Tengen’s Ms. Pacman on the Megadrive gives us a port of the famous arcade game with a host of variations and new ways to play for 1 and 2 players.
This is Ms. Pacman and graphics are as good as you can expect for a game of this type. However this is no pixel perfect recreation, it is much better than that. The characters and objects in the game have been redrawn from scratch and are pre-rendered giving them depth and they look great. The strawberry looks good enough to eat! Even the power-pills have little highlights on them.
The maze layouts are controversial however. The original arcade mazes do not fit on to the screen all at once; instead you see about 4/5 of the maze at any one time and it scrolls up and down as you move vertically through it. You would think that this would be a major fault but surprisingly, it isn’t. It really is only a small portion of the maze that is obscured at any one time and the scrolling is very smooth and done so well as not to intrude on the gameplay. It is in effect an excellent compromise, especially when you consider the limitations of the hardware and look at Namco Museum on PS1 with its squashed playfield. (That port offers a perfect TATE mode though, but requires the TV being set on its side) The only fault that raises its head with this setup is when you mistakenly leave a lone dot behind and it has scrolled off the screen, giving you a nasty surprise when you think you have cleared the level. Having said that, I have on occasion made the same mistake on full-screen versions of the game, and anyhow, it is the hallmark of a poor Pacman player who does such a thing. Still it is a problem, though not a major one.
Above the maze , the current scores / high scores are shown – and below the maze, your life reserve and the bonus fruit indicators. These areas scroll off the screen as you move, so you don’t always see your score – initially this is slightly annoying but you do get used to it. The maze scrolls at the start of each level and life so you see the score, then scrolls down a bit before gameplay begins – its a bit odd but again you get used to it.
Press START to pause the game. When paused, you can scroll the maze up and down to look at the obscured part of the game display.
Overall , the game looks pleasing. The digits used to display the score lean toward the ugly but they do the job. There is a nice original title screen and attract mode. The little between level scenes are retained and have also been retouched slightly.
Sounds are pleasant, and are pretty close to the arcade original. The dot munching sound is probably the most changed and the game start jingle is there. Overall sound is pleasant, in keeping with the game, and not over the top.
This is by far the strongest feature of this title. There are plenty of variations to keep the interest up. Control works well (thankfully – though the Megadrive D-pad takes a bit of getting used to) and scoring is as in the arcade game. I feel that the difficulty has been toned down for home release in the 1st couple of levels where the ghosts seem to avoid you more, but the challenge soon heats up.
The manual claims that there are 36 different mazes in the game. You can select from 4 different maze types :-
ARCADE gives us the 4 arcade layouts.
MINI gives us a set of mazes designed to fit better onto a TV screen (still scroll very slightly though),
BIG is for big mazes – a bit like in Jr. Pacman
STRANGE selects a set of mazes that have some off-kilter layouts.
You get your 1st extra life at 10,000 point in all modes but that’s your lot in ARCADE mode.The MINI, BIG and STRANGE maze types offer additional extra lives at 50,000 100,000 and 300,000 points.
You can select from 4 different game types :-
1 Player – classic game
2 Player – classic alternate turns game
2 Player Competitive is a 2 player simultaneous game. Player 2 is Pacman and players race to get the most points. If you get a power pill it renders your opponent unable to eat dots until either it wears off or you opponent eats a power pill which flips the situation.
2 Player Cooperative is another 2 player simultaneous game but power pills do not adversely affect the other player. Scores are displayed as separate, but a total score is also displayed.
In both 2 player simultaneous games, you will bounce off your opponent/partner and fly off at speed in the opposite direction until a wall is hit which can be used to advantage. You can also move off-screen into the hidden area of the maze – a technique only recommended for the confident player.
There are also 4 difficulty levels which in all honesty really relate to 4 speeds. They go from Easy, then Normal through to Hard and Crazy where the game absolutely flies, showing how little the Megadrive hardware is being taxed with this game.
For some odd reason there is also a Pac boost option. There are 3 options : OFF , USE A or C, ALWAYS ON. This speeds your character up even more (even has go faster stripes coming off the back when engaged). With USE A or C, holding down A or C gives Ms. Pacman a speed boost until you release the button. To be honest, I have no idea why you wouldn’t just either have it switched on or off. Playing this game with pac boost on at Crazy level is more or less impossible, (at least for my tired old eyes!)
Each of these factors (maze type, difficulty, game type and pac boost) can be combined in any way you like. You can also pick the starting level from 1 to 7 if you want to jump into the tougher levels straight away. If you can get to level 8 or beyond in any game, continues will be activated giving you a limited number of restarts beyond the default level 7 limit.
This is a fun game. You get a solid rendition of one of the most popular arcade games ever, but the 2 player games really make this worth getting. Lots of fun and recommended.
A retro gamer and occassional writer..