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Ms. Pac-Man: Maze Madness
Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Namco
Developer: Namco
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:
Had Darwin discovered NAMCO's recent update to the classic Ms. Pac-Man on the Beagle's famous voyage, he would have only commented that the evolution from 2D to 3D was to be expected in a world that favors extra dimension in its video games. For all doubters: This game is better than ever in 3D! Plus, the classic game is here in all its 2D glory, playable without special codes, cheats or high scores. I was partly expecting Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness to be a standard 3D Platformer; perspective in the game is more like 2.5D, with the camera steady above the game-field and none of the free-roaming aspects of a game like Spyro The Dragon. The nice thing about this is that graphics are clean and detailed. Probably the best detail in the game was the choice to include sounds from Classic Ms. Pac-Man in the 3D levels. So, as you plunk around eating dots and chasing (or being chased by) ghosts and monsters, you could close your eyes and believe you were playing the old game.

Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness is more puzzle game than the original - a 'maze' concept mixed with obstacle courses that require various amounts of brain-power. The story is weak, but you won't care. All is not well in Pac-Land. An evil force has taken over Enchanted Castle, so someone will have to venture into 4 mystic realms to recover magical gems and set things right. Professor-Pac has been experimenting with a new device to access the realms, and just before he's pac-napped, he throws you the prototype Pactrometer and you're off to save the world. How? By eating Pac-Dots, silly! Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness takes the old mazes and mixes in a strong dose of Platformer action. Each stage is themed, and has 3 main levels plus a bonus level. Ms. Pac-Man moves on a track the whole time, and most puzzles outside the standard 'eating dots in a maze, chased by ghosts' variety involve triggering doors and using explosive blocks to blast walls and enemies while avoiding lightning bolts, explosions and nasty monsters. I was struck by how much the non-maze areas felt like Crash Bandicoot 3, but nothing wrong with that...

Beating Quest Mode in Ms. Pac-Man only clears about 50% of the game. Each level can also be run as a Time Trial, and there are several extra levels to be earned after you've opened enough of the game, including bonus rounds. I mentioned Classic Ms. Pac-Man is playable, but there's a neat Multiplayer addition, also. Beyond 2 players, you need a Multi-Tap, but it's possible to play Multiplayer against the computer if you're lacking competition. There are 3 modes in Multiplayer, and 4 maps to choose from the beginning; success in Quest Mode opens additional maps. In Multiplayer, the Dot Mania game pits you against other players trying to collect 80 Pac-Dots. Each map is full of power-ups, and you can choose to play as either Baby-Pac, Professor-Pac, Pac-Man or Ms. Pac-Man. This game is fun, and my second runner-up game is called Da Bomb. This game has one player holding a ticking bomb they have to pass off to another player. Last one holding the bomb is Pac-Toast. My favorite Multiplayer game is Ghost Tag, which starts everyone off as ghosts. One player turns into a Pac-Person and eats dots until caught by a ghost player, who turns into Pac form and is 'It.' The game's over when you eat 50 Pac-Dots, but the changing roles make this cool for Multiplayer.

Playing Classic Ms. Pac-Man made me realize the new version just isn't that hard. Anyone who ever put much time into Classic Pac-Man or its variations knows how fast and furious it can be in the higher levels. This frantic element is less extreme in 3D; with more to do and more places to go, it's possible to tackle things gradually instead of being chased around all the time. Variety trumps difficulty for most people, but I can't say that experienced Platformer fans will find much challenge here. There are moments, of course, and I think Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness is balanced better than most 3D Platformers out there.

Game Mechanics:
Following the story, each stage cleared earns you a crystal, and somehow these crystals become useful in fighting the evil witch who's taken over Enchanted Castle and nabbed Prof.-Pac. Along with crystals, you'll be looking for keys, pushing buttons, opening doors, shooting cannons, flipping switches, riding magical carpets, bouncing off spring-pads and even driving vehicles. You'll be busier than a water-taxi on the Ganges, but it's all good fun. Analog control is nice in more open areas, but the levels where you navigate past explosive blocks show the weakness of analog. In these areas, I found myself going back to trusty digital, just for better control. Most of the bonus levels involve piloting a vehicle, and the change from top-down maze action was really nice. For these levels, analog control was essential. As you might expect in a Pac-Man game, controls are fairly simple. Other than jump-pads, Ms. Pac-Man has her feet on the ground. Special items are used via directional pad or analog stick, so there's not much to worry about on the control side. A zoom feature to adjust perspective during the game is about the only 'extra.' Monsters go way beyond ghosts. My favorites are in the Halloween stage, where you see vampires changing into flying bats, poison-gas breathing gargoyles and Frankenstein monsters zapped by lightning on electrified floor panels.

I had a lot of fun playing this one, and people who never really liked Pac-Man games in the arcade will still find plenty to enjoy in Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness. NAMCO reminds us with this update to a true arcade classic that they were and continue to be a bunch of badasses, but since they're still sitting on scads of amazing arcade ROMs, I hope we see more soon. As it is, Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness is one small step for gaming and one giant leap for Pac-Kind.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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