Pac-Man Cham­pi­onship Edi­tion 2


PC, PS4, Xbox One

Wait a minute: Pac-Man can brake? That the tu­to­rial de­tail­ing the changes in this edi­tion runs through 18 sep­a­rate steps should give you a clue as to ex­tent of Bandai Namco’s tinker­ing. If not, it’s con­firmed by the pres­ence of a but­ton that brings to a halt a char­ac­ter whose mo­men­tum has only pre­vi­ously been cur­tailed by walls. Pac-Man Cham­pi­onship Edi­tion 2 doesn’t ap­pear to be drift­ing away from first prin­ci­ples so much as sprint­ing head­long in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. Yet be­fore too long, what at first feels more like a Benny Hill chase than an el­e­gant game of cat and mouse re­veals it­self to be an­other fine rein­ven­tion of this age­less clas­sic.

Cham­pi­onship Edi­tion 2 builds upon the sleep­ing ghosts me­chanic, as seen in 2010’s CE DX: pass by slum­ber­ing spirits and they’ll be added to the chain trail­ing be­hind Inky, Pinky, Blinky and Clyde. But now the mazes are more rigid. Rather than gulp­ing down all the dots in one half to trans­form the other, you need to tra­verse both sides, con­sum­ing enough dots to trig­ger the fruit’s ap­pear­ance in the maze’s cen­tre – which, once eaten, trans­ports you to the next. And rather than power pills ap­pear­ing through­out, you must earn them.

Things are dif­fer­ent once you’ve turned the ta­bles, too. Ghosts don’t slow down once they’re vul­ner­a­ble, show­ing far more ur­gency in their at­tempts to lose you than be­fore, though translu­cent lines will show the routes they’re likely to take, al­low­ing you to head them off. Eat the leader and the train will fol­low them down the hatch, adding num­bers to the re­main­ing trains, un­til the fourth is gob­bled up. Each time you con­nect with the head of the train, the cam­era will adopt an an­gled 3D per­spec­tive to show you de­mol­ish­ing the rest.

In most mazes, the trails of dots form a clear rac­ing line. This, to­gether with the tran­si­tions as you de­scend from one maze to the next, sug­gest some­one at Namco has been play­ing a lot of Pix The Cat. You do, how­ever, get more wig­gle room here, and stray­ing from the most ob­vi­ous route isn’t au­to­mat­i­cally fatal for your score; in­deed, as bombs now bump Pac-Man to the cen­tre of the map rather than re­move ghosts from your path, you can ac­tively fac­tor them more into your strat­egy.

If the bombs and sleep­ing ghosts felt icon­o­clas­tic in DX, then CE2’ s fi­nal key in­gre­di­ent is tan­ta­mount to blas­phemy: hit­ting a ghost is no longer au­to­mat­i­cally fatal. In prac­tice, it’s a log­i­cal ex­ten­sion of DX’s slo-mo fea­ture, whereby the pace would tem­po­rar­ily drop when­ever a col­li­sion was im­mi­nent, al­low­ing you a brief win­dow to take eva­sive ac­tion be­fore your combo was lost. With po­ten­tially four trains on screen at once and the pace ac­cel­er­at­ing from fast to break­neck within half a minute, it’s a smart de­ci­sion to let our ghost­bust­ing hero get away with ac­tual phys­i­cal con­tact. A col­li­sion on any­thing be­low Ex­treme dif­fi­culty has lit­tle ef­fect, giv­ing you space to course cor­rect, but if you per­sist rather than re­vers­ing you’ll en­rage the ghost in ques­tion. The ef­fect here is twofold: you’ll bounce them into the air, let­ting you con­tinue in the same di­rec­tion, but you’ll en­rage them in the process. They’ll get quicker and more ag­gres­sive, and if you hit them while they’re glow­ing, you’ll lose a life. More ru­inously, your score per pel­let will re­set to zero. It’s a re­minder that the Cham­pi­onship Edi­tion games have trans­formed a se­ries that was orig­i­nally about pure sur­vival to one where the fo­cus has shifted to­wards chas­ing high scores. And be­cause first con­tact is never fatal, and the tempo never drops – Pac-Man can hit the skids, sure, but that’s more about eva­sion than con­trol­ling the pace – it’s eas­ier than ever to achieve a state of flow, where you’re play­ing on in­stinct, mak­ing snap de­ci­sions with­out think­ing, all for the sake of build­ing mo­men­tum and, with it, a score big enough to reach the up­per ech­e­lons of the leader­boards. Con­sid­ered in that light, the brake be­comes the game’s most mis­lead­ing fea­ture. It’s not a pause for breath; rather, it’s a sim­pler way to slow your ap­proach to a junc­tion than wig­gling the stick back and forth. It’s still a game that re­quires you to process a lot of visual in­for­ma­tion quickly and re­spond to it. Here, Namco is sim­ply giv­ing you more ways than ever be­fore to do just that, with­out once tak­ing your foot off the gas. The first dif­fi­culty set­ting self-de­scribes as “a ca­sual, fun stage for be­gin­ners” – well, it’s all rel­a­tive (Ex­treme gets rid of 1ups and a sin­gle nudge is enough to en­rage a ghost) but even here, this is a game that feels de­signed for those who found CE DX a lit­tle too slow and easy.

As be­fore, there are sev­eral va­ri­eties of maze, with scor­ing con­sis­tent across all game types. The lay­outs of Hexagon and Moun­tain are fairly self-ex­plana­tory, while High­way has plenty of warp tun­nels on ei­ther side of the map and Junc­tion of­fers es­cape routes at the top and bot­tom. Trou­ble is hard to avoid in Dun­geon’s claus­tro­pho­bic spa­ces, while Cham­pi­onship I recre­ates the course used in the Pac-Man World Cham­pi­onships. Jump­ing will likely be the most di­vi­sive mode, with springs bounc­ing you across the map. It’s fine on other mazes where the land­ing point is ob­vi­ous, but here you’ll need to trace the arc of a leap that might take you down and across. In a game where there’s al­ready plenty to keep your eye on, it might just be an idea too many.

An Ad­ven­ture mode that has you com­plet­ing a se­ries of short mis­sions against a strict time limit of­fers a sim­i­lar ki­netic rush in bite-sized form, by which time any ini­tial mis­giv­ings will prob­a­bly have melted away. For some, this ex­hil­a­rat­ing se­quel won’t quite top­ple the ex­cel­lent DX, but at a time when many of his con­tem­po­raries have long since en­tered re­tire­ment, it’s a plea­sure to see Pac-Man still here, re­fus­ing to grow old grace­fully.

What at first feels more like a Benny Hill chase re­veals it­self to be an­other fine rein­ven­tion of this clas­sic

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