Outsiders who spare barely only a few minutes to understand Pac-Man, must wonder just how much developer Bandai Namco can do with a franchise whose core appeal remains largely unchanged in the thirty-six years since its original release. Much like the sublime Pac-Man 256 before it, Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 on PS4 answers that question with vigour, as it builds upon the classic DNA of one of the most commercially and critically successful games in the history of the industry with a host of new modes and added wrinkles to its timeless formula.
Invigorating the formula
Whereas the recently released Pac-Man 256 had players gobbling pills and collecting power-ups on a perpetual conveyor belt that encompassed elements of the series traditional maze design, Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 instead elects to implement change in a much more far-reaching capacity, but yet still retains the broad objective of getting the player to chase the highest score possible.
The first thing you’ll notice (and you really don’t need to be a long-time player to cotton onto it), is the somewhat shocking discovery that the ghosts don’t actually kill you if your yellow pill-muncher happens to bump into them. Here, knocking into, speeding past and forcing your way through Pac-Man’s spectral foes actually causes them to become more and more agitated, and it’s only when they become properly red and angry that they become hazardous to your health.
Rather than going it alone and chasing you around the map, each disturbed ghost instead forms part of a ghost train that thunders through the maze and becomes faster and faster with each apparition that is added to its ranks. One of the easiest ways to rack up a high score, the screen almost explodes in a shower of score if you happen to be under the effects of the power pill and munch the head of the train, as you’ll receive the score for each individual ghost attached to it.
Such an act however, is easier said than done and the principal reason for this is that the train follows a visible set route around the maze, requiring eagle-eyed players to intercept the head of the ghastly locomotive at key points in order to achieve maximum score. On a related note, as opposed to remaining stationary as in previous Pac-Man games, the power pill will also travel along a set route around the maze, and in tandem with chasing or running away from what soon ends up being multiple ghost trains, things often become chaotic very quickly in Pac-Man Championship Edition 2.
Layering the proceedings yet further, are a few other neat changes to the established formula that help keep things interesting. Jump points are a hazard that must be contended with because while they allow the golden gobbler to leap across whole sections of the maze, they do not always map straight across to each other, meaning you could jump off one and land not in the opposite one, but in a totally different location altogether.
Something else that has been heavily tweaked is how eating the regular pills contribute to the larger game structure. Before, chowing down on the iconic white dots would simply increment your score one hundred points at a time. In Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 however, eating pills raises a bar at the bottom of the screen which when maxed out triggers either a power pill to appear, or, a fruit that takes you onto the next stage when eating; providing the player with just one more thing to keep track of.
Another added feature, and one that comes as a great relief during Pac-Man’s more crazier and screen-packed moments, are a limited number of bombs that when triggered, whisk you out of trouble and place you at the starting point of the level. If these bombs teach us anything, it’s that Pac-Man’s deceptive emphasis on strategy remains in rude form here, since timing the use of these bombs proves key to a long and death-free session and should be employed tactically as a result.
Though cliché, the mantra of easy to play, difficult to master, rings true with Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 on PS4. That said, the fact remains that certainly far more than Pac-Man 256 before it, this effort is arguably geared with a more skilled player in mind. Indeed, on the later levels the screen becomes a cornucopia of neon-hued colour and hyperkinetic movement and soon enough, attempting to keep track of Pac-Man’s blistering movements feels like a fool’s errand before your eyes are able to adjust the chaos unfolding in front of them. Newcomers should take heart though; while this is the fastest and most intense Pac-Man has ever been, it isn’t long before you become a pill-gobbling, ghost munching savant and an instant retry is never more than just a couple of quick button presses away.
Modes and flaws
In terms of its broader offering, Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 encompasses just two game modes, time attack and adventure, though before you can get stuck into either one, a mandatory tutorial must be completed. Once the ropes have been taught, you’re then free to tackle these two main modes, except for the fact that somewhat puzzlingly; the game forces you to complete a few stages in time attack before it unlocks the adventure mode. Indeed, in a game that arguably could do with a couple of extra modes to flesh itself out, putting those very few modes that the game does have behind a progression wall just feels unnecessary at best and artificially sophisticated at worst.
As far as the modes themselves go, though modest in number, both provide ample incentive to invest extended play into them. In attack mode, each course focuses on a different theme, with some that require the player to use jump points, and others that present unique and eccentric level designs which must be overcome. Of course, where time attack is concerned and this being Pac-Man, obtaining a high score proves to be its own reward as Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 on PS4 supports online leaderboards for players across the globe to take part in as they pursue ultimate bragging rights over one another.
Adventure mode on the other hand, switches things up by giving the player a number of different missions to complete that include everything from eating a set number of fruit to devouring a specific quantity of ghosts. With a trio of different difficulty levels awarding one to three stars respectively when completed, these stars are then pooled and used to unlock the boss battle at the end of each area; which not only provides an effective hook for progression, but a great reason to retry previously conquered levels at a higher difficulty. As such, both newcomers and long-time series stalwarts will find much to sink their teeth into here.
If you haven’t played Pac-Man before, or profess no love for the long-running arcade series, Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 won’t do a lot to change your mind. Precision engineered for fans of one gaming’s most treasured icons, Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 might be lacking in modes but it is as much a love-letter to the series as it is a bonafide and significant evolution of its beloved formula.