Pac-Man Championship Edition DX Review

   22/11/2010 at 22:22       Richard Horne       7 COMMENTS. - Score 5/5
 - Pac-Man CE DX, Pac-Man, NamcoBandai, Arcade, XBLA

It’s been a while since a game was released for Xbox Live Arcade that truly gave me arcade-fever.

Sure, the hugely infectious Geometry Wars games gave me psychedelic hallucinations long after I’d stopped playing them. And the ridiculous (in the positive sense of the word) Trials HD infiltrated my dreams with its insane jumps and pixel-perfect runs. But other than those two shining beacons in an ocean of darkness, few games have kept me going at them over and over again. Practising. Rinsing. Repeating. Obsessing. Slowly improving my technique game after game. Compulsively pouring over YouTube videos for hints and tips, trying to find that missing part of the puzzle that would elevate me to Grand Player status. And even though during the summer, Microsoft really pimped its Summer of Arcade initiative, games like DeathSpank, Limbo and Hydro Thunder: Hurricane, while all great in their own unique ways, were never real Arcade games. Arcade in the true spiritual sense of the word.

You see in this day and age, the word Arcade is usually used to define a game that is smaller and more palatable. A game that comes in bite-sized morsels. An Arcade game is usually downloadable and has a lesser value both financially and philosophically. Arcade means throw-away. It suggests a mild passing curio. Something you’ll play for an evening or two before moving on to the next shiny thing like an ADHD-riddled teenager.

Now you’ll notice that in my previous list of quintessential Arcade games, I omitted the precursor to the game I’ll eventually begin talking about - Pac-Man Championship Edition. And no that’s not an over-sight; it’s a deliberate and considered choice as NamcoBandai’s previous entry in this series unfortunately didn’t quite push my proverbial buttons like it did a lot of others’.

But Pac-Man Championship Edition DX on the other hand…

The DX version of Pac-Man CE is ostensibly the same game as before, but with extra maps and a couple of subtle key enhancements. But my god do those enhancements propel this game into another stratosphere. And I’ll say this in hushed tones, but Pac-Man CE DX is even almost on a par with Bizarre Creations’ aforementioned finest.

The first key difference is the change in behaviour of the archetypal Pac-Man ghost. Instead of constantly patrolling the game map just waiting for you to speak out of turn or look at them in a certain way like surly teenagers, in DX they’ll just sit at various point of the map snoozing and minding their own business and paying you no attention whatsoever unless you happen to brush past them. Upon which, and continuing with the ASBO teen metaphor, they'll get up in your grill and spit "YOU WANT SOME?" before hunting you down with a determined and rampant fervour.

The second major difference is the addition of a smart bomb power-up. You’re never really in danger of losing all of your lives, but to lose one is to waste valuable seconds. With a smart bomb, however, a quick squeeze of either trigger sends all rampaging ghosts back to the central ghost-house. They’ll soon come at you again, but the smart-bomb buys you just enough time to plot your escape route and carry on, on your merry way. There is a slight cost associated, though, in that the game will set you back a couple of levels thus slowing you down slightly, but it's a small price to pay and definitely the lesser of two evils.

The third and final addition is a dramatic slow down of time if you get too close to colliding with an enemy ghost. During this bullet-time (for want of a better word) you can quickly change direction or escape down a nearby channel. And while on paper it sounds fairly insignificant, it’s actually a real game-changer and will save your skin many-a-time.

As ever, as well as avoiding ghosts, your task is to eat the dots that appear in symmetrical patterns on the game-map, with every completed side generating a piece of fruit on the opposite side, that when collected gives you a score boost. As you follow these trails of dots, any ghosts you’ve awoken will continue to follow you, tracking your every move and bunching together in their tens like an angry mob.

The key to success is in finding the shortest route possible around each map. A route that covers eating all the dots, waking up all nearby ghosts, before dashing across to the other side to collect a piece of fruit and then repeating ad nauseum. You need to let as many ghosts as you can handle follow you and only collect the power-pills when you absolutely have to. And then and only then can you steam through this extended conga-line, chowing them down like only Pac-Man knows how. The simultaneous eruptions of light and colour and the satisfying sound effects that kick in when you do this are hugely enjoyable and make success a rewarding and arresting experience.

On the expert difficulty level and a few minutes into a game, bizarrely enough (pun not intended) Pac-Man CE DX even manages to feel like Geometry Wars 2. In particular the brilliant Pacifism mode. Having almost a hundred ghosts chasing after you at what feels like a hundred miles an hour as you skilfully navigate your way through the map hoovering up the dots is a real rush. It’s delightfully instinctive and is one of those games where it’s so easy to just zone out and play in that rare Zen-like state that games like Guitar Hero, Amplitude and Geometry Wars allow you to transcend into. My housemate watched me playing yesterday and expressed his bewilderment at how I was managing to play it so quickly as he had absolutely no idea what was going on.

Also, if you’re that way inclined, Pac-Man CE DX is one of the easiest games in which you can snap up all 200 achievement points. In fact, I unlocked 5 of its 12 on my first go alone.

Pac-Man CE DX is generous with its game-modes. The staple 5 and 10 minute challenge modes are where you should spend most of your time as they’re the most fulfilling. But there are also various time-trial challenges with each requiring you to eat a set number of fruit as quickly as possible. The ghost challenge mode, meanwhile, tracks the highest number of ghosts you have following you at any one time. With 9 maps, loads of unique and interesting aesthetic styles covering all eras of previous Pac-Man game and three difficulty levels, for 800 points there’s plenty to get through.

The one and only criticism I’d level at the game - and it’s one that will no doubt be patched soon enough – is that when viewing the global or friends’ leader boards, your own score is, for some inexplicable reason, omitted. You instead have to instead make a mental note of your score from one page and then make your comparisons manually on the adjacent page. It’s a startling foresight but not one that has a detrimental experience on the overall quality of the game.

And that’s pretty much all there is to it. As with all of the best games of this ilk, the simplicity is deceptive and only the most skilled of players will pick up on the nuances and high-level tactics required to maximise your scores. Being able to watch replays of the top players’ performances is a simple but brilliant addition that is a highly valuable learning tool but also one that makes you feel increasingly inadequate.

Pac-Man CE DX came out of nowhere for me. A bolt in the blue. But it’s already eaten up more hours of my life than I’d care to admit to and the fact that it’s keeping me off Black Ops’ multiplayer is testament enough. Whether you’ve played and liked any of the previous Pac-Man games is irrelevant – I never played any of them to any great length – CE DX is a masterful update that somehow completely changes the game by changing actually very little. It’s genuinely addictive and compulsive and an ideal game to play if you’re struggling to find time for a 20 hour blockbuster. Go buy it now. You won’t be disappointed.

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