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Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 24th of September 2016

When the first Championship Edition of the Namco classic launched in 2007, few could have possibly imagined how brilliantly it would have managed to reinvent the timeless arcade game with flashy neon visuals, a remixed soundtrack and fast paced gameplay. The small, time limited chunks of gameplay added tension and excitement, keeping the game feeling fresh, so much so that when Namco would subsequently release the upgraded DX iteration three years later, I was left feeling somewhat stupefied, until, that is, I actually played it. DX, as it turned out, was a revelation, mixing up the core gameplay dramatically with the addition of a new sleeping ghost, one that would awaken once Pac-Man had drifted past, seeing it then join its compatriots in the long procession of a spectral conga line that could eventually be devoured for a massive score boost. Now, nine years after the first release of Pac-Man: Championship Edition the developer returns to reinvent the game again, but can they possibly get it right for a third time?

Pac-Man: Championship Edition 2 builds on DX, maintaining some aspects of its core gameplay whilst adding in a number of new additions in an attempt to spice things up yet again. These new ideas are first served up to the player via the tutorial mode, the meters that need to be filled to unlock fruit or power pellets, boss battles, an adventure mode and so on, taken individually the new additions aren’t going to win the game any new friends, in fact, the tutorial paints a picture of the game being little more than a complete mess, but thankfully, when playing the game proper, the various, disparate elements somehow manage to come together. Sadly, I must report though that it doesn’t quite live up to the immense quality of its predecessors, but given how good they are, that isn’t entirely unexpected to be honest.
Where Championship Edition 2 falls short of its predecessors is the way in which it tries to turn everything up to eleven, with ridiculous 3D animations that take the player out of the game, breaking up the flow of the experience, and typically just as you find yourself becoming engrossed in it. To make matters worse, the team at Namco felt that having ghost trains that follow set paths as they run away from the player was a good idea, it might have been too if they could be attacked from any angle as they were in DX, but no, here the player must hit them from the front. Colliding with its ghost tail from any other angle leaves Pac-Man bouncing about as though the game was being played out on a pinball table, costing time and with it, points, to frustrate players desperate to beat their high score quite considerably. Coupled with items that also have a tendency to flee the scene and extra lives that aren’t added on automatically, and there is quite frankly too much stacked up against the player, leaving high scores feeling more like a matter of luck than skill at times.

Of course, that’s not entirely the case, there are obviously preferred routes around each maze that should be adhered to in order to collect as many dots as possible, which, like its predecessors shoot up in value over time – assuming that no mistakes are made, that is. Eating dots is still vital for progression, doing so fills up the meter that makes fruit and pellets available, but it also forms the backbone of any scoring attempts, with each dot being potentially worth five hundred points each as the player builds up their multiplier, losing a life entirely resets this, but more interestingly, because fruit can appear before a stage has been entirely cleared (a new feature to Pac-Man), it is possible to quickly jump on to the next stage in the hopes of generating a pellet to devour another ghost train as the timers counts down to zero. There is a trade-off though, progressing early means that the score multiplier takes a hit, it doesn’t entirely reset, but it looks as though it may half the value of each dot, making it something of a risk versus rewards scenario which might just inject a tad more strategy into the mix.
Aside from the tutorial, the game is split into two unique sections, the first is likely to be more of a welcoming sight to returning players, it being comprised of a series of various level layouts wherein the player can partake in five minute bites of gameplay in one of three different modes of play (there’s also a ten-minute practice mode); Single Train, Regular and Extreme. Generally speaking, all three modes are much the same except that in the first of these, these ghosts will team up to form a solitary line of foes, making it much easier to scoop them up when the opportunity arises. Regular sees the four famous apparitions (Blinky, Inky, Pinky and Clyde) each start their own little collective, with four individual ghost trains kicking around, it makes it much more difficult to devour them all within the time limit available, any that are missed are lost but if all but one are caught, the latter gets a pretty healthy boost, making it more than worth capturing for the increased point value that it represents. Extreme is very similar again, except that Pac-Man starts off running at full speed, and with fleeing items and ghost trains making unwelcome appearances right from the off, this becomes a game mode that quite frankly I think Championship Edition 2 would be better off without.

Adventure Mode is another obvious weakness, though there is undoubtedly a wealth of content to be found here, it tends to highlight the weaknesses rather than the strengths of the game. Tasking players to eat a set number of fruit within a set time, players will find their progress again hampered by the same two key problems that plague it throughout, rendering tense battles against the clock (particularly on the harder difficulties) as matters whose outcomes feel almost entirely out of one’s control. There are eleven areas to be bested, each comprised of ten challenges followed by a boss battle, which is a new feature to Championship Edition 2. Granted, naming them as such is a tad misleading, there may very well be a giant ghost hovering in the background, but ultimately, all that is being asked of the player is that they manage to best a sequence of mazes in rapid succession before eating some sort of ultimate power pellet that sees Pac-Man assault the giant with something vaguely reminiscent of Cloud’s Omnislash limit-break. There are probably some out there who might be won over by this new addition, but personally, it’s just another move away from the purity of the Pac-Man experience for me, there’s simply too much attention seeking flashiness with little real substance to back it up and that is a bit of a shame, really.
In all, Pac-Man: Championship Edition 2 is a worthy addition to the series, sure, it fails to live up to the quality of the previous two attempts, but it’s still great to see Namco trying out new ideas to keep the big, yellow ghost muncher in vogue. There are times when the game is undoubtedly trying, but when it’s good, there are still few games out there that can come close to the pure addictiveness of the point scoring gameplay that resides at its core, and for the most part, it’s still very, very good indeed.
James Paton
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