While long-time fans of the series will know that Ms. Pac-Man is the wife of Mr. Pac-Man, and appeared as such in the 1984 side-scroller Pac-Land, a new re-release of the game has gone to the trouble of changing the character.
Here’s Ms. Pac-Man as she appears in most titles, with her trademark red bow and boots:
And here’s what Ms. Pac-Man looks like in the original Pac-Land, appearing alongside Baby Pac-Man:
Here, though, is what the pair look like in the new Arcade Archives release of the game (spotted and shared by Nick C), which is out this week:
That’s a different character! One that, apparently, is called Pac-Mom. She’s wearing pink instead of red, a hat instead of a bow, and heels instead of boots. The kid has also been altered, with a pacifier replaced with what looks like a rattle, and a bow swapped out for a flower.
I’ve got questions. Is this Pac-Man’s mum? Maybe, but it’s a slight tweak to a character that was originally supposed to be his wife. And why is the kid matching? Has he divorced Ms. Pac-Man and this is a Brady Bunch situation? There’s even a chance this is actually Pac-Man’s mother-in-law, given the visual similarities. Who knows!
What a weird thing to do, especially to a kinda-famous character like Ms. Pac-Man, and with no explanation. Turns out there’s a very likely reason, though; as Polygon reports, Bandai Namco have a unique royalties arrangement setup for the character, owing to the fact she wasn’t actually created by the company, but by a group of Americans for a game that started life as a Pac-Man mod, and eventually got Namco’s blessing.
This arrangement has meant that every time the character has been used, Bandai Namco have had to pay royalties. And this is where it gets really weird. The original creators of Ms. Pac-Man went bust a long time ago, but that royalties interest has subsequently been bought by another company: AtGames, makers of that god-awful Genesis throwback console from a few years ago.
So it’s widely-speculated (though we’ve contacted Namco Bandai for confirmation) that the character’s change in this re-release is simply a consequence of the publisher no longer wanting to pay those royalties, especially since this is the first time Ms. Pac-Man would have been due to feature in a new release in almost a decade.
This is all incredibly ridiculous for fans and every company involved, but beyond the absurdity in this case, it’s also another reminder that publishers can’t be relied on to properly preserve their own games, either.