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Perhaps that map’s greatest advantage over the first game’s is that it’s only the first of four. Unlike the single map that more than satisfied Pac-Man players, Ms. Pac-Man kept upping the challenge with each new maze. The progression in difficulty pushes players forward just as a quest for a high score could.
However, those cleverly designed maps wouldn’t be any challenge without ghosts, and the colorful specters in Ms. Pac-Man leave the original’s in the dust. Here’s a little secret to how Billy Mitchell got the perfect Pac-Man score: In Pac-Man the ghosts follow a set pattern that, once learned, can be avoided consistently. That’s not an exploit most gamers take advantage of (and rarely on the level that Mitchell so famously did), but play Pac-Man enough and you’ll see that the movements of Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde can get very predictable.
Oppositely, Ms. Pac-Man’s AI creates ghosts that act similar to how they did in Pac-Man, but aren't as easy to anticipate. This time Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Sue--Clyde changed some in the sequel--will make course corrections based on the player’s movements, which means repetitive patterns wouldn’t work on them. However, the four-member ghost squad still had the same personalities as before. Blinky chases, Pinky tries to get in front of you, as does Inky (though not as accurately), and Sue chases you until randomly veering off course. Even today it’s impressive that both the original Pac-Man designers and the Ms. Pac-Man team were able to find a way to give personalities to such simple creations.
Ms. Pac-Man messed with player’s expectations in other ways. The fruit was no longer stationary. Now strawberries, apples, and pretzels bounced around the stage, creating new risk/reward opportunities where the high scoring items could randomly end up near a ghost. And then there were the little intermissions between stages. These very early attempts at video game storytelling showed Ms. Pac-Man’s relationship with Pac-Man from when they first meet to when the stork drops off Pac-Man Jr. Just like the level progression, the very basic plot gave players another reason to stick with the game.
For as much as gaming has changed over the years, people all over the world play Ms. Pac-Man today. Nostalgia probably factors into that choice, the inviting gameplay and well-paced challenge deserve just as much credit. It may be simplistic, but later releases like Super Pac-Man and Pac-Mania proved that there’s a point where innovating on the formula diminishes the intrinsic fun of the chase. Unlike those follow-ups, Ms. Pac-Man was the best evolution of the classic design principles that made Pac-Man great without detracting from why the world loved the original in the first place.
"Why _____ is one of the greatest games ever made" is a weekly feature that goes through GamesRadar's list of the 100 best games of all time and highlights different titles, explaining why they're on the list, what makes them so amazing, and why we love them so much.
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