You just can't keep a good dot-muncher down. Pac-Man is officially the most famous videogame character of all time, and his 1980 arcade masterpiece has been converted to just about every format that ever existed, including board games and even scratch cards. As Space Invaders had done three years before, the little yellow guy ruled the gaming world. Many believe however (including this reviewer) that the 1981 sequel Ms Pac-Man was the version that really nailed the idea. And it's Ms Pac-Man that appears in this homebrew, albeit under a different name.
Ms Bulimia appears to be the tragic story of what happened after those heady days of fame, fortune and power pills came to an end. It seems that Ms Pac-Man has been unable to cope with celebrity, and like that other female icon of the eighties, Princess Diana, her insecurities have made her deeply self-conscious. Now the spotlight no longer shines on her, she finds herself forcefully bringing back up all the food she ate during those high-scoring nights of excess when she was just 10p a go. Now she's back with new priorities. In this game, she isn't interested in eating pills at all; all she wants to do is cover the entire maze with her vomit. And if you thought differently, the bizarre title screen puts you right, as it shows Ms Bulimia smiling while violently throwing up over a clearly bewildered and confused enemy sprite. Okay...
BRINGING UP THE GAMEPLAY
The instruction screen gives you an option to play at rookie, amateur or professional level. There are four levels/mazes in the game, and they can be played in any order once completed. Level one has a standard Pac-Man maze, and is presented in the Atari tradition of bright colours. There's some great light/dark shading on the maze walls too. Hell, even the vomit looks good. The sprites are a bit low-res, but maybe that's the price you pay for all that colour. The soundtrack is great, with a version of the original 1980 Pac-Man theme that's as funky as the devil. Okay, so it wasn't the deepest piece of music ever written, but in this version, the beats put Sly Stone in the shade.
You start off in the top left hand corner of the screen and have to avoid the baddies (not ghosts; presumably they asked for too much money) while spewing up everywhere you go. The fire button is not necessary, as the mere act of moving Ms Bulimia results in pavement pizza. The first three levels are radically different in design from each other, but the objective is the same: cover the entire place with a psychedelic shower. Power capsules briefly turn the tables on the bad guys, allowing you to eat them, and little medical kits appear regularly to give you extra lives. The power capsules are particularly important here, because eating a villain takes them out of the maze permanently, giving you an advantage for the rest of the level. The game as a result requires a different tactical approach, making it more interesting than the usual Pac-fare.
The programmer (codenamed "Hopper") obviously has no desire to work for cute and inoffensive types like Nintendo, but it's this cynical style that makes the game stand out a little from all the derivative clones. When you lose a life, you are greeted with "You Suck" followed by the amusing "Just So You Know", as if the first line wasn't rude enough. His level descriptions are rather off the wall too. Level three has advice bordering on the philosophical: "Never stop running. Never stop vomiting." What more needs to be said?
While colouring the mazes is not as enjoyable as the traditional gobbling of pills, the first two levels are still good fun. It goes downhill after that, with level three full of narrow corridors that impede the gameplay's flow too much. Level four is just level one with invisible walls, resulting in a lot of trial and error as you fumble your way around trying to find a part of the screen that's still to be covered in last night's dinner. It's a real chore, and the only motivation to clear it is the knowledge that it's the last screen.
Ms Bulimia is a funny and unusual take on Pac-Man that doesn't quite play as well as the timeless originals, which is no real surprise, since they were almost perfect. And it's a shame that the second half of the game disappoints due to weak level design and a pedestrian final stage. In the short term however, its out-there sense of humour and funky sounds make Ms Bulimia worth a try. My main worry is where the programmer goes from here. His lack of taste makes him dangerous. What's next on the agenda, Super Betty Ford Bros?