Return of the Pac…
Game: Pac-Man Championship Edition 2
Developer: Bandai Namco
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4 (Review code provided by publisher)
How am I supposed to write 1000 words about Pac-Man? Literally everyone already knows about Pac-Man; a moving pie-chart trapped in an endless purgatory of mazes battling ghosts, because we all know hungry yellow circles and the undead are sworn enemies.
Either way, this is Pac-Man Championship Edition 2, a further iteration of the most recognisable and merchandisable franchise in gaming. It all comes across a bit like Avicii made a retro videogame, all neon outlines and intense EDM. But as a package it all works very well; bringing old IPs into a new era is notoriously difficult and usually fairly fruitless, but as far as updates go this is certainly one of note.
Also Pac-Man is far from ‘fruitless’. Y’know, because of all the fruit you have to collect.
Anyway, the main struggle this game has is that it feels like the world’s slickest mobile game. Stylistically it’s wonderful; everything is either black or some lurid, luminescent colour, vaguely reminiscent of Tron, and the intermittent scene changes and animations for eating the ghosts are strong. It’s incredibly crisp, even satisfying and strangely hypnotic just to watch others playing.
You are railroaded into doing the tutorial to begin with, which seems fairly superfluous for a Pac-Man game until you’re aware of the new mechanics at play here. There’s a cheeky bomb feature, which you can use to teleport right back to the safe zone at the start if you get yourself in a pickle, or if you’ve just collected all the dots you need to and are now ready to exit the level by grabbing the fruit. Pac-Man also has some sort of handbrake, meaning you can stop his perpetual movement from charging him into danger, and there’s nifty little launch-pads you can hit to leap over gaps, which occasionally cross over and fire you in directions you wouldn’t expect, to further ramp up the level of concentration required. Once you’ve done enough of the tutorial, you can then hit up the score attack and adventure modes.
The hectic nature of the levels is occasionally a little too much, but only rarely. If you stroll past a ‘minion’, which looks like a normal ghost but without the nice colours, it’ll join one of the main four ghosts in a sort of spectral Conga. This is bad, because you then get a bunch of them hanging off the back of the main ghosts in a Ghost Train so there’s more to avoid when you’re dashing around. However, pick up a power pill and this becomes a good thing, as you can rack up mad points when you swallow not one ghost but twenty, an enormously satisfying turnaround when you’ve been hounded down by the spooky scamps level after level.
The biggest change is that, now Pac-Man ain’t afraid of no ghosts. Well, not as afraid anyway. Bumping into a ghost (which do have names, but sod googling that) no longer results in an instant death, but instead you can rebuff them twice before they ‘hulk out’ and become dangerous, at which point touching them will mean a trip to the hospital (presumably Paccident and Emergency)….
There’s more of a direction to this than you might be expecting if you haven’t had much to do with the drug-addled tennis ball that is Pac-Man for a while. There is indeed a suggested route around each maze, and you’re guided by the line of the familiar dots that you chomp down to gain points. You don’t have to follow this of course, but you’ll find it the best way to get around the levels quickly and avoid the ghosts if you’re after the high scores you’ll need to unlock the later stages. And it works really well; things start off a reasonable pace and get gradually faster, almost imperceptibly, so that you are drawn into the frantic pace. You will frequently find yourself in a ‘flow state’, looking ahead at the best path to take and planning several moves ahead.
For this purpose, Pac-Man’s newest outing is recommendable. It’s hugely simple yet involving, demanding all of your attention all of the time in order to get the most out of it with the barest of controls. This brings me back to my earlier comment; it would be perfectly suited to a smartphone or tablet (and it may well appear on these in the future, for all I know. No one tells me anything). Being so simple and so uniquely stylised is exactly what portable games look for. As a console release it’s a little less ideal; as fun as it is, I found it difficult to put more than half an hour or so in at once without feeling the urge to do something else a little less repetitive.
Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 is clocking in at about £10 on the PSN store, which makes sense. It has the feel of a highly polished game that can kill 30 minutes or so at a time rather than instigate hours of play. If that’s what you’re looking for then you’re in luck, friend; here be a game that is both simple and immersive for short periods of time, to divert your brain away from real issues and solely into ‘where the fuck is the fruit oh no there’s a ghost train EAT IT YES HA!’. If you’re after a happy dose of nostalgia and an engaging half hour then this is the power pill for you.