Well, strap me down and grab the anti-epileptics because Pac-Man’s flashing lights have got me dazzled and my adrenaline pumping! It’s difficult not to like Pac-Man (most of the time), it was one of the great classics that defined what makes a great “arcade game.” The first Championship Edition (CE-I) felt like a great Pac-Man remix of sorts, not straying hugely from the core concept while tweaking mechanics to give a different kind of experience. As a sequel, Championship Edition 2 (CE-II) doesn’t change how the game works so much as refines the concepts from CE-I. It’s hard to find fault with CE-II, but it’s also a Pac-Man game, so, before I say everything there is to say about it in the introduction, let’s jump right in.
As with most genres, these days “arcade-style” games have evolved, and Pac-Man has largely evolved with them. The game is far from being overly complicated, and in a weird way the Championship Edition series reminds me more of the Geometry Wars series than it does the original Pac-Man arcade game. There’s really only one way to play and enjoy the original Pac-Man, with a single goal and a single mode of progression. The game speeds up over time and becomes harder as a result, but that’s about it. You’re otherwise doing the same thing over and over. That’s not to criticise the original Pac-Man, it’s an old game, and that’s just the way it was.
Like Geometry Wars, however, CE-II provides a selection of modes, and, even though that selection might be a little sparse at times, they can be enjoyed in more ways than one. CE-II can easily be picked up and enjoyed for short periods as a casual game and at a relaxed pace, even given the game’s often hectic design and gameplay. If one were so inclined, however, the game has enough challenge in the higher difficulties that it could be played for extended periods with the intention of chasing ever-increasing scores. In this way, despite moving past the “standard” Pac-Man design, it’s retained the spirit of the arcade title that made the series famous.
Which is better than some other recent examples.
Pac-Man isn’t exactly known for its story (which isn’t to suggest that there haven’t been attempts), but CE-II does provide something more of a linear progression to follow than its predecessor. There are two modes: Score Attack and Adventure (not what you might be thinking). Score Attack is closer to the gameplay of CE-I, simply having you race through a maze while trying to rack up as high a score as possible before the time runs out. Adventure mode introduces separate levels with simple objectives, such as collect x-many fruits or eat x-many ghosts, to be completed before the time runs out. Score attack still ranks you on performance, adventure mode bestows stars for completing the levels on different difficulties, and these are used to unlock the boss level for that area and the next lot of levels.
Ghosts are, of course, still present, but can now be bumped into three times before they become enraged and start fervently trying to murder you. The ghost minions from CE-I are back but are now distributed to the four main ghosts running around the maze to create four separate trains instead of just one. Higher scores are racked up by eating pellets in succession without dying and chomping down on massive ghost trains. There’s now a meter that needs to be filled to generate fruits, which still reset the maze, and power pellets, which adds more challenge when playing against a ticking clock. The only significant change to maze design is the addition of bounce pads, which toss you around the level when running into them. Boss levels also aren’t your traditional “fight a big monster” fare, either, they’re more like super-fast twitch-reflex tests to collect a series of fruits on dwindling time limits.
Though a giant Ghost does loom ominously in the background while you do it. Then he explodes into hundreds of little ghosts and you eat them!
Overall, CE-II has a much faster pace than CE-I. While CE-I started slowly and quickly sped up through each level, CE-II starts every level off at high speed, like Pac-Man just downed a heaping fist of amphetamines. The pellets are laid out in a kind of track for you to follow, but between avoiding ghosts and the general speed at which you move, falling off of this track is easy to do. Consuming a power pellet does send the ghosts running as per the series staple, but they now have set paths they run along. The further through the game you progress, the more complicated the mazes become, and the number of routes available for fleeing ghosts to run through increases.
Running through empty space is often wasted time in CE-II, and half the challenge is just minimising how much time you lose. Chasing the ghosts down once the power pellet’s been eaten sounds easier than it is, with the game forcing players to try and corner them over catching up to them. The time limit set in each stage already makes things fairly challenging, but the higher difficulty ratings reduce this time to just barely being enough to beat the whole stage. The balance between the time limitations, the speed of gameplay, and a tight focus on the objective at hand keeps every level short and sweet. CE-II might not be as simple a design as the original Pac-Man, but it nails replayability like it’s arcade-predecessor.
There’s also a break feature to halt Pac-Man’s movement, but I don’t know why you’d want to use it.
Audio-visually, everything works in harmony to compliment the gameplay, keeping things in that arcade mindset. The soundtrack is suitably fast-tempo and upbeat, working well alongside the gameplay with climactic crescendos whenever the timer runs out. The sound effects are also excellent, staying reminiscent of those from the original arcade version. Regarding visual style, the default skins for the mazes, ghosts, and Pac-Man himself have a voxelised retro-futuristic vibe to them that looks slick and fits perfectly. Of course, there are still alternate, classic skins for everything, and there’s also different music for those that want to chow-down to something different.
If you were a hardcore arcade junkie then it’s possible that you might find some finicky faults Pac-Man Championship Edition 2, but as it stands I think this game is a perfect arcade title. The design takes a great idea from the design of the first Championship Edition and refines it instead of trying to revolutionise anything. Gameplay is straightforward and easy to learn, challenging like an arcade game should be at its easiest, and ramps the difficulty curve so hard the pro levels launch into orbit. Whether played as a casual, quick game or smashed for high-score bragging rights, there’s solid gameplay to enjoy all around. With a great visual style and excellent music to nod your head to, while keeping some classic skins and tunes to switch to if desired, this is a fantastic sequel and an outstanding arcade title.