It’s remarkable how well the video game world has treated Pac-Man in recent years. Most classic arcade characters/games have been given some sort of revival, or at least had their original games re-issued constantly. Pac-Man though, he has received some of the best material he’s ever had just in the last few years. We got Pac-Man Championship Edition, which was far better than I ever could have imagined, and was later followed by the equally impressive DX version. Pac-Man 256 was also a surprise, bringing the endless runner wrappings to the world of Pac-Man in a game good enough to find a home on both my phone and my PS4. What other character, outside of Donkey Kong I suppose, has been so lucky? Did anyone even play that Q-Bert game from last year? I own it and still haven’t fired it up! I even had to double check my library just now to confirm I did in fact own it and that buying it wasn’t some terribly boring dream I had a few months ago.
Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 snuck up on me and I was ready for the streak to continue. CE2 does not break that hot streak, but it does cool it down a little.
I’m not going to bother explaining the mechanics of Pac-Man here. You know what’s up. Eat the dots, avoid the ghosts, get addicted. It’s as fun now as it ever was. The Championship games introduced a whole new level of insanity to the core concept and sucked away many hours of my life. CE2 continues down that path, presenting what should be some fantastic new concepts, but is only partly successful.
There are two core modes in CE2 once you get through the tutorial, Score Attack and Adventure, the latter unlocking after doing a few levels in Score Attack. Score Attack presents a variety of different maps and gives you 5 minutes to rack up as many points as possible. Adventure presents you with a variety of challenges as you progress from level to level, with the goals ranging from collecting a certain number of fruit to earning a certain amount of points before a timer hits 0. Actually, those are pretty much the only two goals you’ll encounter. Each sequence of levels in Adventure mode concludes with a boss fight, which is one of the first major disappointments that CE2 presents.
As soon as the idea of a boss fight was presented, I was intrigued. They present the notion of Pac-Man taking on a singular gigantic ghost, but the execution is disappointing. You don’t take on the ghost directly. Instead, the ghost hangs around in the background of the stage while you do the usual routine of collecting fruit on the board and once you have enough, you can grab a power pellet and then you watch a cut-scene where Pac-Man eats the big ghost. That’s it. You never have direct player control over the actual encounter with the boss. Introducing boss fights to classic Pac-Man is a great idea, but that idea does not hit anywhere close to its potential here.
Another big change is how you interact with the ghosts themselves. Instant of touching a ghost leading to instant death, all of the ghosts are docile until you bump into them a few times. This will anger the ghost and cause them to chase you around the board more aggressively. After a short while they will revert back to a passive state until you agitate them again. This mechanic never felt good to me. The tutorial presents this as a strategy to deal with ghosts who are blocking your path, but it usually is nothing more than an annoyance. Trying to quickly navigate across the board to grab a spawned fruit, only to continuously bump against an assortment of ghosts, only adds a level of frustration rather than actual challenge.
Thankfully, taking down the ghost chains is as satisfying as it was in the previous CE titles. As you maneuver around the board, you are waking up smaller ghosts who begin to attach themselves to the chain following the main ghosts. When you are finally given the chance to consume a power pellet and turn the tables, there are usually dozens of ghosts comprising the “train”, which is how CE2 refers to the rows of ghosts. Eating the lead ghost and then watching as Pac-Man makes his way through the whole row is still a great feeling, especially when you’ve spent a good while chasing the train around the stage in order to eat the lead ghost.
So the new additions in this game miss more often than they hit, but I still would recommend it for one very simple reason – it’s Pac-Man. Pac-Man is inherently fun and CE2 still captures a lot of what makes that formula work so well. Maybe all these new additions don’t do a whole lot to improve the experience, but at its core it is the same satisfying gameplay that has kept people coming back for decades. Eating dots, collecting fruit and turning the tables on murderous ghosts has been fun forever and it remains so here.
There are in fact some things in CE2 that amplify the core Pac-Man game play. The music, both classic and new, is always enjoyable. There are tons of different aesthetic options to change the look of the boards and the characters. There is a lot replayability between the two main modes, whether you are chasing higher scores or trying to earn all of the stars in Adventure Mode, the latter being a feat that I have completely accepted I am nowhere near good enough to ever accomplish. There’s a great deal of content here for the price and it will take a long while for even the most experienced players to get through all of it. I assume. A lot of people are probably super good at Pac-Man.
Championship Edition 2 is a good Pac-Man game but that’s about the best I can say about it. The core gameplay is as fun as it has ever been, but most of the major new additions to the formula take away from the experience rather than add to it. It’s absolutely worth playing, but it comes nowhere close to having the impact the original CE (and CE DX) had.