Obsessive Pac-fans of a certain age may remember Ms. Pac-Man’s cameo appearance in Pac-Land, the 1984 side-scrolling spin-off that first gave Pac-Man legs. This week’s re-release of the game on the Switch seems to have thrown the “miss” down the memory hole, though, an odd retcon that may be the result of the complicated legal history surrounding Ms. Pac-Man‘s creation.
Pac-Man book contributor Ryan Silberman and artist Nick Caballero were among the first to note the apparent change on Twitter this week. They highlighted Pac-Land Switch screenshots in which Ms. Pac-Man’s iconic bow and high, red boots have been replaced with a character sporting pink high heels and a matching hat. The sprite for the baby-sized Jr. Pac-Man has been similarly changed to remove the trademark red bow that was first seen in 1983’s Jr. Pac-Man.
Leaving the sprites in their original form would have obviously been the simpler choice for Hamster, which publishes the Arcade Archives series on Switch. And the description for Pac-Land‘s Arcade Archives re-release notes that the “series has faithfully reproduced many classic Arcade masterpieces,” making such a minor change even more bizarre. What’s going on here?
Who owns Ms. Pac-Man?
Bandai Namco hasn’t responded to a request for comment from Ars Technica regarding the modification. But the move probably has something to do with the long and complicated legal history of Ms. Pac-Man itself.
While the original Pac-Man is a wholly owned Namco creation, the Ms. Pac-Man arcade cabinet started life as a “speed-up kit” called Crazy Otto that was created by a group of MIT students calling themselves General Computer Corporation (GCC). That modification kit was eventually spun into the 1982 release of Ms. Pac-Man, with Namco’s official blessing.
In a 1983 lawsuit, GCC acquired a perpetual right to receive a royalty any time Namco re-released a new version of Ms. Pac-Man or Jr. Pac-Man (which GCC also developed). That royalty, which was renegotiated in 2008, helps explain why those two games are so rarely included in Pac-compilations to this day.
Fast-forward to 2019, when AtGames announced it had acquired those royalty rights from GCC during its attempts to release a new Ms. Pac-Man retro cabinet. That in turn led to a lawsuit from Namco Bandai that was settled in 2020 for undisclosed terms.