Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 – Review

Title   Pac-Man Championship Edition 2
Developer  Bandai Namco
Publisher  Bandai Namco
Platform  PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Genre  Arcade
Release Date  September 15, 2016

If Nintendo are bad for milking the cow when it comes to Mario, then Namco have basically taken the cow, cooked it into a burger and squished it into a milk bottle and stamped ‘Pac-Man‘ on the side. The yellow fellow has had more outings than John Travolta but, oddly, the games have largely been pretty good.

More the most part, the Pac-Man series has stuck closely to the original maze-running formula with a few graphical enhancements along the way but when Pac-Man Championship arrived in 2007 it took the series to new heights with its quick bursts of gameplay and fresh, neo-retro visuals. The sequel, Championship Edition DX, had its own twist on the gameplay but upped the ante on the visuals. Both games are legitimate classics.

So, when Namco announced this sequel, confusingly-titled Pac-Man Championship Edition 2, was announced, I didn’t even bother trying to hit up the PR contacts at Namco for a review code. I pre-ordered it there and then on the PSN Store and then waited patiently for it to unlock.

At first, the game seems to be treading the same path as its successful predecessors. Once again you are placed in a maze and expected to eat dots, fruit, and energisers while avoiding ghosts and generally chasing high scores in five or ten minute time limits. There are elements of the first game – eating all the dots generates a fruit, eating the fruit refreshes the maze – and the second – the sleeping ghosts of DX return, buzz past them to add them to existing ghosts in a ghost train of sorts – but the CE2 adds some twists of its own.

A tutorial explains them one at a time and at first it all feels like a bit of a mess. Essentially, you still clear dots to generate a fruit. Eat a fruit and you refresh the maze. After a few mazes, dots will generate an energiser, allowing you to chase any on-screen ghosts. Getting high scores depends on getting those fruits eaten quickly and those ghosts even faster. The problem is that where CE and DX were just sheer unadulterated fun, CE2 isn’t. It’s good, it is even enjoyable, but there is something off about the whole thing and, typically, the problems are with all the new stuff they’ve put in.

As the tutorial reveals, Namco have added things that don’t improve the game. Aside from a teleportation move and a brake function, that both feel a little unnecessary, the big change is in the speed of the game. It is ridiculously fast. However, to compensate, ghosts no longer kill you right away. Touch a ghost and you’ll bounce off of it, touch it a couple more times in a short time period and it’ll get angry and then will chase you at speed.

Essentially, they’ve nerfed the ghosts in order to up the speed and it detracts from the skill and judgement required from the earlier games and, instead, feels like chaos. That’s not to say it is difficult. It isn’t, thanks to the ghosts, but you can bleed time quite easily, especially when you eat an energiser and then have to chase a ghost around the screen. They do follow some predictable behaviour patterns but it is all so fast that most of the time all you can do is hope to head them off without wasting too many seconds.

There’s just something very unsatisfying about it all. Even when you eat a big train of ghosts. In DX this felt great because you had much more awareness of how many ghosts were in a particular train and you had to be more methodical about building them up but here it’s all so fast and the act of eating ghosts is actually a little annoying as the camera starts playing around to make it all a bit more dynamic but it just gets confusing as you then have to waste a second or two figuring out where you are at in the maze again.

The magic isn’t just lost in the gameplay either. It’s also evident in the presentation too. The disco light visuals are still in place but it all looks a bit bland. I had to go back and check DX to make sure my memory wasn’t cheating me, and it wasn’t. That game still looks glorious. The music is all speedy techno which sounds like generic game-music nonsense.

The various maze types and mix of graphic styles and camera views don’t have the same impact as the previous games. There are more combinations here but it all kind of feels the same and none of it is particularly exciting. The problem is that CE2 truly believes it is exciting.

When you combine the neon graphics, the ‘we’ve watched The Matrix too many times‘ speedy techno and the ridiculous pace of the game, it’s clear that they are going for that adrenaline rush but it all feels a bit too deliberate; too sterile. It feels like being at the world’s most average party but with a host that is going ‘WOOOO!!! ISN’T THIS THE GREATEST PARTY EVER!?!?!?‘ and, frankly, you’d rather be doing something else instead.

Admittedly, the criticism comes from the fact that CE2 was meant to be amazing. The first two games were and this is developed by the same people that made DX (I had to check that because I assumed, after playing it, that it had been farmed out) so exceptations were rightly high but, getting over the disappointment, there is still a solid Pac-Man game here. It plays okay and there is some enjoyment to be had from replaying levels and improving your scores (although the gaps between score rankings are a little too big for my liking) but the best way to describe how this all feels is to say that if Namco had been excellent chaps and released this as a bonus mode in a Championship Edition/DX compilation, then it would have been a welcome addition that everyone would mostly ignore because the first two games were so good.

  • A bad modern Pac-Man title is still a good arcade game
  • The core gameplay has some appeal
  • Very 'pick up and play'
  • The increased speed is just a bit too much
  • Nerfed ghosts feel like a compromise
  • Lacks the magic of the other games
  • Presentation feels oddly sterile
  • Pac's new abilities feel forced

With a true numbered-sequel like Pac-Man Championship Edition 2, the expectations can often lead developers down the wrong path and that has happened here. By trying to up the ante of every aspect of the series, they've reduced the fun, excitement and addictiveness evident in the previous games and have instead delivered a disappointing sequel. If you're new to the series then this is still a half-decent game but Pix the Cat is probably your best option on the PS4 if you want maze 'em up larks.

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