When Namco announced that they’d be releasing yet another version (the 20th) of Pac-Man back in 2007 in the form of Pac-Man Championship Edition, few people really cared. Then they confirmed that it was being designed by the original’s designer – Tōru Iwatani – and suddenly things looked a lot rosier. The final product was an incredibly fresh and fun take on the mechanics of the classic game and breathed new life into the franchise. Chomp along the timeline another six years (and with seven other console-based Pac-Man products already under their belt) and Namco is back for another spin, albeit without Iwatani’s influence.
If that last sentence puts the fear into you for the quality of the product, then let me set your mind at rest. Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 is loud, unapologetic fun from start to finish. Rather than try to reinvent the wheel once again, Namco have taken the features that made the original CE so much fun, added a few new twists, and mixed them all up into a game that runs at breakneck pace for the duration.
Indeed, there’s very rarely time to stop and take a beat here. Pac-Man CE 2 doesn’t see you trying to clear every dot from every board, avoiding Blinky, Inky, Pinky and Clyde as you do so. Instead, you’re tasked with munching enough dots to fill a meter, which will then either turn into a power pill or a fruit. If it’s a fruit, eating that will end the level or take you the next board. If it’s a power pill, the hunters become the hunted as you race off to try to capture the now-vulnerable ghouls. Unlike in classic Pac-Man, touching a ghost (even when they aren’t on the run) doesn’t result in an instant death. Rather, you can — and sometimes absolutely have to — give them a nudge to try to barge them out of the way without surrendering a life. Nudge them too many times though and they’ll become angry. It’s in this state that they can start to cost you lives.
Two main modes of play are on offer, in the form of a level-based Adventure mode and an against-the-clock series of Score Attack challenges of varying difficulties. Adventure spans six sets of ten levels, with a final boss level in each set. Your not-so-simple task is always to zip through a series of boards within a set time limit which is determined by the difficulty level you’ve decided to take on. If you’ve got the mettle for it, the “Extreme” levels will have you coming back time and again to try to get to the end.
Not all players will be successful, but they’ll enjoy the challenge. Introducing boss levels to a Pac-Man game was always going to be a challenge, and whether or not Namco have been successful in their attempt is all going to come down to how much variation you’re expecting. Boss levels here are simply extensions of the levels you’ve taken on beforehand, only with tighter time limits and an added bonus requirement of picking up the two extra lives that are provided when you’ve cleared each board in the set. If you reach the final board of the boss challenge with 20 lives in tow, you’re deemed to have beaten the boss perfectly. I’d have thought that there would have been scope to do something a little bit more ambitious or off-the-wall here, but the end product isn’t bad by any means.
Adventure serves as a nice little hors d’oeuvres for the main course of Pac-Man Championship Edition 2, which is score attack. Here, you’re given a chunk of time and told to take on themed groups of boards, clearing as many as you can and racking up scores along the way. After a couple of runs here, it isn’t hard to see that this at least has the potential to become your new favourite drug. Given the nature of the source material and the lightning-quick nature of play, it’s intriguing as to how many different tactics are on hand that can help push your score up.
Sure, you could take the shortest route and grab the power pill and take out the ghosts to clear that board, but if you take a longer route, you’ll awaken more sleeping ghosts (a feature taken from Pac-Man Championship Edition DX) which will make longer ghost chains. Eating a longer chain gives you more points and clearing the board of all dots while you roam about the place will get you a bonus jump, which gets cashed in for points at the end of the round if you don’t use it. It’s a surprisingly deep experience.
Backing the action up is a soundtrack that — while it can be repetitive after extended play — is high-energy from start to finish and which really does its job. Whether you’re playing on the classic board or take on one of the selectable perspectives or graphical styles, the crescendoing beats accompanying the action don’t ever induce the levels of panic as the backing tracks in Geometry Wars do for example, but they’re up there for sure.
On the face of it, Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 doesn’t look like very much. Score Attack, Adventure and a Tutorial don’t sound like a great deal of content to be going on with. However, the requirement to beat each level on Extreme to truly defeat the Adventure mode, not to mention the constant battle for supremacy on the stacks of Score Attack leaderboards mean that if you take the plunge, you’ll be here for a lot longer than you’d imagine.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
Some nice gameplay additions and a great look mean that you shouldn’t underestimate the refreshed addictive powers of Pac-Man.