Ask anyone and their uncle this question and you'll get 99 out of 100 wrong answers. Those 99 will say "Mrs. Pac-Man", and though it was certainly the first game to present itself as a sequel to the mammoth arcade hit, it was not an official game in that series. It was produced as a hack of the original by Bally Midway, Namco's American distributor. It was done primarily out of frustration in the long wait for a sellable sequel from its creator, Namco. This situation created what I like to call the "Pac-Man" sequel dichotomy. From the original "Pac-Man" game came two separate series, one produced by Bally Midway, and one produced by Namco.
The Bally Midway series consisted of the games "Ms. Pac-Man", "Baby Pac-Man", "Jr. Pac-Man", "Professor Pac-Man", "Pac-Man Plus", and "Mrs. Pac-Man Plus". These concentrated primarily on a Pac-Family theme, and except for the anomaly "Professor Pac-Man", they were basically continual expansions of the gaming formula in the original "Pac-Man". Namco's series of sequels, which is again the official series, went in an entirely different direction, concentrating on continually new adventures for the main Pac-Man character himself, and in many cases complete reworkings of gameplay rather than expansions of the original gameplay mechanics. They consisted of "Super Pac-Man", "Pac & Pal", "Pac-Land", "Pac-Mania", and finally "Pac-Man VR" (through a company called Virtuality). So, that one person out of 100 which says that "Super Pac-Man" is the true sequel to "Pac-Man" would be 100% right. Though Namco now owns "Mrs. Pac-Man" and redistributes it for replay as the copyright holder, it has never accepted it officially as a sequel in the "Pac-Man" series of games.
Many gamers will remember the first comical intermission cut-scene from the original "Pac-Man" game as ending in a turned-blue "Blinky" running in fear from a large "Super" Pac-Man character. That part of the intermission forms the premise for this sequel, in which Pac-Man has found the secret to becoming a giant Super Pac-Man who is faster than speeding "Blinky", more powerful than a locked maze door, and able to leap tall ghost monsters in a single bound.
Gameplay has been replaced with a new system that is similar in some ways to the "Pac-Man" formula, but departs from it significantly in others. There is only one maze, just as in the original game, but now that maze is made up of certain tunnels that are blocked off by locked doors. Even the side escape tunnel is blocked up in this manner. Scattered around the maze are keys which, when consumed, will unblock those doors and allow Pac-Man to enter and consume its treasures, or escape through a tunnel. There are no longer any standard pellets. Instead, each blocked off maze door contains "fruit" bonuses from the original Pac-Man, and all of these must be consumed to finish the board. These "fruits" have more value depending on what they are, and increase on a graduated scale, so as you progress, the player can really start racking up the points with a board full of valuable "fruit".
Though the standard pellets are gone, power pellets are still part of the game. Each corner has a special container blocked off on the top and bottom ends. These contain the power pellets, which turn the monsters blue and allow Pac-Man to consume them, at 200, 400, 800, and 1600 points progressively. These containers must also be unlocked to get at the power pellets. The game also introduces another type of pellet, the super pellet. Each maze contains two of these on the lower-middle portion of the screen, on the left and right. These are blocked up and must be unlocked before they can be consumed, but once consumed the game takes a turn for the better. Pac-Man becomes Super Pac-Man upon consumption of one of these two super pellets. While in this state, he flies over the monsters, basically passing right over them without being harmed. He is able to bust right through blocks without unlocking them by eating keys. A press on the "speed" button makes Super Pac-Man go much faster than his lesser state can go. Consuming power pellets AFTER consuming a super pellet will extend your period of "superness" along with giving Super Pac-Man the power to consume monsters (instead of flying over them). Some have reported that speeding up with Super Pac-Man was less than helpful as he goes so fast in that state that it can be hard to maneuver him over the maze fluidly. Personally, I never experienced this problem with the arcade game, tthough I will admit that it has been an issue on arcade emulators.
Early on in the game, consuming keys opens barriers close to the key actually consumed. As the game progresses, this formula moves more and more apart, until maximum distance between the keys and their doors is reached. This makes it much harder for Pac-Man to unlock the necessary power or super pellets. Additionally, power pellets progressively have less and less effect, until they become little more than high-point placebos. The same effect occurs with the super pellets. As boards are finished, the super pellets transform Pac-Man into his super hero counterpart for less and less time, until they eventually have no effect at all. To give the game just that much more of an added progressive difficulty, some barriers can never be unlocked with a key, which means it's either done with Super Pac-Man, or the fruits inside some areas must be consumed quickly while the monsters are away to other areas of the screen, to prevent yourself from being cornered between a ghost and a barrier. This makes the game just that much more difficult than many of the Bally Midway games, but as the game doesn't start right off with this sort of difficulty level, I find it to be a nice touch. It forces the gamer to be mindful of both the resources he has available, and to be careful about just when he should be rushing into a tunnel to consume the goodies within.
Another major change in gameplay has to do with a replacement for the bonus "fruit" scheme from the first "Pac-Man" game. Since the "fruit" bonuses from that game have taken the place of standard pellets in this one, a new bonus scheme has been added which is based on a gambling scheme. Two boxes are presented in the center of the screen, one containing the "fruit" that must be matched, and the other a quickly spinning "fruit" slot. Passing through the center when the slot is spinning stops the slot on a particular "fruit". Depending on the combination, various point values are given, with maximum point values being given for a perfect match. In addition to this bonus scheme, a new bonus stage has been added which usually takes place after the in-game cut-scenes. In these bonus stages, a board full of "fruit" but empty of ghosts is supplied, a time limit is put in place, and Pac-Man stays permanently in his super form. The goal is to eat as many "fruits" on the screen as possible, each one being worth the same point-value. If the player clears off all the fruits before his time runs out, he is given an added bonus of the remaining time on the clock.
The game represents some significant change in the department of graphics, and though these changes are more for the new gameplay scheme than fundamental alterations, they manage to keep the formula fresh. Likewise, while most of the music and sound effects are not entirely new or original, they are a nice digital variation on the original "Pac-Man" game's presentation, with a few new added scores and effects for new gameplay elements. The new animated intermissions take on the same sort of stylized comedy prevalent in the cut-scenes for the first "Pac-Man" game. The style may not be new, but the material is original, and it's nice to be rewarded with these comical vaudevilles after completing a few mazes.
Unfortunately, this game was a market failure. As many fans didn't like the complete replacement of the gameplay formula they had loved with the original "Pac-Man", they gravitated toward "Mrs. Pac-Man" and even the souped-up version of the original, "Pac-Man Plus", instead. While I certainly think "Mrs. Pac-Man" is the best in the series, and I very much admire and appreciate the direction in which Bally Midway took the series, I also think this first of Namco's official sequels holds its own with a new gameplay formula that really works, and Namco's direction for the series as a whole is largely welcomed as an alternative to Bally Midway's. I'd like to remind gamers out there who reject this game outright that sequels don't need to be rehashes of the same things over and over, even if those rehashes are usually high-quality. Sometimes it's nice to have a change of pace. The "Pac-Man" series is one of those few in which we get to see two very different interpretations of where the series could go, and we shouldn't feel the need to choose sides in this dichotomy, but rather enjoy each game as it comes along, judging it on its merits and its merits alone. I have no choice as an honest reviewer to do anything but rate this highly in most areas. It's a worthy sequel to a worthy game, and an interesting take on the phenomenal series that drove the '80s arcade scene.