Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 Review – Fever Dream
The yellow hungry boy eats ghosts again.
Developer: Bandai Namco Publisher: Bandai Namco Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One Released: September 13, 2016 Copy purchased
I’m continually impressed at how Bandai Namco – a publisher usually on the very cynical end of the publisher spectrum – has kept Pac-Man going all these decades.
While the kid-oriented spin-offs are nothing to write home about, the games that take Pac-Man‘s core idea and evolve it into a unique production are truly incredible, sticking to the series’ key simplicity while bolting on original gimmicks to create engrossing alternatives.
Both the first Championship Edition and Pac-Man 256 are brilliant examples of how you can take a minimalist retro concept and turn it into something both familiar and remarkably distinct. Unsurprisingly, Championship Edition 2 continues the tradition.
Like its predecessor, CE2 uses high speeds and shifting maze patterns to keep players on their toes and create an experience that bursts with energy.
Dots are arranged in patterns on the map as opposed to filling every corridor, acting as guidelines for players to get the most points and avoid ghostly pursuers.
Mr. Man’s spectral enemies are different this time around. Simply touching a ghost won’t result in the loss of a life – instead, ghosts can be bumped into up to three times before they become enraged and subsequently lethal. This is fortunate, since the game’s pacing makes collisions downright inevitable.
Maps typically find themselves littered with sleeping minions. These small green variants of the classic ghosts stay slumbering until Pac-Man passes by them, at which point they wake up and attach themselves to a larger ghost, forming a growing chain as more of them awaken. This makes ghosts tougher to avoid, since hitting any part of the chain brings them closer to anger, but it’s an essential component of play.
As one might expect, the longer the chain, the more points it’s worth when Pac-Man inevitably turns the tables and eats that sucker.
On stages where a Power Pill is present, the ghosts will flee along set routes (indicated by a marker running through corridors) and will try their hardest to avoid getting caught. Since they can only be eaten from front-to-back (trailing minions cannot be chomped), ghosts will need to be outwitted by players predicting their next move.
A minimum number of dots have to be eaten before a piece of fruit appears – eating the fruit will clear that map and shift Pac-Man to the next one, leaving behind any dots or 1UPs remaining. Fruit normally sits at the starting area, but are sometimes capable of movement and need to be chased down, avoiding Pac-Man in the same way ghosts do.
The general flow of gameplay consists of eating pellets to unlock the fruit and move on, waking up as many minions as possible on the way. Ghosts and their minions will accompany Pac-Man from map to map, their trains potentially growing to delicious sizes until they reach a maze with a spawning Power Pill and (hopefully) get gobbled up.
It’s a markedly different experience than the first Championship Edition, but no less brilliant. It’s easy to be intimidated by the speed and the sometimes complex maze layouts, but provided one keeps a clear mind and can think a few seconds ahead, it can feel fantastic to get a perfect clear, following the dots, waking up the minions, and nabbing that fruit with intensely satisfying fluidity.
Although dots conveniently lay out the path for players, it is by no means easy. Knowing the correct route and being able to take it are two separate things.
Some mazes are astounding mind screws, designed to panic players by leading them within a hair’s breadth of ghosts or creating winding patterns of dots that craftily mislead their consumer. Some mazes also feature jump pads that can send Pac-Man into different areas of the map and pile on the confusion.
Rather than infuriate, the challenges provided by CE2 are exhilarating. This game’s a rush, and the map design often borders on downright genius.
The main gameplay mode offers a series of stages with themed layouts and differing speeds, giving players five minutes to score as many points as they can. Perfect for quick bursts of gameplay or obsessively lengthy sessions, Score Attack offers ten levels with three difficulty settings that unlock as you play.
I’m less of a fan of Adventure Mode, which offers strictly timed challenges (usually eating a set number of fruit or ghosts), remixed rules, and a mobile game-style star rating system. In order to clear an act, players will need to earn enough stars to unlock a boss fight – basically a regular course with a tight time limit and the added problem of ghosts becoming angered the moment fruit spawns.
Adventure is more contrived than Score Attack, and doesn’t have anywhere near the same sense of flow. While I can happily play Score Attack stages over and over, most Adventure maps are barely worth trying the once.
While not quite as aesthetically appealing as the first game, CE2‘s garish colors and fantastic soundtrack are nonetheless lively and add to the overall sense of urgency one inevitably feels while playing. It’s garish as hell, and I can’t help but appreciate it. The way the camera zooms into the action when Pac-Man eats his way up a train is never not gratifying, either.
While my dislike of Adventure Mode translates to a distaste for a significant amount of content, I still adore Championship Edition 2 as an overall package. If it had just consisted of the Score Attack stages, I’d have not regretted my purchase – I know I’ll easily get my money’s worth out of this thing over time – but the other options aren’t awful and simply pile on more stuff to do outside of the main attraction.
Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 is a different beast than its prequel, and some may find its gimmicks a little too gimmicky this time around, but I find it hard to pick a favorite between the two offerings.
There’s no doubt in my mind that this is the cleverer of the two titles, boasting an inventive central mechanic that informs some thoroughly brilliant level design.
Regardless of which may be the superior Pac-Man, this second round of Championship remains a bloody terrific time.