January 28, 2016

Review Redux: Pac-Man Championship Edition DX

Here's a review from way back in 2010, with the crazy convoluted review system I came up with at the time.

Finally, Namco has evolved the Pac-Man game mechanics! And it only took 30 years! There was a taste in 2007s Championship Edition, but DX takes it to the next level. Do not be fooled by the meaningless "DX" tacked on to the title, this is a very different game than its 2007 counterpart. In DX, the game typically begins with a few dots and a fruit on one side of the screen. Eating them makes a fruit and new dots appear on the other side of the screen. Repeat for points. However, what really makes this game unique is the "ghost chain" mechanic. Ghosts are now sleeping throughout the maze. When Pac-Man passes by, they wake up and begin to chase him. And when I say chase him, I mean follow directly behing him. Eventually, you'll get a long trail of ghosts behind Pac-Man. So how do you get rid of these ghosts? Eat them! Grab a power pellet and then much down the ghost chain for massive points. The more ghosts, the more points. Occasionally, you'll encounter a ghost with a power pellet inside him which can be used for extending your combo by resetting the power pellet timer. This is so key to the gameplay, in fact, that the majority of your points will come from eating ghosts. This is incredibly satisfying, especially if you have an epic rainbow of ghosts behind you.

Another gameplay revamp (which 2007s CE shared) is stage morphing. On many stages, when you clear one side and eat the fruit, it will send a pulse wave through the other side of the map, blowing away any sleeping ghosts on that side of the map and physically changing the layout. This will keep you constantly on your toes. Eventually, you'll memorize all the transformations a stage has to offer, but you'll never know exactly the order they'll appear.

Om nom nom!

The last major change to the gameplay involves the pace of the game. The more points you get, the faster Pac-Man will move (and subsequently, the ghosts). Speed ranges from 1 to 50, and things get pretty intense at max speed. Why would you want the speed to increase, then? Because you get more points! To counterbalance the insanity, Pac-Man now enters what I call "Matrix mode" when he's about to collide with a ghost. The game enters slo-mo so you can navigate out of the way. If you're truly trapped, you can use one of Pac-Man's new bombs to blast your ghost chain and any nearby ghosts back to the pen. This'll only keep them at bay for so long, however, before the chain comes racing back to chase you. 

I love the ghost chain, "Matrix" mode, and the bombs, but super speed can sometimes be problematic for me. I often find that Pac-Man becomes somewhat unresponsive when he's moving that fast. He often won't turn when and where I want him to, leading to some dire situations in which I must relinquish one of my bombs or lives. On the flipside, the game does make it pretty difficult for you to lose all your bombs or lives (there's a reason for this), though it does happen. Gobbling up a particularly long chain of ghosts, for example is good for some bombs and often an extra life. Of course, it also speeds the game up so it's kind of a tradeoff. Overall, though, I'd say the fun outweighs the occasional frustration.

[+Ghost chain mechanic is new, exciting, and rewarding] [+Morphing stages keep you on your toes] [+Bombs and slo-mo mode are helpful] [-Controls can become unresponsive at fast speeds]

In DX, Pac-Man has adapted to the modern style. The game features a pumping techno soundtrack, with five different tracks you can set at the start of a level. That's just the  beginning of the customization. Each time you start up a game, you're given the option to simply go with the default settings, or to set the visuals and music yourself. Namco made a great choice by giving players several graphical styles that they can mix and match. As you can tell from the screen shots, there are several visuals you can choose for both the characters and boards, as well as a variety of colors that change depending on graphical style. They range from a really nice updated classic look to the odd lego board and 3D Pac-Man. That one's kind of weird to me, but some people will dig it. Overall, the game has a very nice, colorful look to it.

Is Lego Pac-Man weird or awesome?

There's not much more to say here, because Pac-Man is a pretty simple game. The menus are nice, I suppose, with a nifty 3D "swoosh" effect. The option to watch replays of other people's game on the leaderboards is also a great addition. If you want to see how that guy got a ghost chain of over 800, then you can watch and learn from the best.

[+Numerous customization options] [+Great replay feature] [+ Simple, colorful interface]

There are 8 stages in Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, each with several modes of play. In "Score Attack" the player must achieve the highest score possible in either five or ten minutes. "Time Trails" have the player collecting a particular amount of fruit in a certain time limit. This can range from six in one minute to 36 in ten minutes. As you can imagine, the shorter time trials get pretty hectic. Completely unique to DX is "Ghost Combo", which scores you based on the length of your ghost chain. Typically, completing a challenge will unlock a new one for that stage. I found that each new stage was easily unlocked by completing any one challenge on the previous stage. This is nice, as it almost immediately opens up a lot for the player to do. There's also a "Darkness" mode which places you in a darkened version of one of the eight stages, with only a small circle of light around Pac-Man for guidance, causing you to rely on your memorization of the stage layout. Finally, there's "Free" mode, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: pick a stage and play it with no particular rules. Each stage has leaderboards for each challenge, so there are quite a lot of leaderboards. Players who love racking up high scores will find a lot to love here. Plus, there are multiple difficulty levels ranging from "easy" to "expert" in certain modes.

[+Plenty of modes, challenges, and difficulty levels] [+ A lot to love for high score fanatics]

It took 30 years for a true sequel to Pac-Man, but damn was it worth the wait! Honestly, I was never even a big fan of Pac-Man games. This game has converted me. The new "ghost chain" mechanic is innovative and fantastic. I'll never know why it took so long for someone to come up with it. I can't say if this game has the staying power of the original, but I see no reason people should'd be playing this for 30 years to come. Pac-Man is officially relevant again.

[+The new ghost chain mechanic is great] [+Stage morphing keeps you on your toes] [+Bombs and slow motion dodging are helpful when things get fast] [+Lots of customization] [+A replay feature everyone should copy] [+Plenty to do and unlock] [+Leaderboards for everything] [•Besides eating dots, it doesn't play much like classic Pac-Man] [-Controls become unresponsive at fast speed]

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