THE KING OF VIDEO GAMES IS A WOMAN
BY ADAM THOMPSON
When the Atari VCS Pac-Man cartridge reached the stores last year, it climbed immediately to the top of the sales charts. Just as quickly, it sank to the bottom of the popularity charts. The reason for this? Disregarding quality, Atari cut every corner to rush a Pac-Man cartridge onto the market while enthusiasm for the coin-op game was still hot. Even Atari employees candidly admit that "the VCS Pac-Man is a joke." Fortunately for maze aficionados, the home version of Ms. Pac-Man is as wonderful as Pac-Man is deplorable.
Ms. Pac-Man is a single player game that has four difficulty levels represented by one to three teddy-bears (kiddy levels) or a single cherry. The level you choose determines the number of ghosts that chase you through the maze.
The thing that annoys me the most about Atari Pac-Man is that due to the limitations of the graphics chip in the VCS, the displaying of the ghosts was programmed in such a way that the monsters flicker constantly. This flickering has been greatly reduced in Ms. Pac-Man. The ghosts are four different colors, and each has a distinct behavior--some wander the mazes randomly while others intuitively chase you.
A combination of quality and variety is the name of the game in the home version of Ms. Pac-Man. Instead of the stationary block that served as a prize in Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man boasts an assortment of seven colorful food objects including pears, twisted pretzels, and bananas. Prizes enter and exit the maze through the wraparound tunnels on the sides of the screen. Each prize is depicted in full detail and wanders through the corridors tempting you to catch it for bonus points.
The maze itself changes when you have eaten all of the dots that line the hallways twice. As in the coin-op version, there are four different maze configurations. New mazes can be recognized by the color of the walls.
You control the direction that Ms. Pac-Man moves by using the joystick. I have played this game with the old Atari stick and the "new and improved" Atari Proline joystick. The Proline joystick is much too sensitive to make Ms. Pac-Man enjoyable--the slightest touch of the stick sends the yellow chomper munching in another direction. I prefer to play with the old uncomfortable stick and enjoy the benefit of better control.
On the other hand, one of our other editors strongly prefers the Proline, D-Zyne or other sensitive stick over the Atari one.
Ms. Pac-Man is an amazing comeback for Atari after the disappointing Pac-Man cartridge. Ms. Pac-Man is everything her masculine counterpart is not; she is the epitome of a fun maze game. Not owning a Ms. Pac-Man cartridge is like not owning an Atari.