Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Video Game Review: Ms. Pac-Man for Atari 2600

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Addictive game play, just like the arcade
Cons: Graphics, but they are good for an Atari 2600 game
The Bottom Line:
Close to the arcade
If you can ignore graphics
You'll be addicted

Ms. Pac-Man Proves You Can Get a Good Arcade Import for the Atari 2600

After the disaster that was Pac-Man for the Atari 2600, I'm sure many video gamers were hesitant about buying Ms. Pac-Man when it was released for that home video game system.  The great news is that it is a huge improvement from the original even if not quite the arcade.

Just like the arcade, the premise is the same, you are playing as Ms. Pac-Man (Pac-Man with a bow on her head) and your goal is to clear the maze of all the dots.  Trying to stop you are four ghosts who will eat you.  You can temporary turn them blue by eating a power pill and then eat them, and they return to their home base to regenerate.  There are also food prizes that will bounce through the maze every so often, and eating them gives you bonus points.  There are two tunnels in the mazes (expect for one maze that just has one tunnel) that will zip you from left to right or the other way around.

Unlike Pac-Man, which used the same maze over and over, this arcade game had multiple mazes, and every few levels you got to a new maze.  This cartridge does the same thing.  There are four total mazes, and you get a new one every two levels you clear until you've reached level 8.  Then you switch back and forth between the last two mazes.  I will admit I was never good enough at the arcade to get beyond the second maze, so I can't tell you how these compare.  My impression is they are pretty different, but I don't care.  The mazes we get are fun, and that's all that matters.

The graphics are pretty good for an Atari 2600 game.  True, they are still dated by today's standards.  Ms. Pac-Man actually looks fairly round and the ghosts don't look so square.  Some of the fruit is laughable, but most of it looks pretty good. Yeah, there are obvious square pieces make up some of the characters, but it's not too bad.

Another huge improvement is the use of color.  Unlike the home version of Pac-Man, this one actually makes the ghosts four different colors.  Okay, so it's hard to tell exactly what color some of them are (Brown or orange? Is another green?), but they are distinct from one another.  And when you eat a power pill, they actually turn blue and flash blue and white before turning normal again.  Sometimes, it is the little things that make me smile, and this is one of them.

The sound is also enjoyable.  Yes, the sound of eating the dots is repetitive, and if you aren't eating anything, it doesn't make any sound.  But when the game first starts, you die, or the ghosts are blue, the sounds are very close to the arcade if not perfectly identical.

You use the joystick for this game.  The fire button only starts a new game.  Ms. Pac-Man responds very well to the controller.

While the difficulty switches aren't used for this game, there are four game variations.  You can play with anywhere from one to four ghosts chasing you.  Speeds are the same in all games, and pretty much stay the same no matter how far you go, although the length the ghosts stay blue when you eat a power bill gets shorter the further you go until it's basically nothing, just like the arcade.  There's no two person version, so you would have to pass the controller around after you've lost your last life.

The big thing this version is missing from the arcade version of this game are the animation between some levels that show Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man meeting, although they do recreate the between games animation of the ghosts circling around Ms. Pac-Man.  I remember being disappointed about this lack for about 5 minutes as a kid, and I certainly don't miss it as an adult.

I can also remember playing this by the hour as a kid.  True, there's no ultimate goal other than seeing how high a score you could get.  But there is something completely addicting about the game.  Even now, I find it fun.  My only real complaint is the graphics, which I am able to ignore because the game is almost 30 years old.

So if you are looking for a game in this classic franchise for you old system, I highly recommend Ms. Pac-Man for the Atari 2600.  Even all these years later, it's just about perfect.

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