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