Namco kicked off the App Store launch with the release of two classics: Pac-Man [ App Store] and Ms. Pac-Man [App Store]. Priced at $9.99 each, the games are priced twice as much as the earlier iPod ports.

The gameplay of these historic games is pretty well known, so I won't bore you with the details. But as Pac-Man, you navigate a maze with while avoiding the ghosts. In order to be succeed at the game, however, you need relatively precise controls with the ability to make quick turns to avoid getting captured by the ghosts.

(As a side note, of the two, I've always felt Ms. Pac Man was the perfect form of this game with just the right feel to it. Similar to my insistence that Doom II felt far better than the original Doom.)

As it turns out, these games turned out to be a good test of the iPhone's unique controls applied to a traditional game. I purchased Ms. Pac-Man (due to my aforementioned bias) for this purpose and found it offered three methods for control.

D-Pad

This tries to emulate the most familiar gaming controller -- the D-Pad. While a great method for a physical controller, its implementation on a touch-screen falls pretty short. Of the three input methods, this one felt the most finicky. The lack of tactile response makes it impossible to be certain you are pressing in the right spot. Since you are paying attention to the game play, you can easily lose track of the exact spots to press. And missing one turn is enough to prematurely end your game. I tried both using two thumbs to press the correct spots and also centering my finger in the middle and sliding towards the right direction. In both cases, it was too easy to miss turns.

While it seems likely you could get better with practice, I'm not sure it's worth the time as there's a better option available.

Accelerometer

All developers are going to feel pressure to use the iPhone's accelerometer as an input method. Namco allows you to tilt your iPhone in the appropriate direction to guide Ms. Pac-Man through the maze. The on-screen joystick reflects your current input (centered, left, right, up, down) and the neutral centered position is at about a 45 degree angle. While it works better than I had expected, it still falls short in the same critical way.

Again, it's hard to remember where center is. You may have tilted one direction but on subsequent turns, you may not tilt far enough for it to register. While the joystick's visual cues are helpful, in practice you can't pay attention to it while you are playing the game.

Swipe

Another gimmick? Surprisingly, no. Simply swiping your finger up, down, left or right anywhere on the screen provides a precise way for you to direct your Pac-Man. There is no "center" that needs to be remembered or visualized. Simply pick a place on the screen and swipe in the appropriate direction. It allows for quick and precise turns and makes the game playable at a higher level.

Input controls are going to be an ongoing issue for most games, and a challenge to perfect. It may take some time to find the balance between gimmicky and useful. If you have any interest in the Pac-Man franchise, however, you can be rest assured that the input can keep up with the game.

Game Details

Name: Ms. Pac-Man
Developer: Namco Networks America Inc.
App Store Link: Buy
Price: $9.99
Compatibility: iPhone and iPod Touch

TouchArcade Rating

  • samiaame

    Cool, nice review. The price really is out of line though, should not be more than $5 and more like $3.

  • samiaame

    Cool, nice review. The price really is out of line though, should not be more than $5 and more like $3.

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  • reverie

    Wow thanks, that was an informative article! I liked your analysis of the control methods, and I hope toucharcade will keep us up to date on developments in that respect. This article is better than the iPhone/DS/PSP hardware comparison you had last week.

  • reverie

    Wow thanks, that was an informative article! I liked your analysis of the control methods, and I hope toucharcade will keep us up to date on developments in that respect. This article is better than the iPhone/DS/PSP hardware comparison you had last week.

  • http://www.blurbco.com/~gork/ John Laur

    No matter what botched up touchscreen crapola developers will conceive for traditional games, the real answer is of course a controller add-on. Shame apple won't open up the Bluetooth api or dock API as there are some fun existing products that could be easily tapped by developers (The bluetooth-based PS3 and Wii controllers come to mind here.)

  • http://www.blurbco.com/~gork/ John Laur

    No matter what botched up touchscreen crapola developers will conceive for traditional games, the real answer is of course a controller add-on. Shame apple won't open up the Bluetooth api or dock API as there are some fun existing products that could be easily tapped by developers (The bluetooth-based PS3 and Wii controllers come to mind here.)

  • arn

    @John Laur:

    There is the iControl Pad that is currently in development, and they claim to be offering SDK support, but not sure how they are working out the details on that one.

    arn

  • arn

    @John Laur:

    There is the iControl Pad that is currently in development, and they claim to be offering SDK support, but not sure how they are working out the details on that one.

    arn

  • http://www.dereketnyre.com Derek

    I wonder if we could make little rubber "controller paths" that you stick on the iPhone like a "Colorform" - then your finger would have a specific tactile place to move....

  • http://www.dereketnyre.com Derek

    I wonder if we could make little rubber "controller paths" that you stick on the iPhone like a "Colorform" - then your finger would have a specific tactile place to move....

  • abu

    @ derek - ya I second that.
    I'd think a simple rubber band with appropriate cut-thru holes would suffice as the most basic interface - no press feedback but at least tactile guidance for positioning

    that could be easy to DIY too

  • abu

    @ derek - ya I second that.
    I'd think a simple rubber band with appropriate cut-thru holes would suffice as the most basic interface - no press feedback but at least tactile guidance for positioning

    that could be easy to DIY too

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  • John

    I came to the same conclusion, that Swipe most is the best. D-Pad sucks partly because the active region is limited to the "plus sign" shape. Imagine a big circle cut into quadrants like the X-Men logo. No reason to be limited to the visual representation, it's like when you're dragging a scrollbar in Windows or OS X, the cursor can go way out of the "channel" and it's fine.

  • John

    I came to the same conclusion, that Swipe most is the best. D-Pad sucks partly because the active region is limited to the "plus sign" shape. Imagine a big circle cut into quadrants like the X-Men logo. No reason to be limited to the visual representation, it's like when you're dragging a scrollbar in Windows or OS X, the cursor can go way out of the "channel" and it's fine.

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  • Rashidan

    A little pricey given price of apps nowadays.
    Bought similar game which offers as much fun at fraction of the price but the name a little lame
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/jailbreak-voice-onrush/id355664630?mt=8

  • Rashidan

    A little pricey given price of apps nowadays.
    Bought similar game which offers as much fun at fraction of the price but the name a little lame
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/jailbreak-voice-onrush/id355664630?mt=8

  • Mark

    phenomenal game, arcade perfect, i still cant get over the fact that i have a 100% accurate version of a timeless classic childhood memory 80s masterpiece IN MY POCKET that i can whip out and play anywhere... awwweeesoommme.... soo happy with this.

  • Mark

    phenomenal game, arcade perfect, i still cant get over the fact that i have a 100% accurate version of a timeless classic childhood memory 80s masterpiece IN MY POCKET that i can whip out and play anywhere... awwweeesoommme.... soo happy with this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1442395027 Lori Melhuish

    There is a free "light " version and the full game for iPhone is $4.99
    Now. Agreed.. The D-pad is not sufficient. If there were a joystick I could plug into my phone, it would be PERFECT!!!! :)