Pac-Man: Adventures in Time, which was released about a year ago, brought the classic arcade game character into uncharted territory with its creative 3D level design and platforming elements. Now, Pac-Man's better half has her own new game too. But unlike in previous examples from the Pac-Man series, Ms. Pac-Man doesn't follow in Pac-Man's footsteps. In fact, Ms. Pac-Man: Quest for the Golden Maze marks a return to the old-fashioned maze-ridden pellet chomping of the original arcade game, right down to the same basic level design. Ultimately, it all adds up to a monotonous gaming experience that's difficult to recommend even to those looking for a little nostalgia.
Ms. Pac-Man: Quest for the Golden Maze offers two basic modes of play--a single-player campaign and a bare-bones hotseat multiplayer mode. In the single-player mode, you'll have to chomp your way through several levels, each of which has three or so sublevels. As in the original Ms. Pac-Man, your only purpose here is to eat all the pellets in a particular level before moving on to the next, all the while avoiding the same persistent group of ghost monsters found in previous Pac-Man games. Of course, you still have access to power pellets, which make ghost monsters temporarily vulnerable to Ms. Pac-Man's chomp, but you also have opportunities to grab special power-ups that can give Ms. Pac-Man more speed or even a magnetic effect that attracts pellets. These power-ups, which are uncovered by eating one of the smaller ghost monsters that roams around the maze, appear fairly often, making the game much less difficult than it probably should be. This is Ms. Pac-Man's most substantial flaw.
While the difficulty of the game is artificially increased by the time it takes to adjust to keyboard controls, there's virtually no challenge in Ms. Pac-Man: Quest for the Golden Maze. Both novice and experienced Pac-Man players should be able to waltz through the single-player mode in less than an hour. Even at the hardest difficulty setting, the game lacks any serious challenge because the ghost monsters' artificial intelligence is simply too poor and poses no serious threat to a Pac-Man player who doesn't waste power pellets or power-ups.
The mazes, which traditionally make up for the lack of ghost intelligence, are incredibly uninspired in Quest for the Golden Maze and lack the creativity found in the mazes of Pac-Man: Adventures in Time. All the levels are straightforward maze designs with portals to the left and right, as well as an occasional dead end. In any case, they all start to look the same as you progress through the middle portions of the game, which just adds even more to the tedium. Even the fact that these mazes are modeled in 3D does very little to differentiate them one from another.
The multiplayer feature is perhaps Ms. Pac-Man's one saving grace. Two players can compete against each other on a single computer to see who can score the most points before all the pellets are gone. It sounds fairly shallow, but it actually isn't--you have to decide if you want to go straight for the pellets or go after power-ups and attack your opponent instead. Of course, this mode would have been much more fun if there were more than three maps to choose from and if it supported some kind of networking features, but as it stands, it's the only real source of replay value in the entire game.
Overall, Ms. Pac-Man: Quest for the Golden Maze is disappointing, especially after last year's rather impressive Pac-Man: Adventures in Time. The mazes are boring, the ghost monster AI is lousy, and the power-ups do very little to change the basic Pac-Man gameplay. There really isn't even much of a nostalgic aspect to the game, except for some awful machinelike opening music and some subdued jazz tunes during actual gameplay. So you're better off steering clear of Ms. Pac-Man's latest.