I have a confession to make. As much as I revere classic games, to be completely honest, I've never been much of a Pac-Man fan. The best way I can describe it is that I've typically found myself to be more enthusiastic and nostalgic about what Pac-Man symbolizes (let's face it, he's pretty much the poster boy for classic gaming) than I've been about the experience of the game itself.
Not only that, but I've never been much of a fan of "updated" versions of classic games being released on the platform-du-jour. All too often, such releases seem to carry with them the unmistakable stench of hasty development for the sake of a quick buck.
Against this backdrop, it would seem that Pac-Man Championship Edition DX--the latest iteration of Pac-Man on PS3/PSN--would constitute an unlikely favourite for me.
Nonetheless, I can unequivocally state that I love this game.
The visuals are configurable into various styles that range from the classic look, to the pseudo-3D Pacmania look, to completely new designs never before seen.
The premise of the game is still that you're a little round-headed yellow guy with a flappy mouth that has a fondness for dots and an aversion to monsters that look vaguely like ghosts. But the similarities pretty much end there. Gone is the survival-of-the-fittest-munch-till-you're-outta-lives maze game of yesterday, and enter the concept of short, self-contained, timed challenges that pit you against not only the clock, but hundreds of thousands of Pac-Heads the world over. All of these mini-games are playable in multiple unlockable mazes, and separate scoreboards are kept for each. You can even watch replays of the top scores online to study the techniques of the masters.
Also gone for 2010 is the "four vs. one" pacadigm (get it?); in 2010, Pac-Man might find himself with a conga-line of 50 or so ghosts in hot pursuit.
Sounds goofy, right?
Perhaps. But let me tell you, I was grinning ear to ear the first time I swallowed a power pellet and gobbled down a few dozen ghosts in machine-gun succession amidst the crescendo of retro-inspired "gobble" sound effects and the glorious sight of ever-increasing numbers flying towards my score. Brilliant! Put that in your peace pipe and smoke it, Billy Mitchell.
The longer you can last without making any mistakes, the faster the game gets, and it quickly gets to the point where those without Jedi reflexes need not apply. Perhaps this latter point, coupled with the introduction of the "ghost army", led the game designers to include two other new features aimed at keeping the game at a playable pace for us mere mortals.
The first is a "panic bomb" (Pac-Fart?) that you can unleash using the shoulder buttons, which briefly sends all of the ghosts back to their home base so you can escape from tight situations.
The other is a "The Matrix-esque" slow-down mode that kicks in when you're ripping around the maze and find yourself in close proximity to one or more of the monsters. This effect allows the non-Jedi among us to fine tune our maneuvers and have a fighting chance at making an escape that would otherwise be impossible. Once you get used to it, it seems natural and really works.
My main complaint with the game is not so much a complaint with the game itself but the human-machine interface that connects me to it. I find that the analog sticks of the PS3 controller make it a challenge to accurately control Pac-Man, especially at the higher speeds. The d-pad can also be used, but personally, I typically find d-pads to be terrible for games that require 4-way controls, and this game is no different.
Pac-purists may view the time-based game play as sacrilege, and I can just hear them ranting about how the bombs and slow-downs are like training wheels for the lightweights. They're entitled to that opinion.
But if this game is judged based solely on its own merits and potential for madly addictive pick-up-and-play fun, as opposed to being judged based on what the designers decided to put in and take out in comparison to the old standard, then Pac-Man Championship Edition DX is a winner that is well worth the very reasonable $10 entry fee. Don't miss it!