capsule review

Review: Ms. Pac-Man for iPod

At a Glance
  • Namco Ms. Pac-Man

    Macworld Rating

Namco’s second entry into the iPod game market comes in the form of Ms. Pac-Man, the sequel to the legendary game Pac-Man. The concept is basically the same, as is the execution, although Namco’s made a few nice embellishments for the iPod crowd.

In case you’ve been living on a desert island since 1982, Ms. Pac-Man is an enormously popular arcade game in which you, as the eponymous Ms., maneuver around a maze filled with pellets, gobbling them as you go to increase your points. You’re chased by four ghosts that emerge from a closed pen at the center of the maze, and they’ll do their best to eat you, but you can turn the tables and eat them by gobbling “power pellets” located strategically in the corners of the maze, that imbue you with special powers for a limited time.

Back in its day, Ms. Pac-Man was one of the most popular arcade games ever made—it set sales records, spawned many imitators and conversions to different platforms, and ate a lot of quarters in coin-op arcades. And now this fun can be yours on the fifth-generation iPod, for the comparatively low price of $4.99.

The original Pac-Man debuted along with other premium iPod games made available for download through the iTunes Store last September, and it proved to be true to its arcade roots. Ms. Pac-Man is another faithful adaptation: The original mazes are here, the original fruits, even the same “cutscene” sequences that unfold the story of Ms. Pac-Man in three separate acts. Namco’s even created “cabinet art” that frames the mazes much as the original coin-op arcade cabinets did.

Anyone spending any amount of time in an arcade during the 1980s will recognize Ms. Pac-Man, now available in iPod form from Namco.

Where it differs, of course, is in the actual display—the iPod screen is a lot smaller than the CRTs that originally showed off this game, and while they’re clear and the graphics are crisp, it’s easy to suffer some eye strain while you’re playing. What’s more, because you’re sacrificing iPod screen real estate for embellishments like cabinet art and a heads up display, the maze is even smaller than it really has to be.

As with the iPod conversion of Pac-Man, you can play Ms. Pac-Man in “Original,” “Normal” or “Easy” modes, which set the challenge level according to how you feel that day. You’ll get three tries per game to continue, and if you need to exit out quickly (let’s say you’re playing on the bus and your stop arrives) you can pick it up again later. You can also skip to a stage you’ve reached before, which is a nice way of not having to replay the game from scratch each time you launch it.

Just like with Pac-Man before it, you maneuver Ms. Pac-Man around the maze by simply touching the iPod’s click wheel in the direction you want to go. A miniature joystick on the screen will show you what direction you’ve pressed—up, down, left and right. I found the controls to be a little problematic. I don’t know whether it’s bad hand/eye coordination on my end or sloppy input, but I’d often move my thumb in a certain direction and not see Ms. Pac-Man follow, even though she had a clear path in front of her. This got particularly maddening at higher levels, where the action is a lot faster and those quick decisions can mean escape or certain doom at the hands of the ever hungry ghost quartet.

There’s an animated Help and tutorial sequence to let you get started, options to switch game sounds on and off, brightness controls, even the ability to register your name for high score tracking.

The lowdown

All in all, Ms. Pac-Man is a thorough recreation of the original arcade game on the iPod. A tiny display and awkward controls mar the experience, however, just like its predecessor.

[ Senior news editor Peter Cohen reviews games of Macworld ’s Game Room. ]

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Accurate recreation of arcade game
    • Adjustable difficulty settings
    • Tutorial and help

    Cons

    • Screen is very small
    • Awkward controls
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