With 1982's Ms. Pac-Man, Atari managed to redeem itself somewhat. The problem with Pac-Man was that it just looked like a rush job that Atari executives assumed would sell very well because it was, well, a home version of the arcade game. Ms. Pac-Man, however, stands as evidence that Atari decided to get serious about making a game that people would actually want to play. Ms. Pac-Man, in fact, is one of those "must own" games for the 2600.
While I'm sure most people know the basic idea behind Ms. Pac-Man, I'll go ahead and explain it a bit. I feel an explanation is in order, partly, because my eight-year-old nephew saw me playing Ms. Pac-Man earlier this year and had no idea what it was (ah, kids today -- at least my son is being raised right and can tell you about everything from Frogger to Sonic the Hedgehog). Anyway, the goal in Ms. Pac-Man is to gobble up all the dots in a maze while avoiding being caught by four ghosts. When she eats a power pellet, the ghosts turn blue and she can eat them. Sure, it's a simple game, but it's also a very addictive one.
Naturally, Ms. Pac-Man features graphics that aren't nearly as good as what was available in the arcade, but it's certainly a great title for the 2600 and is an incredible game when you consider the program is only eight kilobytes long. Ms. Pac-Man, unlike it's predecessor, features a title character that actually resembles the likeness of the one in the arcade machine (she even has a little bow on her head). The ghosts are different colors, too, and the "bouncing fruit" that was absent from Pac-Man is back for Ms. Pac-Man to chase around the maze for points. The mazes, while not exactly like the ones in the arcade, at least look like some thought was put in them and change as levels advance. Atari did a fine job of combating "screen flicker" in this game, too, although the ghosts do rather wink in and out a bit.
And, folks, those aren't the only improvements made in this game. The overall environment in Pac-Man is best described with terms such as "large" and "blocky." Ms. Pac-Man, on the other hand, is much more refined and the title character and ghosts are more rounded and look much more appropriate.
Of course, this game doesn't look like the arcade version, but the same can be said of absolutely wonderful 2600 ports of games like Missile Command, Space Invaders, Frogger or Moon Patrol. Naturally, the screen is oriented horizontally rather than vertically and the graphics aren't as sharp. However, the important thing is that all of the elements of the arcade version are in the 2600 port, so this game is close enough to the "real thing" to satisfy most fans of Ms. Pac-Man.
The sound here is very good. The "bonk, bonk, bonk" racket that annoyed the heck out of me in Pac-Man is gone. Instead, a short pulse of sound is heard whenever Ms. Pac-Man eats a power pellet. The rest of the sound consists of some "bloops" and "blips" when she eats a power pill, ghost or piece of fruit, and some of the music that was in the arcade game is here, too.
The gameplay is very smooth on this one. However, my only complaint about the game has to do with the control. Guiding Ms. Pac-Man requires some very accurate moves of the joystick, and I'll sometimes miss a corner or fail to evade a ghost because of the precision required. That, however, is a small gripe and I had the same problem with the arcade game. Of course, playing this game is so easy a child could handle it. There's no shooting or anything involved, and the player must simply guide Ms. Pac-Man and keep away from the ghosts.
Atari just did a fantastic job with this game. If you're looking for a game from the
Pac-Man series, grab this one. It's a common cartridge and can be found easily at whatever source you visit to obtain vintage video games.