Pac-Man: CE DX – Review
Namco aren’t afraid of milking a franchise heavily enough to make Sonic start an awareness campaign for it, and one of their most horribly dried-up properties is Pac-Man, the pizza-faced grandaddy of gaming. He’s been around for thirty years now, which is ridiculous given that the original game is about as dull and difficult as any early ’80s arcade title. The first level was okay, but after that, the huge difficulty spike, made worse by power-pills that are as effective as ‘Lemsip AIDS Relief’ and last slightly less than a second, make the game a little joyless. Billy Mitchell may be able to clock the sonofabitch but he’s very probably a self-aware cyborg, intent on destroying the planet (with hot sauce).
Attempts to advance the series, and there have been millions, it seems, mostly all make the mistake of copying the initial formula while throwing in some poxy gimmick that won’t keep you playing beyond your first go. Pac-Land was the best game in the series, but that was a side-scrolling platformer with lovely music and magic shoes – what’s not to like? Then the milking came with the Arrangement editions, Anniversary editions, Remix editions, Nintendo fucking DS editions. None of it was great, none of it was awful. It was just blaverage.
This all changed in 2007 with the release of Pac-Man: CE (or Championship Edition if you will). Sure, it kept the same old formula (eating pills before turning the tables on the spectral pricks that follow you around), but the ever-evolving mazes, sweet presentation (great music, gorgeous revamped graphics) and compulsive leaderboard action all made the game exciting – a first for the series. With the mazes changing throughout the five or ten minutes that you play it, the game became less about memorisation and all about arcade reflexes and fun; perfect for a quick go but addictive enough to help you lose hours. I still rate it as one of the best things on the Xbox 360. This is Namco though, and after applying their hateful DLC policies to the iPod version of CE, you’d be forgiven for expecting more of the same for the sequel as well as it being a complete rehash of CE (heck, I was expecting Ms Pac-Man to show up).
Thankfully, Pac-Man: Celine Dion (CE: DX… whatever) is brilliant but in a very different way to the original. Sure, you still have the great presentation (although there is now a choice of graphical styles to play with – some lovely, some sickly but none are mandatory) and, yes, it follows the CE template of you running around a maze, clearing dots to make items appear that replenish the dots and remodel that particular half, but DX is a very different beast thanks to the restless spirits that inhabit the maze.
Instead of the usual ghost behaviour, these ‘go-into-the-light-you-ectoplasmic-bastard’ spirits start their afterlife snoozing in locations around the map. Skimming past them wakes them up and they’ll follow you as you acquire the kind of entourage that’d make Beyonce blush. As ever, a power-pill lets you turn the tables on them but now you’ll have dozens of ghosts to chomp down on instead of the usual four. Multiple ghosts mean big points and so the game becomes about managing your safety against your scoring potential. Risk vs. reward, the greatest of all arcade score mechanisms. As with CE, this is all about the leaderboards, and surviving the five minute score attack mode without dying is quite an easy task (thanks to the game going into bullet-time when you’re near a ghost and the handy addition of bombs to Pac-Man’s armoury) allowing you to concentrate on score.
It’s not all rosey though. Certain maze layouts make it impossible to continue collecting ghosts (indeed, there seems to be an upper limit of ghostly followers that you cannot increase), forcing you to eat the ones you’ve got before gathering them from zero once more and the overall leaderboard (the one you see in the horrible new dashboard) is based on a bullshit cumulative score across the many mode variations, rather than being based on the Championship mode. With so many variations, leaderboard competition between friends could well become fragmented. A silly design choice indeed.
As expected, the Xbox 360 dpad is absolutely the worst thing in the world for playing this kind of game, so regular pad owners will have to use the analogue sticks which have a habit of letting you down later on in the game when everything speeds up. That’s not the game’s fault though and I’m sure fans of DX will be looking forward to the next Xbox 360 pad revision.
Fans of Pac-Man CE should definitely check this out, even given how different the core gameplay is, and those of you who, quite wisely, hate the original Pac-Man games could easily fall in love with DX as well. Is it as good as the original CE? For me, no, but it’s a small gap. DX is a more methodical game and the big scores here will require a tad more memorisation than in CE but it’s still fun and exciting and for £6.80 (if you’re silly enough to still buy your points directly from Bill Gates), it’s a bit of a steal.
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