Thursday, April 2, 2015

Pac is back - PAC-MAN Championship Edition DX+

Over the years, Plenty of companies have tried to revive or reboot their old IPs, most readers would likely be familiar with 2012's XCOM: Enemy Unknown, or possibly Shadow Warrior in 2013. This isn't limited to older PC games however, as plenty of arcade games gave been given the same treatment. Frogger got a 3D sequel in 1997, along with Centipede in 1998. Battlezone somewhat famously got rebooted as an action/RTS game in 1998 and there was even a not very well received Yar's Revenge game in 2011. To top it all off, as of this writing Atari has Asteroids: Outpost on Steam Early Access. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that someone would eventually try to re-imagine Pac-Man.

Well... to be honest Pac-man's been a lot of different games over the years, but... Look, it's Pac-Man, one of the most recognizable video game characters of all time, he's honestly kind of hard to write an intro for.

PAC-MAN Championship Edition DX+, which I'll be calling Pac-Man CE from here on out, is a sort of re-imagining of the original Pac-Man, taking the games basic mechanics and using them to make something new. At it's core it plays a lot the original Pac-Man, You're given a maze full of pellets you need to eat, while avoiding ghosts that chase after you. There's also power pellets you can eat, that give you the ability to eat the ghosts. Being an old arcade game, there's not a lot to it.
While things look different, a lot of the basics are still here.
Pac-Man CE however, changes things slightly. to start, Mazes in Pac-Man CE are split in half, when you clear one half, a bonus item appears in the other. Eat that, and the half you just cleared is removed and a new one put in it's place. since the maze constantly refills itself this way, there's no need to stop the action to reset things like in the original game, allowing the game to fly at a steady pace with almost no breaks in the action.

Another big change is the ghosts, While the four that chase you around the maze are still there, there's now also several ghosts dotting parts of the maze, they're sleeping and won't normally chance you, but when you pass near one, it wakes up and starts to follow after you. After that, and new ghosts you wake up will get in line behind it, until you've got a giant spectral conga line chasing after you. It's actually a big part of the game, as your goal while clearing out the maze is to get as many ghosts chasing you as possible. Once you think you've got enough of them, you can grab a power pellet to eat the whole line for a massive score bonus.
most of the game is spent building up a line of ghosts, like the one seen here.
Outside of the power Pellets, the game offers a couple of additional tools to help deal with the ghosts. The first is a sort of bullet-time effect. Whenever you get near a ghost, the game visually draws your attention to it, while also slowing the game down, giving you several seconds to try and move out of the way. alternatively. There's bombs. Bombs are an extremely useful tool that when used, send all ghosts back to their base in the center of the maze. you're not completely out of the woods, as the line that was chasing you will be on our tail again in a few moments, but it's a life saver when you're cornered and need some extra breathing room.

For the most part the game is pretty simple: Move back and forward between both halves of the maze, eating dots and getting ghosts to chase you so you can eat them for massive points, all in the name of setting as high a score as possible within the time limit. The game manages to get a lot out of this too, with several unique mazes to play on, each with 5 and 10 minuet modes to play on. The game doesn't stop there however, and includes two additional modes. There's time trial, which has you eating a certain number of bonus items as quickly as possible, and ghost combo, which only counts how many ghosts you can eat in a single combo. Both force you to rethink how you play the game as score doesn't matter in these modes.
Passing near ghosts causes them to wake up and chase after you.
Graphically the game neon, very neon. There's several different graphic modes you can pick from, ranging from classic, pixelated sprites to smooth shapes, some modes make the maze walls look slightly raised. There's even a graphics set based on the old Pac-Mania arcade game and if you have the DLC for it, sets based on Rally X and Dig Dug. Whatever you choose though, all of them have the same things in common: plenty of Bright, glowing neon colors. add in all the flashing effects and visual cues that pop up during play, and you've for a bight, visually exciting game to look at. Interestingly, the graphics are split between both the maze itself, and the characters, and you can mix these however you want, There's even a color option that changes a graphic set's colors between various options, giving you a surprising amount of control over the look of the game. Although sadly this flexibility doesn't extend to the DLC graphics. If you use a DLC set, you have to use both halves of it together, no mixing and matching.

The game uses mostly club and dance remixes of various themes from old Pac-Man games, which fit with the games neon look nicely. There's several tracks available and you can pick what song you'd like to hear for each game, Though again, the DLC sets force you to use all of a DLCs assets together. it's all very bouncy, energetic music that fights the fast paced nature of the game nicely. honestly, between the thumping music and neon colors, this is practically a rave party in video game form.
The DLC includes some extra graphics options, like this Dig Dug set shown here.
The game does what it sets out to do well enough, and there's a lot of content to keep someone busy, but despite all of this, there is one thing that slightly disappoints me with the game: There's no classic mode. It would of been fun if I could play some classic, oldschool Pac-Man with these new graphics and music and it's slightly disappointing that I can't. Though with that said I guess I can understand why, as it's not the real focus of the game and the developers were likely trying to get away from the old formula.

With all this said, what were looking at is an amazing score attack game, with a high replay value, thanks to having plenty of mazes and modes, each with their own ranking system and global online high score tables to compete on. It's easy to pick up and play in small sessions and those who like to really master their games have a lot to dig into. more impressively, Pac-Man CE manages to successfully take a simple game like Pac-man, and turn it into something completely new while still being readily recognizable as a Pac-Man game, making this a game worth looking into.

PAC-MAN Championship Edition DX+ was developed by Mine Loader Software Co., Ltd. and published by Namco Bandai Games. It is available on Steam. It's soundtrack is available on iTunes.

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