Ms. Pac-Man is being eliminated from Pac-Man history

Due to an ongoing dispute over the character’s rights, Ms. Pac-Man was removed from a Pac-Land re-release – and replaced, in what appears to be a permanent swap, with a new character named Pac-Mom. The last time we saw Ms Pac-Man in a re-release was at the 2014 Pac-Man Museum. Since then, Bandai-Namco has been in a legal dispute with a company called AtGames.

This story needs considerable context, because what’s behind the Ms. Pac-Man, the sequel to Pac-Man, is an unusual origin. The original Pac-Man arcade cabinet was released in 1980 and became the biggest hit on the market, which of course led to the clamor for a sequel, as well as catching the attention of what you might call early modders.

Essentially, the early arcade industry had an inventory problem: if a game was bad or didn’t take off, you had bulky, cumbersome computer hardware worth thousands of dollars sitting idle. Thus, both arcade developers and third parties produced conversion kits: presto, you have a ‘new’ game reconnecting the circuitry of the old one.

With Pac-Man, of course, the problem wasn’t the lack of sales: it was the lack of a sequel. So General Computer Corporation, a company that made conversion kits for arcade cabinets, began developing what was called an ‘enhancement’ to the Pac-Man machine that would initially be called Crazy Otto.

Thanks to a lawsuit with Atari, during development, GCC was prevented from selling their conversion kits without the original manufacturers’ permission. So he approached Midway (American distributor of Namco). Midway saw gold and the sequel it was desperate for. He bought the rights to Crazy Otto, and Namco worked to improve it for release as a Pac-Man game. Initially called Super Pac-Man, the decision was made to focus on his female counterpart, who was named Pac-Woman after Mrs. Pac-Man and finally Mrs. Pac Man.

OK: so the game is released, it’s a hit, everyone loves Ms. Pac Man. Then Namco clashes with Midway over whether to authorize the game’s release or not, and cancels its distribution deal in 1984 – the rights to Ms. Pac-Man went to Namco, but also pledged to pay royalties from the GCC when Ms. Pac-Man was used.

And that’s how things went for decades, until a company called AtGames got involved and, in late 2019, acquired the royalty rights from the GCC (initially to make a mini-wardrobe). Bandai-Namco didn’t like that one bit and sued. The case was settled on undisclosed terms in 2020.

Now comes a re-release of Pac-Land in a series called Arcade Archives and, as discovered by Nicholas Caballero, Ms. Pac-Man is out and Pac-Mom is in.

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You can watch the scene unfold below. Pac-Man shows no emotion: it’s as if Mrs. Pac-Man was never there. Now there is only Pac-Mom.

Pac-Mom isn’t Ms. Pac-Man: Pink accessories instead of red, a hat replaces the bow tie, and she has heels instead of boots. The kids were also changed, with a rattle and flower, which is interesting. Canonically speaking, the first appearance of Jr. Pac-Man was in Ms. Pac-Man, as a featureless baby Pac who is delivered via stork to Mr. and Mrs. Pac Man. But! The boy Pac in Pac-Land is a different character, Baby Pac-Man.

So you can really say Bandai-Namco threw the baby away with Pac-water.

A Pac-Man game collection called Pac-Man Museum Plus will launch in May and will feature 14 games from the series, excluding – you guessed it – Ms. Pac Man.

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The reasons behind this change are unknown, although everything points to the character rights dispute being the proximate cause. I asked Bandai Namco to comment on the situation and whether Ms. Pac-Man is being removed from the series permanently, and I’ll update with any response.

You rarely see such a blatant case of video game history being rewritten, let alone where the character is so famous. Ms. Pac-Man wasn’t just a commercial success in arcades, it was a genuinely fantastic version of the original and is still worth a few minutes of anyone’s time. The game and, by extension, the character are a huge part of Pac-Man’s history, and it’s extremely sad that both will disappear from the Pac-Man extended universe.

To play devil’s advocate, Bandai Namco is also in a tough spot. Pac-Man is a Namco thing, remains one of gaming’s most recognizable icons, and will likely be bankable for many decades to come: Having profits continually siphoned off from an entire franchise because of a 1980s licensing deal may have become more problem than it’s worth.

Ms. Pac-Man had a great run, but unfortunately this really feels like Game Over.

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