Editor Note: If you’re not familiar with the term “pile of shame”: basically, it’s all the games you’ve purchased over the years but never gotten around to playing. We’re now working our way back to retrospectively review some of ours!
Pac-Man and The Ghostly Adventures; a game renowned for how average it is. Despite the negative reception, this is a game I wanted to give a shot. After all, what could go so wrong? Traditional platforming, nice looking levels and characters, and (as a result of its lack of success) a low price. I picked it up; I’ve tried it out, and honestly, its not nearly as bad as it’s been made out to be.
One criticism I’ve heard a lot is that this game has no place using the Pac-Man license. I’ll get to why I disagree with that later, but from a narrative perspective it’s hard to dismiss. Pac-Man and The Ghostly Adventures is based on the childrens TV show of the same name. The only thing the story has to do with Pac-Man (the video game) is that you play as the man himself, and that (for some reason) the original four Pac-Man ghosts are your friends. The game’s all about stopping the evil Betrayus from taking over the world, or some other generic dastardly plot. Realistically, this is a story based on a kids’ show, and one told poorly nonetheless. I did what I could to ignore it, and the game wouldn’t exactly suffer if it had no story elements at all.
Here’s why I think The Ghostly Adventures is a legitimate use of Pac-Man: the mechanics. Most of Pac’s moves revolve around eating. If you want to attack a ghost, you’re going to have to eat him. Want to turn on a switch? Bite it. Everything involves eating in some way, and I think that’s pretty cool. What’s more is that every time you chomp, the classic Pac-Man biting noise reminds you of what you’re doing – you’re playing Pac-Man. Capturing the essence of such an old, basic game and giving it modern context and relevance can’t be an easy feat, and I honestly think they’ve done a fantastic job with that here. The Ghostly Adventures might stray from the original Pac-Man concept, but no more than something like Super Mario Galaxy does from the original Super Mario Bros, and I don’t recall anybody complaining about that.
Traditional platforming is something we don’t see a lot of these days, at least in three dimensions. I was trying to think of the most recent 3D platformer I’d played that was more about platforming than action, and that didn’t star a plumber in overalls, and I couldn’t think of anything. I feel like Mario has had a monopoly over this genre for years, and even though nobody does it better, it’s cool to see someone try. The Ghostly Adventures, in a lot of ways, is strikingly similar to the Mario series. Reminiscent power-ups and level design are plentiful, and the world map for travelling to each level is pretty familiar. These are good things to have in common though.
That being said, I think it does a good job. At the worst of times, The Ghostly Adventures is completely uninteresting, but at the best of times, it’s actually pretty fun. Some of these levels were very well designed, and though nothing close to revolutionary is present, the mastery of certain level design conventions is admirable. There was a time when the market was flooded with games like this, and the levels reflect this – like a ‘best-of’ of generic platforming level design. There’s also a collection of mini-games accessible in the level hub, as well as a local multiplayer mode; they’re unbelievably terrible.
I haven’t seen a HUD this unattractive for a very long time. Loading screens and menus are no better. Some aspects of TGA’s presentation remind me of budget PS2 titles, and that’s not quite a good thing. Other aspects, however, are great. Pac-Man, himself, looks great and animates really well, and the same can be said for the levels and enemies. Some of Pac-Man’s power-up related puns are actually pretty funny, but everything every other character says is painful. These are ridiculously patronizing voice performances, even for children, and the dialogue is no better. So, you mix it all together in a horrible cutscene, and it’s not too great to watch. Again, it could do without the attempts at narrative.
What I’ve said is mostly negative, but my overall thoughts on this game aren’t so harsh. Honestly, I had a lot of fun playing through this game, and even though it’s shortcomings are easy to see, it has a lot of strengths too. Unfortunately, these strengths are mostly buried under rubbish. I won’t say The Ghostly Adventures is a good game – it isn’t. What I will say is that it’s a game with a lot of potential. When it’s good, it’s great. If you can look past the thick layer of dirt, there’s a legitimately fun game buried in there. As much as I’m sure it’ll go under the radar, just as this game did, I have high hopes for the sequel. If they can work through some of this game’s tremendous flaws and keep the (mostly) strong gameplay, they’ll have themselves at least one fan.