Ah, Pac-Man; my little yellow buddy. Slightly older than me by a matter of months, it’s fair to say that as I’ve grown and matured for the better, you’ve largely stayed the same. When you have tried something new, it’s often been a bit hit and miss… Like Bomberman, if you’re taken out of your comfort zone it all starts to fall apart. That was until modern tech unleashed years of hidden potential in the form of your Championship Edition, and a year later with the CE: DX version. Now, after another string of mediocre tie-ins, here you are again, back where you belong, in a maze full of ghosts and pellets for you to chomp your way through. But Pac-Man Championship Edition was perfect. It took the incredibly successful formula of the original 1980 hit and made it addictive and competitive again. How can you possibly improve on that?
You can’t, as it turns out. It seems you can’t really quite match it, either. The first Pac-Man CE introduced a timed mechanic and lightning fast gameplay, and combined it with psychedelic visuals and a pumping soundtrack. I’ve always described it doing for Pac-Man what Geometry Wars did for Space Invaders – Takes a simple formula and perfects it. This sequel still has those features, it does feel like CE 2 as it is meant to, but there are a handful of factors which hold it back from the greatness achieved by it’s predecessor.
First of all, you can’t just jump in and play. You’re forced to sit through a half dozen or so tutorials on the scoring mechanics, without any option to skip through them. There’s an achievement in it for your trouble, but it feels like a chore. Games such as this rely on intuition and deft reactions, and if you convolute the simple mechanics, you run the risk of spoiling what made the franchise great in the first place. Beyond this, you’re treated to a series of unlockable stages, which present the games main new feature: Ghost trains.
In this particular iteration of Pac-Man, you’ll find dozens of ghosts sleeping around the mazes. As you follow the optimum pellet path through any given maze, you’ll pass by these ghosts and wake them up, whereby they’ll form a train, like some sort of cartoony undead conga. When you’ve eaten the majority of pellets, a piece of fruit will appear which you chomp, and you’ll be seamlessly transported to the next maze and be immediately chomping away more pellets. The ghost train travels with you to the next maze, and after every three or so you’ll get a power pellet rather than a piece of fruit. As we all know, chomp this and you have a limited time to gobble up the ghost train for insane scores.
As I mentioned, the game is presented as a series of unlockable levels. This all takes place in a mode called Score Attack: The levels are shown as a grid, and every stage you complete unlocks the ones adjacent to it. The vertical climb up the grid increases difficulty, whilst the horizontal present variations of the games main ghost train feature. In order to have a stage classified as ‘complete’, you must achieve a certain score rank on the previous level, from F to A and the much coveted S rank reserved for the most perfect runs and highest scores. Once you’ve progressed through a number of these, you unlock a whole new secondary way to play the game: Adventure mode. Now, I have no idea why Namco decided on this title, as if anything it presents much more of a structured arcade experience than Score Attack. In Adventure mode, you are presented with a linear chain of levels which have specific timed objectives and can be played across three difficulty levels. The difficulty affects the number of lives you start with and the length of time you are given to finish the stage. The objectives invariably include finishing a single maze in the quickest time possible, and complete ten of these and you unlock a ‘boss’ level. The gameplay here is largely the same, but you have a 3D image of a huge boss ghost in the background behind the maze, which you – naturally – chomp to death after completing the stage and eating the final power pellet.
Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 still has the fast, smooth and responsive gameplay of the first title in this offshoot series, but it takes a lot of work to get to the meat and potatoes of the game. Playing it feels like Namco have deliberately tried to hold back on the satisfying core experience and unveil it gradually; perhaps to eke out play time, or add an artificial sense of progression to the title. This goes against it though, as Pac-Man in it’s CE guise is pure, arcade, unadulterated joy. Once you fight through the unlocks and roadblocks, there’s a game here which is almost as satisfying to play as it’s forbearer, but a few people will sadly clock off before they hit the payload within.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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