Thursday 12 August 2010

Ms. Pac Man (Master System)

Don't know if you've ever played the Sega Mega Drive version of Ms. Pac-Man, but if you have, it doesn't take long to realise that the controls are broken. Despite having the wondrous power of the Mega Drive's 16-bit Motorola 68000 processor at their disposal, Tengen weren't able to make Ms. Pac-Man respond to d-pad presses, rendering the game unplayable.

But what of its Master System cousin? Was it any better?

Atari aren't a fan of standards. Yes they kick-started the video game industry but also managed to make it crash in North America shortly afterwards. During the 1980s and 1990s Atari hadn't really come to terms as to what they were doing wrong, and even though they were starting to move away from video game development, their publishing standards were still of so-so quality. The Ms. Pac-Man releases of the early 1990s are testament to this. The Sega ports, published by Tengen, have problems. The SNES port, published by Williams, doesn't.

Technically the Sega Master System is a step up from the hardware powering Ms. Pac-Man way back in 1982, and so like their Mega Drive version, the graphics were upgraded. But you do run into issues when you try and upgrade the primitive set Midway had to make use of - unlike modern times Namco had yet to define what Pac-Man and the ghosts "officially" looked like, and so it was up to the developers to guess. And they guessed badly.

The fanboys (or girls) will notice some of SMS Ms. Pac-Man's problems straight away. For example, when the ghosts are revealed on the title screen, Inky comes out before Pinky (gasp) and is a darker blue colour (which isn't a great colour to choose, as it's identical the flashing blue ghosts). Sue, once brown, is now bright green, and the maze colours are different to the originals too. Also rather than looking a bit clueless like in the original, all the ghosts are constantly angry, as if they aren't a fan of their makeovers either.

Though interestingly, the title screen shows arcade-style ghosts because it's a lazy copy of the cover artwork. A bit of quality control wouldn't go a miss.

Ms. Pac-Man herself has seen better days. One thing I noticed is that she doesn't open her mouth as far as in the arcade version, and this looks a little awkward (though perhaps it's better for women to keep their mouths shut am i rite). It's interesting when the upgraded versions look slightly worse than their originals... I'm not entirely sure how that could have been allowed to happen, but seeing as the market was filled with ugly arcade ports I guess it's no surprise.

What makes this port superior to the Mega Drive one is the fact that this time, gameplay works. The d-pad response times still aren't as short as the arcade version but at least you can complete a maze. Also all the extra settings included with the Mega Drive version are present in the Master System copy, and though there's a bit more scrolling involved due to the smaller resolution, the SMS game is generally a very good deal in comparison to other 8-bit versions. After all, by Sega's logic the Master System is only supposed to be half as good as the Mega Drive, yet here, it's better.

The problem lies in trying to compare this version to other ports of the game. Many of the earlier versions don't have the best graphics known to man, but they do have almost pixel-perfect gameplay. If you don't mind some things being a bit wonky then the Master System copy could be considered the best version out there, but if you want the arcade experience you're best off avoiding it.

But the sad ending to this story is that in 1996, the Mega Drive version of Ms. Pac-Man was brought to the SNES by Williams, and as Williams have standards, everything works perfectly in that copy, including all the extras that gave the Sega ports the competitive edge. A bit of a shame, but at least the SMS was top of its game for half a decade. And I guess you could draw the conclusion that sales of 1996 SNES games were held back by the next generation of consoles too.

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