Pac Land
Image: Bandai Namco

In case you missed it, Pac-Land is out on Nintendo Switch today courtesy of Arcade Archives and Hamster. Those who have been eager to play this 1984 arcade classic now have a chance, just a little bit ahead of the release of Pac-Man Museum+.

Fans have spotted something a little bit off, however. Pac-Man's wife appears to have left him! Okay, let us slow down a second. At the end of every "trip" (basically level) in Pac-Land, Pac-Man returns home to his wife, Ms. Pac-Man, and their daughter. Now, if you're a die-hard Pac-Man fan, then you'll know that Ms. Pac-Man has a fairly iconic look, with a red bow in her "hair" along with red lips and red boots. Their child sports a similar look (without the lippy, obviously).

But, as pointed out by Twitter user nickisonline, Ms. Pac-Man has been replaced with an imposter. Well, actually, it's Pac-Man's mother and some... other kid? Or is it Pac-Mom and Pac-Dad?

Many rushed to Twitter to disparage the lack of this iconic female video game character - you can't just replace Ms. Pac-Man! - and comment on the state of game preservation. After all, when was the last time we got a rerelease of the Ms. Pac-Man game?

And, well, legalities are involved. It's always about money and stuff, isn't it? Ms. Pac-Man has been part of a number of lengthy legal disputes. You see, Namco didn't actually create Ms. Pac-Man, the game or the character. The game is actually a modded version of a game called Crazy Otto, an enhanced version of Pac-Man that was created by the General Computer Corporation (GCC).

GCC had previously made an enhancement kit for Missile Command, which Atari took the group to court over. After that, GCC had to obtain permission from the manufacturer of each game before marketing any future kits. So, when it came to the biggest arcade game at the time, Pac-Man, the group had to approach Midway, who held the rights to Pac-Man in the west. Midway wanted Namco to produce a sequel for their yellow-coloured puck. When GCC pitched the enhancement kit to Midway, they instead bought the rights to Crazy Otto, and from this, Ms. Pac-Man was born.

Pac Family
Happier times for the Pac-family. Or should we call them the Pac-pack? — Image: Pac-Man Wiki

Namco didn't authorise the release of Ms. Pac-Man, and this is reportedly what caused them to terminate their licensing deal with Midway in 1984. Namco now had the rights to Ms. Pac-Man, except GCC had agreed with Midway that they too would get royalties whenever Ms.Pac-Man was used.

It's already a pretty complicated maze at this point, and there are still some issues that remain between Bandai Namco and GCC (though a further deal was reached between the two parties in 2008). But then in comes AtGames, who created a mini arcade cabinet for - you guessed it - Ms. Pac-Man.

Bandai Namco sued the retro mini-console producer, while AtGames were also reaching a deal with GCC to acquire the royalties to Ms. Pac-Man. And, well, AtGames now indeed get royalties whenever the red-ribboned puck is used.

This explains why we haven't seen Ms. Pac-Man for a while, then, and why her game won't be appearing in next month's Pac-Man Museum+. Bandai Namco continues to scrub her presence out of their games, and changing her hair and shoes is apparently enough to get around that.

Polygon did a pretty thorough investigation on the 2019 case between Bandai Namco and AtGames back in 2019. So, until Bandai Namco gets the rights back, we'll have to get acquainted with Pac-Mom.

Have you ever played Ms. Pac-Man? How do you feel about this change in Pac-Land? Let us know.