Pac to the future
Boiled down to its base components, Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 hits all the right notes. Namco’s latest entry in the bulbous pellet-popper’s saga once again puts players in a variety of pulsating neon mazes as they chomp dots, evade ghosts, and compete to climb to the top of the leaderboards. The action is fast and frantic, and it doesn’t take long before you find yourself hopelessly lost in its hypnotic hold. Pac-Man has been an industry icon ever since the hobby’s formative years, and the challenging and engaging gameplay that his latest offering delivers does a good job of reminding us of why that is. At its core, it’s a thrilling score attack that keeps our eyes glued to the screen, nerves steeled, and hearts pumping until our eventual demise at the hands of one of those pesky phantoms.
However, while Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 may look like yet another familiar romp with the spherical star, a number of changes have been made to the classic formula that are sure to leave more than a few fans scratching their heads, wondering what happened.
2010’s Pac-Man Championship Edition took the time-tested framework of the series and made some welcome tweaks that managed to breathe new life into the aging franchise, spiffing it up for the modern era. Rather than clear stages, players were tasked with racking up as many points as possible within a five minute time limit as they munched pellets, chased fruit, and dodged ghosts all in the name of racking up the highest score possible. This bite-sized, score attack driven experience was an absolute blast that kept players coming back for more time and time again. And like it’s predecessor, Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 uses the same basic recipe, but it also adds a wealth of other new additions that don’t always feel like a good fit.
For starters, players no longer need to gobble up all of the pellets in a maze to move onto the next level. This time around a meter at the bottom of the screen slowly fills as you devour dots. Once the meter is filled, a piece of fruit or Power Pellet will appear at the bottom of the screen. Collecting the fruit will move you onward towards the next maze, while the iconic Power Pellet will allow you to devour those pesky ghosts. Another new addition to the game comes in the form of Bomb Jumps. Players start each stage with a handful of bombs, which can be used to send Pac-Man back to the safety of the starting point of the maze where he remains hidden from ghosts or instantly snag the fruit, permitting the meter has been filled. Overall, the addition of the aforementioned meter and Bomb Jumps serve to create an even more fast-paced and frantic experience than before.
Another big change comes in the form the ghosts. Pac-Man’s eternal adversaries will no longer kill the portly protagonist as soon as he bumps into them. This time around, you’re able to collide with your colorful pursuers thee times before they become angry and begin to chase you down, and only then will making contact with them cost you one of your precious lives. This is an interesting mechanic that definitely changes the flow of the game, giving players a little more leeway when it comes to their pellet-popping pursuit of points. Additionally, sleeping ghosts now litter most stages, and when you come within a certain distance of them they’ll join a ghost train, adding more and more spectral silhouettes to the ghosts on the playfield. This makes the enemies a much bigger adversary for Pac-Man, but the trade-off comes when you gobble up a power pellet, allowing you to consume the entire train of ghosts for massive points. It’s a novel idea, but these lazy ghosts are all over the place, and bumping into them causes you to bounce around just like when you collide with their bigger, lethal brothers. In the end, they make the maps feel much too constrained for their own good, essentially forcing you to play the stage just how the developers hand in mind, which is a bit disappointing.
While it’s refreshing to see Namco didn’t merely rest on their laurels this time around, it’s a shame not all of these new components fit together just right. Changes such as the ability to brake, which stomps your chomping avatar outright, seem contrary to the non-stop nature of the previous entries in the series. Boss Fights feel similarly out of place, as they don’t really do anything to add to the experience in any meaningful way, and ultimately feel like a missed opportunity. Truth be told, they could be left out of the game entirely and not make all that much of a difference, and that’s a shame, as the idea of Boss Fights sounds like a fantastic idea on paper. In execution however, they’re essentially just multi-level challenges that up the difficulty by tightening the time limit and making the ghosts more lethal. While these showdowns are capped off with a cute little animation of Pac-Man vanquishing a giant ghost, they battles in and of themselves just feel like more of the same. Having said that, I can’t help but feel the addition of some meaningful multiplayer modes would have gone a much longer way towards spicing things up than some of these seemingly tacked-on mechanics.
When it comes to presentation, Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 shines with its pulsating, neon medley of retro-inspired visuals and epilepsy-inducing explosions of light and color. The numerous mazes have plenty of nostalgic style, and the spectacle that comes from gobbling up a lengthy ghost train will have you smiling from ear to ear time and time again. The game’s audio is equally as entertaining. The classic sound effects we know and love return as expected, and are accompanied by a pumping soundtrack that does a great job of pulling you into the frantic on-screen action.
Though this remixed sequel may not be quite as good as its predecessor, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time. After all, Pac-Man Championship Edition was pretty much the gaming equivalent of lightning in a bottle, and left some pretty big shoes to fill. Despite the new features the game delivers being a bit of a mixed bag, Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 still succeeds where it counts: it’s an addicting score-chaser that will keep you coming back for more. Whether you’re unlocking various modes and challenges or fighting to climb to the top of the game’s online leaderboards, when all is said and done, this trek down memory lane is a nostalgic romp that, while not perfect, is still a solid way to scratch that nagging arcade itch.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed) Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment ; Developer: Bandai Namco Studios ; Players: 1 ; Released: September 13, 2016 ; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $12.99
“Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 given to HeyPoorPlayer by Bandai Namco Entertainment.”