Why Ms. Pac-Man is one of the greatest games of all time

Today’s billion dollar video game industry makes the original arcade scene look like the Wild West. Way back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, inspiration seemed endless and the industry was filled with developers ready to imitate the next big hit. And it was that unique mix of innovation and imitation ended up being the perfect environment for the birth of one of the most famous--and greatest--games of all time, Ms. Pac-Man.

When the original Pac-Man first hit arcades, it stood out from the many simplistic games that surrounded it. The colorful characters, distinct sound effects, and musical interludes stuck with players long after they saw the Game Over screen, but it was the gameplay that kept pulling them back one quarter at a time. The act of navigating a yellow circle over smaller yellow circles was easy to grasp, but the tension slowly built with each new ghost that was released into the maze.

By a stage’s end, players’ nerves were frayed trying to find ways to dodge four tenacious ghosts in a desperate race for the last pellet. And then there was the sweet-but-brief rush of excitement after picking up a Power Pellet. The ghosts now ran from you, and you could temporarily destroy them with one little chomp. All those qualities make that game unforgettable to this day, but they were merely the foundation of what makes Ms. Pac-Man iconic.

After Pac-Man took arcades by storm, blatant copycats of the compulsive eater quickly crowded the scene. Most of Pac-Man’s imitators were are titles like Lady Bug and Lock 'n Chase. Ms. Pac-Man has been legitimate for so long that it’s hard to believe it started as a similar off-brand recreation. Conceived as Crazy Otto, the developers decided to sidestep any possible legal trouble by taking the game to Midway, Pac-Man’s US distributor. Midway bought it, reskinned the title with a feminine version of the burgeoning mascot, and just like that Ms. Pac-Man continued the wave of Pac-Man pandemonium as a truly evolved sequel.

Ms. Pac-Man and the original Pac-Man might gel together in the memories of some players, the maps and gameplay seemingly inseparable, but differences are immediately obvious when the games are played side-by-side. For starters, Ms. Pac-Man’s first map handily outdoes the original’s iconic map thanks to a much more intricate design. The layout was more maneuverable, there was now a second warp zone for escaping nearby ghosts, and there were more openings for ghosts to sneak up on you.

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  • Pytor - January 31, 2013 12:20 p.m.

    Yes indeed. I still play Ms. Pac-Man (on XBLA) to this day. Top 5 for sure.
  • NickFury90 - January 31, 2013 6:28 a.m.

    Ms. Pac-Man's a good game, but it seems quaint compared to Pac-Man Championship Edition DX. If I could only play one Pac-Man game, I know which one I'd choose.
  • jackthemenace - January 30, 2013 12:49 p.m.

    Whoa, this was a pretty interesting read :P I never would've expected anything released so long ago, especially as an Arcade Cabinet, to have so much thought and care into the design
  • keltar93 - January 30, 2013 12:13 p.m.

    This might be an odd analogy, but I think of 80's arcade games in the same way I think of Charlie Chaplin films; they may not be the most complex or nuanced, but they have a certain simplicity and timeless charm that keeps them in our hearts. Also Ms. Pac-Man is awesome.
  • GR_LucasSullivan - January 30, 2013 7:03 p.m.

    Well put :D