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

Due to an ongoing dispute over character rights, Ms. Pac-Man was removed from a Pac-Land re-release and replaced, in what looks like a permanent change, with a new character called Pac-Mom. The last time we saw Ms. Pac-Man in a re-release was at the Pac-Man Museum in 2014. Since then, Bandai-Namco has been in litigation with a company called AtGames.

This story needs considerable context, as what lies behind the Ms. Pac-Man game, the sequel to Pac-Man, is an unusual origin. The original Pac-Man arcade cabinet came out in 1980 and became the biggest hit of the time, which of course led to clamoring for a sequel and bringing it to the attention of what you might call the first modders.

Essentially, the early days of the arcade industry had an inventory problem: if a game sucked or wouldn’t start, you had large, heavy computer hardware worth thousands of dollars sitting idle. So arcade developers and third parties have produced conversion kits: presto, you have a “new” game by rewiring the circuits 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 the General Computer Corporation, a company that made conversion kits for arcade cabinets, began developing what was called an “upgrade” for the Pac-Man machine which was originally to be called Crazy Otto.

Through a lawsuit with Atari, during development, GCC was prohibited from selling its conversion kits without permission from the original manufacturers. Thus, it approached Midway (the American distributor of Namco). Midway saw gold and the sequel he was desperate for. He bought the rights to Crazy Otto, and Namco worked to polish it for release as a Pac-Man game. Originally called Super Pac-Man, the decision was made to instead focus on his female counterpart, who was called Pac-Woman, then Ms. Pac-Man, and finally Ms. Pac-Man.

OK: so the game comes out, it’s a hit, everyone loves Ms. Pac-Man. Then Namco clashes with Midway over whether or not it licensed the game for release, and cancels its distribution deal in 1984 – the rights to Ms. Pac-Man went to Namco, but so does the commitment to pay GCC royalties 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 to GCC (initially to make a mini-cabinet). Bandai-Namco didn’t like this at all and filed a lawsuit. 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 Nicholas Caballero spotted, 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 it’s just Pac-Mom.

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

So we can really say that Bandai-Namco threw the baby out with the Pac water.

A collection of Pac-Man games called Pac-Man Museum Plus is due out in May and will include 14 games from the series except – you guessed it – Ms. Pac-Man.

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The reasons for this change are unknown, although everything indicates that the conflict of rights on the character is the immediate cause. I’ve asked Bandai Namco for comment on the situation and whether Ms. Pac-Man is permanently removed from the series, and I’ll update with any response.

Rarely do you get such a severe case of rewriting video game history, let alone one where the character is so hyped. Ms. Pac-Man wasn’t just a commercial hit in the arcades, it was a truly fantastic take on the original and well worth a few minutes of anyone’s time. The game and, by extension, the character are an integral part of the Pac-Man story, and it’s extremely sad that both will disappear from the, excuse me, Pac-Man extended universe.

To play the devil’s advocate, Bandai Namco is also in a difficult situation. Pac-Man is a Namco thing, he remains one of gaming’s most recognizable icons, and will likely be bankable for many decades to come: having profits continually diverted from an entire franchise due to a licensing agreement 1980s may have become more problematic than it’s worth.

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