fast. Grouping is more critical on these levels. Try not to chase ghosts after eating the energizers for that reason. The board layout is not as hard as the blue, but there are only two tunnels to use as escape routes.
- Keep in mind – The time given by power pellets to eat the ghost monsters decreases on each maze. After each intermission screen the time increases slightly, but you will finally end up on a maze where there is no time to kill the ghosts, and the power pellets only make them reverse direction.
Just like Pac-Man- there are more ports, home brews, and knock offs of Ms. Pac-Man than… Pac-Man! I am going to list the ones I’ve enjoyed through the years.
April 3rd, 1982- This was the big one! Remembering the disappointment everyone felt for the first Pac-Man. And though I enjoyed it- meh. So- when Ms. Pac-Man hit the shelves I couldn’t wait to play!
And for 1982- this was amazing. The mazes, the bouncing fruit, it was all there! It couldn’t do the intermissions, but the intro was intact!
I think the game still holds up today.
There’s a reason for that. Remember General Computer and Super Missile attack? Well, Atari didn’t sue them- they hired them to make games! The amazing Food Fight and Quantum arcade games were done by GCC!
I always loved In Food Fight- if you put enough “pizazz” into the round (dodging, hitting the chefs with food, getting to the ice cream with no time to spare…) you would get-
AN INSTANT REPLAY!!!
…But those are stories for another time.
Atari 8 bit computers–
This one I played a lot. It has all the features of the arcade and it plays great! It has the awesome title screen, and all intermissions are intact.
Atari 7800 –
Ms. Pac-Man On the 7800 was also programed by GCC. Even the console was built by them! It’s a better port of the game all around with everything in tact.
The NES ports…
This is where things get… weird.
There were TWO ports for the NES.
It’s important to remember- Namco didn’t accept Ms. Pac- Man at this time- we will be touching base on this tale when we get into the next Coin Up- Super Pac-Man. suffice it to say, Ms. Pac-Man didn’t exist to Namco in 1990. Enter Tengen. If you want to learn more about them- watch this video.
This in my opinion- is the best Ms. Pac- Man 8 bit conversion. Not only does it resemble the arcade more accurately, The features alone will keep you coming back for more! The original four mazes are here- as well as big and strange maze sets, and – Co-op! one player is Ms. Pac-Man, player two is Pac-Man! ON THE SAME MAZE! Scrolling mazes, and even the SPEEDUP CHEAT is in this game! If you want to play Ms. Pac-Man on a 8 bit home console, this is the one!
Then, in 1993, just before the end of the NES’s run- Namco releases an “official” port of Ms. Pac-Man and oh boy… where to begin…
The rumor is they use the Pac-Man NES rom and… made- adjustments. The maze colors- are awful. Particularly the green one on the first two rounds. The sounds are quite good. The title screen is great!
On Namco’s behalf- they were figuring out how to integrate her. See, they had a big game coming out the next year- we have talked about this one before… Pac-Man The New Adventures. And Ms. Pac-Man would have a big role in it. So, they thought they would role her out in the Namco family with this game. It’s not bad. I like the Tengen version better. What one do you like more?
Now that we got the ports out of the way, Let’s get to the totals in…
Appearance and Sound-
If you ever worked at Disney- you have heard the term to “plus” something. Uncle Walt always pushed his employees to look at a project- and give a bit more effort- to see more and make it even better. Folks, that’s what Ms. Pac-Man truly is. It’s everything we wanted Pac-Man to have- More elaborate mazes, with more colors, moving bonuses, and better intermissions. Everything is better in this sequel.
The controls are exactly the same. Which is a good thing- you gotta keep moving in this game!
Ms. Pac-Man amps everything up! Randomness of the ghost monsters, the moving fruit, and the bigger mazes will challenge the best Pac-Man player. The game’s easy pick up and play mechanic is is still there, but with all the changes, you are working for your quarter!
The action never lets up- You really want to keep coining up to see what the next level has to offer- and to see the amazing intermissions!
So, what’s the final score?- That’s easy!
There’s a reason that Ms. Pac-man is still a beloved game- and is on the top of anyone’s favorite games list. It’s a fun, super challenging game you will come back to again and again!
Hey gang- Thank you for joining me on this journey through another classic arcade game here on Coin Up! And to celebrate the return of my favorite passion project, I give you- OUR NEW VIRTUAL COIN UP CARDS! Collect ‘em! Trade ‘em! look at them! they make great holiday gifts! Please give me a shout! Have you played Pac-Man or any of it’s off shoots? Do you like it? Hate it? What’s your high score? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading- and learning about our video game history! See you next time on Coin Up!
Keep Playin’ Like It’s 1981!