In a time where so many gaming mascots are a distant memory, you have to give Namco some credit for keeping Pac-Man alive; whether it be through recent Nintendo appearances in Mario Kart and Smash Brothers, or through it’s Ghostly Adventures TV show and toy line. My fondest memories of Pac-Man take three forms; Pac-Land in the arcade, Pac-Mania on my Amiga, and the Pac-Man board game I got for Christmas in the 80s.
Aside from a quick lunch-break flirtation with Google’s offering in 2010, having not actually played a proper Pac-Man game since 2007’s Championship Edition (which still brings back such sweet, sweet Xbox Live Arcade memories), I’d wondered if it still held any place in my interest. There’s a nice little place at the back of my mind where Pac-Man could easily sit along with Kid Chameleon, Cool Spot, and the voice of the dude that just keeps saying, ‘RAD MOBILE’. On reflection, Pac-Man’s not ready for that yet.
However, on first loading the game, I wasn’t really sure if I could be bothered with Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 (PMCE2). The ‘classic’ chime that plays EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. that you press the A button in the menus is instantly the most annoying thing you’ve ever heard, and then there’s a lengthy training mode that presents the game as a bit of a convoluted mess. I should also mention that I first started playing this at night when everyone else was in bed, and the excessive vibration from the controller when consuming ‘ghost trains’ (more on those later), made me stop out of sheer worry of embarrassment. Make of that what you will…
But then, you start playing the proper game (maybe at a more sociable hour), and it’s an absolute delight. At first glance, there seems like there’s a lot of variety in the game modes, but essentially they’re just slight variations on the classic game (aside from the slightly baffling ‘Jump Mode’), available in beginner, standard and extreme variants. What the game does so well, though, is tweak little parts of the core gameplay, slowly making your 5-minute-timed runs more and more manic as you progress through the screens.
And my favourite thing about PMCE2 is that it’s one of those games that puts you in ‘the zone’. Similar to something like Geometry Wars or Tetris for me, shortly after you start a new run, you’ll just stop thinking, to a certain extent, and your hands will just subconsciously make the most incredible ghost-avoiding, fruit eating moves. There were a few times when I was playing that I just amazed myself with what I’d just been able to pull-off (maybe the wrong choice of words taking an earlier paragraph into account).
In certain games modes, things can get absolutely frantic as you reach the pinnacle of your score run, knowing that just a few extra seconds could make all the difference in earning a different score grade (which run from E-A, and then the all-important ’S’). How scoring works isn’t really going to be any great surprise; you get points for maintaining a steady diet of pellets and fruit, and power pellets make our returning ghost antagonists, Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde also edible. If you want the big points, though, you’ll need to prepare a ‘ghost train’.
Ghost trains can be made by waking up the sleeping, translucent green ghosts placed around the screen. On awakening them, they’ll join onto the trail of the nearest ghost, creating a kind of snake-like effect. Whilst this makes it easier for you to collide with the head ghost, and in turn make it angry (three collisions, and it will become speedier due to being so livid with you), it also opens up the opportunity for massive scoring when you consume the power pill; just be prepared for that monster vibration.
Once your game is finished, you’ll get a review screen, where your score is mapped out over a two-axis graph, showing you at what points during the screens you peaked; it’s reasonably interesting, I suppose? Much more of note is seeing where you rank globally, and between your friends. Now, none of my Xbox Live friends had the game at the time of writing, so it was me versus the world. So, when I made my first A grade, I was positively euphoric, and then even more so when I saw that it put me at 173rd in the rankings. Did I have a new career option as a professional Pac-Man player? Just think of all the plaudits, the riches, the fast cars and loose women…..oh, ok, it’s only 173rd, but still, it’s something to tell the kids next time they call me something rude like, ‘Fat Daddy’ (true insult story).
If any of my friends were to buy this, and they totally should, by the way, then I’d get completely addicted to the high score chase; it’d be like Geometry Wars and Trials all over again; no mercy.