Developer: Mine Loader Software Co., Ltd
Publisher: Namco Bandai
It may come as a surprise to some of you younger gaming ragamuffins out there, but despite my age, I missed the Pac-Man craze when it first came out by a good 5 to 10 years, and as such have never really grown up with it close to my heart. Sure I’ve played it through the years, but only fleetingly, and so I’m in probably quite a unique position as I write this review, that I won’t be weepy-eyed over hours spent in an arcade spending all my pocket money on the early 80s smash hit. Besides getting all soppy would undo all the hard work I‘ve done to build up this manly, butch guy image you all see me as here at Dealspwn, right?
Ahem. Moving on…
This latest iteration of the Pac-Man series is the tongue-twisting (and presumably Street Fighter-inspired) Pac-Man: Championship Edition DX+. The game looks to build on the 2007 release, Pac-Man: Championship Edition. The ‘DX’ version came 3 years later on XBLA, and now Namco Bandai have released a DX+ version of the game – as the current definitive version. Still with me? Good, let’s go eat some ghosts.
The classic Pac-Man gameplay – like most other IPs that have stood the test of time – remains fundamentally unchanged. You control the titular Pac-Man – essentially a yellow entity bearing more than a passing resemblance to an incomplete pie chart – as he moves around the 2D board eating dots and dodging ghosts. The overall idea being to accumulate a high score through eating enough dots to make fruit appear, which increase in points value the more you make them appear. There are also power pellets sparsely located around the area which make Pac-Man invulnerable and able to eat ghosts for extra points for a limited time. It sounds simple because it is, and it is this accessibility coupled with its addictive nature which has allowed this game to stand the test of time with gamers. But what does this latest edition offer by way of changes to this formula?
The first notable addition is the inclusion of sleeping ghosts in the arenas which remain inactive until Pac-Man moves past them. It sounds harmless, but normally these sleeping ghosts are adjacent to the trail of dots Pac-Man needs to eat to progress his score. Once awoken, these ghosts will religiously follow Pac-Man’s path, and form a sort of rainbow trail of ghosts behind him. It means that whilst they don’t have the unpredictability of the normal ghosts who will usually take the shortest route to get your current position, it does mean you can end up having a long trail behind you, meaning you’ll have to plan your path accordingly to make sure you don’t get trapped by it (veterans of the ‘Snake’ game on old Nokia phones will know exactly what I’m talking about). It is possible to ensnare the regular free-roaming ghosts into this more managed trail as well with a bit of (admittedly fast-paced) forward-planning, so there is a tactical element to this outside of simply planning your route safely.
With all these extra ghosts comes a lot of extra mayhem – especially as the speed increases throughout the game. It means that you’re undoubtedly going to make mistakes as your reflexes let you down from time to time. To help with this there is a ‘slow-down’ mechanic that initiates when you are close to hitting a ghost – and therefore about to lose a life. It gives you a couple of extra seconds to react with a direction change to avoid the collision. Once you’ve dodged the ghost effectively, speed resumes back to its normal pace. It’s a very fluid addition to the game that rides that fine line between maintaining the intensity of the fast-paced gameplay, and allowing for error at the same time.
But sometimes even a dodge move won’t cut the mustard if you’ve accidentally got yourself stuck between a ghost trail and a hard place. Luckily for you, the game also gives you another way out. Bombs can be used to send all ghost back to the central area for a time, giving Pac-Man free reign of the arena – and more importantly – a bit of breathing space to carry on collecting your dots and fruit for more points. The game will also lower the speed for you by a few levels, but it will also give you a lower score multiplier for your dots, so it’s important if you are going for high scores to not just lay bombs with disregard. Dodging out of a tight spot might require more thought than a bomb drop but will ultimately get you a better score and leave you with your precious bombs for those really tight moments.
These three additions to the series really work excellently together to turn what was already an addictive game up a couple of notches. Combined they present a game that through its simplicity was already very accessible to gamers, but with bombs and the slow-motion feature, this accessibility increases dramatically, because the game is not as ruthless as it once was – it doesn’t punish a mistaken direction push, or a delayed reaction. It embraces that we as players want to play, and gives us the opportunity to keep the momentum of the game going, which keep Pac-Man moving at his speedy best. But what’s also quite beautiful about these very simple additions is that they also have subtle tactics and layers within them. Like I said bomb use should be used with intelligence and ghost trail guidance can help trap regular free-roaming ghosts, keeping you in control of the arena. Even the slow-motion means you can attempt knife-edge dodges that would be nigh on impossible at full speed, meaning your options open up more in terms of what is possible.
And the tactics don’t stop there. As in the original Pac-Man, you can eat special power pellets to allow Pac-Man to eat the ghosts. However the best time to do that is when there are a lot of ghosts around – like when you have a long ghost trail behind you – as this is when you can maximise your score. Also some ghosts themselves hold power pellets to extend the duration of Pac-Man’s ability and other contain bombs, that when you eat them will add to your bomb tally. So even during the brief period when Pac-Man can exact his revenge and eat ghosts, there are plenty of things to consider to maximise your opportunity and therefore your score, meaning the tactics and planning never stops.
What makes this version of Pac-Man more enjoyable is the amount of different arena designs – and indeed graphic styles – within the game. Each present a different layout and this will require you to rethink your ghost-dodging tactics. A lot of these different levels are locked upon starting the game and are unlocked through playing previous ones. Throughout these different levels, there are three main modes. Firstly there is a time trial mode, giving you a target time to eat a certain amount of fruit. Score attack sees you building up your score in a set allotted time, and finally Ghost Combo mode sees you trying to stay powered up and eat as many ghosts as possible. Like the levels, these modes on various levels are unlocked through playing previous unlocked material.
What the ‘+’ version brings to the table is the inclusion of online leaderboards to compare your performance in all of the levels and modes with your friends and the rest of the world. It’s something that seems so small, but it fits so perfectly to the ethos of the game – providing a much more up to date alternative to the high scores of the stand alone arcade machines of yesteryear. It means you’ll still want to push yourself for that higher score to beat your friends and improve your rank on each level (worked out purely on how you rank against everyone else) just like gamers 30 years ago, but the scoring is much more inclusive as it won’t be limited to a specific machine. The ‘+’ version also brings with it additional DLC which includes new arenas and different arena skins as well to further add to the variety on offer.
I’m conscious that I’ve used the words ‘tactics’ and ‘planning’ a fair bit to describe improvements to this game, and I want to expand on why. Normally these words are viewed in a negative light by some as it seems that you need to put a lot into the game to get anything out. But with Pac-Man, this really isn’t the case. The tactics or planning were there in the original game for those that wanted to use them, and what these new enhancements do is give people more options to take part. It allows for mistakes, and gives you a helping hand as well as giving you the opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t. When you add this to a competitive leaderboard that ranks your performance against everyone else, it forms a great addictive package that not only provides the option of self-improvement, but incentivises it too.
I’ll be the first to admit that on the face of it Pac-Man doesn’t strike you as being a great game that will remain addictive for a prolonged period. There’s only so much fun you can have pressing Up, Down, Left and Right after all. However it’s when you start playing it, and realising the skill that whilst isn’t required to play, can be applied to improve your score / time, and suddenly it explodes into a game that becomes so addictive, that you won’t realise you’ve been playing for hours when you finally drag yourself away from the screen. You suddenly realise that all those gamers had it right 30 years ago when they were spending their summer days in the arcades, and what this latest version offers you is that game, but with a hell of a lot more potential depth and fun. Pac-Man: Championship Edition DX+ provides a fantastic combination of classic fun and modern twist that results in a 21st century Arcade classic.
- Addictive gameplay from the 80s bought right up to date
- Enthusiastic soundtrack
- DX+ enhancements add plenty of potential depth
- Lots of various levels extend playtime
- Online leaderboard functionality adds to competitive edge
- A lot of locked content at the start may frustrate some
The Short Version: Pac-Man: Championship Edition DX+ may be a mouthful for the tongue but is an absolute delight for the eyes, the mind and the heart. It focuses on pure and simple arcade fun and delivers a refined package that is not only accessible to all, but allows for a depth of play through practice that is actively encouraged through the new online leaderboards. A timeless game made even better.