Pac-Man is an all time classic, no question. And while it has spawned a fairly successful franchise, games that stray too far from the original title’s formula don’t always do too well. That’s why people were so excited a number of years ago when Pac-Man Championship Edition came out; it combined classic Pac-Man game play with new mechanics and more modern visuals. The sequel couldn’t just be the same thing again, though, so Namco had to mix things up even more. The fast-paced ghost-chaining result takes some getting used to, but I don’t know how well it stacks up to its predecessor
When you first start playing through the tutorials, it feels pretty much like classic Pac-Man with a slight twist: you have to eat enough Pac-Dots to fill a Gauge which will make either a fruit or a Power Pellet appear; this the only way to get Power Pellets, and when you get the fruit, the maze resets (or you’re brought to a different but similar maze). Then, they introduce the game’s marquee mechanic: ghost chains. The mazes are filled with sleeping mini-ghosts, who wake up when Pac-Man gets close and line up behind one of the big ghosts. When you eat the big ghost with a power pellet, you also get all the little ghosts behind it for a whole lot of points.
There are multiple difficulty levels with different numbers of big ghosts, but either way, the game is much more hectic than the original. You’ll hit ghosts left and right, and have to change course very quickly to avoid them. To make up for this, you have to hit the big ghosts a few times in quick succession before they kill you. The little ones will just go away after too many hits. All of this adds a new layer of challenge to the game, which I appreciate, but I sometimes find that the little ghosts blocking my path can get really annoying and mess up my flow. The idea is to weave around them so they’ll line up, but that can clash with the other goals of eating dots and avoiding the big ghosts.
There’s also an Adventure Mode, which plays similarly to the timed mode, but features bosses (huge ghosts) at the end of each stage. These require a slightly different strategy to defeat, and do so definitely feels like an accomplishment. The only significant problem with Adventure Mode compared with the rest of the game is that you have to unlock it from the timed mode.
But expanded game play is only half of the Pac-Man Championship Edition identity; the other half is the aesthetics. The graphics are still very neon with dark backgrounds, but there are all sorts of options for the designs of the characters, maze walls, and backgrounds. You can set the characters to look like slightly shinier versions of their classic selves, more detailed versions, characters from other classic Namco titles, and beyond. The same goes for the mazes, which even let you change to a somewhat isometric view like in Pac-Mania. The backgrounds and music vary too, with all sorts of psychedelic options to keep things interesting. I enjoyed playing around with these, though I wish more were unlocked from the start.
There’s definitely a lot to like here, especially if you liked the first Championship Edition. The core of the game play remains pure Pac-Man, but there are enough twists that it feels like something new as well. The question of whether that’s a good thing depends on what you’re looking for, though. I felt that while it was designed for more hardcore play, the first entry was a good pick-up-and-play experience as well. The sequel, on the other hand, is more demanding outside of the easiest difficulty levels. At the same time, it doesn’t shut out more casual players; however, some of the visual and music options will be unavailable.
If you’re a long time sufferer of Pac-Man Fever, you’ll probably appreciate the new twist and how it mixes with the classic gameplay. If you’re a more casual fan, or (somehow) new to the series, there’s enough that it’s worth a try, but I’m not sure how the average modern gamer would take it. Still, at $12.99 it’s not the biggest investment. But if you aren’t sure, I’d recommend trying it out first.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.