BallShooter Ms. Pacman 1.10

The Handheld PC is a wonderful thing. Providing the freedom to do so much with seemingly so little.
This causes a problem. The trouble with being so productive while on the move often leaves one with more free time than perhaps one should. So it was inevitable that for the mobile device market a small, incorrigible elite would rise up and fill the aching void that is "Free Time".

BallShooter are one of these elite, whose entire business is orientated around the likes of us being suitably frivolous with parts (or all) of our day.
What better way then? Than for BallShooter to revive some of those retro classics that defined an era. Ask most people of an age where computer entertainment was eloquent, classy and down right sophisticated to state the game that defined that era... and I bet 9 times out of ten you'll hear Pacman.

The original Midway software 'Pacman' franchise spanned several sequels, all based around Pacman and his family. One of which being the arcade classic Ms. Pacman.

Feeling Nostalgic yet? Welcome to Ms. Pacman

The Ballshooter port to Windows CE provides 15 vibrantly colourful levels for you to guide Ms. Pacman through. For anyone who has not been educated in arcadia. The aim of the game is simple. Ensure that you steer Ms. Pacman around the various mazes, eating all of the 'dots' and various fruits along the way. While avoiding the fearsome (and very hungry), monsters that lurk in your midst.

You can, of course turn the tables on the monsters - affectionately named "Blinky" (Red), "Pinky" (Pink), Inky (Blue) and Clyde (Green) - 4 times in each level by gobbling up one of the four 'Super dots' located in each corner of the maze. For a few seconds the monsters will turn colour, and turn on their heels. During which time you can take your revenge and eat them for a rather generous number of points I might add.
It seems that Ms. Pacman doesn't like their eyes though as she promptly spits them out, at which point they fly back to the safe zone in the centre of the maze and regenerate.

To top all that, you must contend with the distinct personalities of each of the monsters meaning some will come right for you, while others will tend to linger on the side lines.

The Shareware re-registration screen

I'm pleased to say that BallShooter have captured all of the arcade passion of the original game in their port. The game is neatly designed and graphically well proportioned leaving the arcade feel while still making use of the ample improvements in computer graphics technology that we see today.
Upon first load you are presented with a shareware 'nag screen'. Which reminds you how many days you have remaining to trial the program, as well as how to register. Once you have a registration code, simply enter it into the Enter Code dialogue available from the Help menu, restart the application and you're away.

Game play is very simple on the Handheld PC and acts in just the same way that I remember playing Pacman in my younger days. You can user either the stylus or the cursor keys to guide our heroine around the various mazes.
I personally found that using the keyboard was more intuitive, being more accurate than using the stylus; simply because it is easier to hold down one of the cursor keys in advance of a turn than it is to tap at the correct moment. That said it is clearly something that will differ from person to person.

The options dialogue for Ms. Pacman is straight forward, if humerous

Naturally Ms. Pacman - like all good H/PC games has that all-important option to disable the sound. Crucial when you're making the most of a conference call, or sitting on the plane. The options dialogue also allows you to select one of four different game speeds. Old pro's will immediately want to bump this up to "Run" or the humorously labelled "Run Forrest, Run" (a quote from the motion picture Forrest Gump)...

The big cheese. But not quite up to the BallShooter Hall of fame standard

... and no Pacman game would be complete without the all important Records Table. BallShooter bill this as being "persistent", and that it is. So long as you don't hard reset or give your H/PC to your substantially younger cousin...
BallShooter also hold a small "Top 4" on their Ms. Pacman website. So if you send in your high score, along with a screen shot you may see your name in lights!

A most welcome feature of the game is it's auto pause ability. Should a calendar reminder pop-up while you are being chased by the fearless Blinky around a very tight corner, or as I do from time to time accidentally knock one of the quick launch keys. Ms. Pacman will automatically pause the instant the application looses 'focus'. You do need to be quick on your feet when returning to the game however as restoring the focus immediately resumes the game.

It is very clear from the outset that Pacman is a game very much suited for a Pocket PC proportioned screen. The Handheld PC distribution is simply a horizontal extension to the Pocket PC one, the space being filled with additional branding over and above that in the main game play window.
One of the most appealing things about the Ms. Pacman port is that BallShooter have kept things simple in this respect. Although from the point of view of a Handheld PC user, I would like to see the main game play window cantered on my screen, from an application design perspective attempting to do so would likely bloat the application from it's presently very comfortable 432KB (StrongArm). The left hand placement of the window in no way detracts from the game play.

I, and I suspect most users will be a little niggled at the fact the programs settings dialogues slip beneath the Windows Taskbar. This is an all too common problem on Pocket PC applications that have been ported straight to the Handheld PC without interface modification.
The most logical step of course is to auto hide the taskbar, which I promptly did to maximise the applications visual space. Unfortunately a worse problem crept in here. The area that had been occupied by the taskbar was now simply void of anything.

Examples of the screen draw error when the taskbar is set to auto hide

As I moved around between Ms. Pacman and other applications on the Handheld PC this blank area became a problem for the video buffer, in that it didn't know what to draw in the space (Examples above). So it melds whatever happens to be behind it - be that another program or the desktop - into the space. While inconvenient, it in no way hindered game play or caused instability in the application or device.
I would like to see this fixed in the next version of the program, along with the widening of some of the dialogues to better-fit HVGA screens.

I sent off the bugs mentioned here to BallShooter, whose support in my experience has always been excellent. They have added my notes to their development list and are aiming to rectify the problems in any future version. In general though you are unlikely to have any problems as the game comes with full on-device documentation as well as e-mail support if you get really stuck.

Ms. Pacman About Box

Builds of Ms. Pacman are available for Windows CE 2.00 and above. While I was able to test and play the game on a monochrome device - be it a little jerky, but playable on a 44MHz SH3 processor. You really need a colour screen to fully appreciate what BallShooter have created. Ms. Pacman comes with a reasonable price tag of $14.95. (£8.30 GBP, €11.90 EUD, ¥1637 JPY est.)
BallShooter also offer numerous discounts on their products when purchased together as a set.

Ms. Pacman requires just over 400KB of RAM, and can be run from a storage card.
A shareware 14-day trial is available from the BallShooter website.

System Requirements:

Windows CE 2.00 and above (Including CE 4.x .net)
SH3, SH4, StrongArm, MIPS

Rating  
Cost: 4 Star Rating: Recommended
Usability: 4 Star Rating: Recommended
Built-In helps: 5 Star Rating: Exceptional
Customer Service: 5 Star Rating: Exceptional
Overall: 4 Star Rating: Recommended

Ms. Pacman can be found at the following URL.
http://www.ballshooter.com/

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Chris Tilley
Editor-in-Chief
HPC Factor