Xbox Live Arcade Wednesdays kicks off 2007 with Namco's 1981 smash-hit Ms. Pac-Man. What is there to say about this title that hasn't been said just about everywhere else. Seriously, just like Pac-Man, I highly doubt there's anyone who needs to have this one explained to them. Perhaps what makes Ms. Pac-Man such a great title isn't just that it made some key changes to the gameplay of the original, but that unlike Pac-Man, the game's random ghost AI made sure that players wouldn't simply be able to learn a set of patterns to beat the game, which makes it a true test of skill rather than just an exercise in memorization. (As a kid, I remember reading about how important that factor was going to be for arcade operators and players in Electronic Games Magazine - why that sticks with me today, I couldn't tell you.)
What most people don't know about Ms. Pac-Man is that the game wasn't created by Namco, but rather by a little company called General Computer Corporation (GCC). The game started off it's life as a hack of the original Pac-Man hardware called "Crazy Otto" that turned out so well, GCC brought it to Midway's attention and offered to sell the rights to them. Midway at the time was still waiting for Nacmo to deliver Super Pac-Man, and decided to buy the game and convert it to the Pac-Man universe. A few changed sprites later, Ms. Pac-Man was born. Needless to say, Namco wasn't too pleased with the situation and eventually made Midway turn over the rights to Ms. Pac-Man under the threat of ending the lucrative licensing agreement the two companies shared. (See Ms. Pac-Man's KLOV or Wikipedia entry for more details)
Okay, the history lesson is over - let's get on with the specifics;
Title: Ms. Pac-Man
Developer: Namco Bandai Games Inc
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games Inc
Genre: Xbox Live Arcade
Release Date: 1/10/07
Console: Xbox 360
Xbox Live: Yes
HDTV Support: 720p
Full Game: 400 points ($5)
From the Xbox.com product description;
"Xbox Live brings one of the all time classics from Namco Bandai Games to Xbox Live Marketplace. The sequel to the incredibly popular Pac-Man, his girlfriend Ms. Pac-Man takes a turn through the maze. Ms. Pac-Man attempts to clear various challenging mazes filled with Pac-Dots and moving fruits while avoiding the ghosts.
One collision from any of the ghosts means a loss of life. Survive a few rounds of gameplay, and be treated to humorous intermissions showing the growing romantic relationship between Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, leading all the way up to the arrival of "Junior."
- Classic gaming: Guide Ms. Pac-Man through the maze and munch all the Pac-Dots and Power Pellets to clear each stage.
- Arcade authenticity: The game remains true to the arcade version, including ghosts, dot chomping action, and Ms. Pac-Man's "waka-waka" original sounds. Play all 255 mazes from the original coin-op version.
- Ghosts and pellets: The game is full of hilarious antics as you eat moving fruits and avoid smart ghosts through the fun-filled mazes. Munch a Power Pellet to momentarily turn the ghost blue! When they are blue, you can eat them for bonus points.
- Free demo: The free trial demo lets you play through the first two levels of the game.
- Arcade features: Track your high scores on the Ms. Pac-Man leaderboards and strive to garner all 12 achievements." - Xbox.com
Considering how poorly the Xbox 360 d-pad works, I expect to see the same 4-way stick issues that plagued the Xbox Live Arcade version of Pac-Man showing up in this one as well. Given the popularity of the XBLA, I really don't see why Microsoft won't release some kind of arcade stick for the system. Not only would they be able to reap the rewards of selling another accessory to 360 owners, but it would certainly help the sales of a lot of XBLA games. I know several people who have already said that because of the experiences they had with Pac-Man on the 360, they'll be passing on it's sequel. Before anyone e-mails me on this one, I am aware of the Hori and Mad Catz arcade sticks, but neither really strikes me as an ideal option... which reminds me - I really need to finish building that custom Xbox 360 arcade controller, don't I?