When Toru Iwatani, as his final act in the gaming industry, released Pac-Man Championship Edition on Xbox Live, old-school gamers were apprehensive about yet another Pac-Man title. The fact that Iwatani was the creator of the original Pac-Man helped matters a bit, though, and gamers jumped on board the gaming legend’s final creation. They were glad they did, because Pac-Man CE was one of the year’s most addictive and fun titles. The game’s new mechanics and visuals helped introduce a whole new generation of gamers to the industry’s first icon while satisfying old-timers with a mix of nostalgia, challenge, and fast-paced action. When a sequel was announced, some feared that Namco might begin to stretch the franchise too thin, and that a second Championship Edition was unnecessary. They couldn’t have been more wrong; Pac-Man Championship Edition DX is even better than its predecessor, and may be the most fun title yet to bear the Pac-Man name.
Pac-Man CE DX is still a game about a yellow ball running through a maze of dots and power pellets, alternately running from and chasing ghosts. Pretty much everything else, however, is different. Just as in the first Championship Edition, Pac-Man must clear all the power pellets and dots from one side of the map. This creates a piece of fruit on the opposite side that, when eaten, reveals a new layout of pellets and dots. This time, however, the maps change as the game goes on, cutting off existing routes and limiting the player’s options. As more dots and pellets are cleared, the game speeds up, making both Pac-Man and his supernatural enemies move at a blistering pace.
Previous Pac-Man games have generally featured four ghosts (Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde), but CE DX throws dozens of ghosts on screen at once. These ghosts follow Pac-Man incessantly, and stack up in a sort of deadly conga line. Many ghosts sit dormant until Pac-Man runs past them, causing them to awaken and join the chase. Before long, players will find themselves at the front of a massive ghost train, searching for a power pellet. Once a pellet is eaten, the ghosts turn a familiar, vulnerable blue color, and attempt to escape. Pac-Man must eat as many ghosts as possible before the timer runs out on his power pellet to maximize his score. Some ghosts carry power pellets, that when eaten, extend Pac-Man’s mealtime. This forces players to strategize their routes, weighing risk against reward, and timing out the consumption of more power pellets to keep their combo going. Players can also collect bombs, which send all ghosts back to their home base and reset the game’s speed when detonated.
Pac-Man games have always been about path finding, quick reflexes, and even quicker thinking, and DX is no different. There is, however, a new tool that will help newer players, but may turn off hardened Pac-Man veterans. Moving too close to a ghost will trigger a slow-motion effect that gives players an extra chance to correct their mistake. It’s an interesting new feature, and one that I’m personally fond of. While it doesn’t completely prevent players from dying, it definitely helps prevent frustration, and makes the game more playable for players of all skill levels.
These new mechanics play out in several game modes. Score Attacks challenge players to score as many points as possible in a limited time frame, making large chains of ghosts the main priority, while Time Trials task players with clearing a certain number of fruits as quickly as possible, making ghosts more of something to avoid than to chase. The other mode is Ghost Chain, which simply asks players to eat as many ghosts in a single streak as possible. This mode is a blast, but each of the game’s 10 maps only features one Ghost Chain challenge, as opposed to the dozens of Time Trails and Score Attack levels.
Whatever mode players focus on, they’ll constantly receive feedback on exactly where they stand in the CE DX world. The game’s online leaderboard system tracks player’ progress, and constantly updates players on their world ranking in any given event, map, or even the game as a whole. The “Leaderboards as a path to addiction” idea is one that’s easy to find on Xbox Live Arcade titles, but Pac-Man CE DX may be the best example of it since Trials HD. Beating friends’ scores and improving one’s own world ranking are great motivators to keep players coming back over and over again, and many players will lose countless hours trying to shave fractions of seconds off their best scores.
Pac-Man Championship Edition DX offers eight different visual styles based on previous Pac-Man games, with separate settings for maps and characters. With 64 unique combinations, along with different color choices for the maps, players can play a different looking game board almost every time. Visual styles are randomly chosen by default, though, and with the incredibly fast pace of the game, most players will simply play on whatever map is chosen for them. It’s a bit of a shame that players can’t set their favorite visual styles, but it’s a very minor complaint, especially in light of everything that Namco Bandai has done right.
Successfully reinventing a classic game, especially one as iconic and beloved as Pac-Man, is never easy. Even more challenging is re-envisioning one with new gameplay experiences while maintaining the charm and appeal of the original. With Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, Namco Bandai has done all this and more, crafting an utterly addictive Pac-Man experience that will thrill, challenge, and consume players of all ages, skill levels, and experience. It's the best Pac-Man game to date, and a must-play for anyone who has thumbs and likes playing video games. It's really that good.