Back in June 2007, an XBLA title was launched called Pac-Man Championship Edition, and to some derision. It hadn’t been that long since Pac-Man and Ms Pac-Man had been released on the same platform, and the dissenting voices were yelling, “We don’t need yet another Pac-Man game”. They were wrong, as Pac-Man CE turned out to be huge fun and an enormous success. It wasn’t just another maze-running, dot-eating experience; it was a complete re-visioning of the title.
Now, some three and a bit years later, Namco are trying their luck again, attempting once more to revitalise the game, this time calling it Pac-Man Championship Edition DX. The title might suggest that this is nothing more than a quick polish, but don’t let the DX fool you; the gameplay mechanics have changed quite substantially, and DX plays out very differently to the previous game – whether you find this a good thing or not will depend on how pure you like your Pac-Man pleasure.
As with the previous game, the main element to DX is the score attack mode that sees Pac-Man try to max-out the munching to a stringent time limit of five or ten minutes. The mazes are never totally filled with dots, but as Pac-Man eats them up, new sections of the level become populated with power-pills, dots and fruit. The decision has to be made whether it’s better to go for dots and fruit, or maximise the high-score with ghost chasing antics, and with DX there are rather a lot of them.
DX introduces the concept of sleeping ghosts that are scattered throughout the maze. Travel past them and they wake up, starting to follow Pac-Man until sometimes there can be over fifty of them on screen at once. It would be chaos and insta-death having all these ghosts in-level doing their own attack patterns as Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde normally would, so almost all the ghosts end up following in single-file. At some point they have to be eaten, but it’s all about timing – going for the power-up pill to maximise those 3200 combos as all the trailing ghosts disappear into Pac-Man’s chomping gob, with satisfying visuals and sound fx. And it’s the music that helps drive things ever forward, the beat rising as the timer ticks down to the inevitable zero; it’s then you discover whether you’ve managed to beat your own record and that of your mates. High-score chasing is the order of the day, and very addictive it is too.
Outside of the main event there are a number of other modes to play through. Most of these are time attack modes, where a maze and dot combination has to be cleared under the stated time. There are also plenty of different maze patterns to pick from, along with different graphics styles – the only one that really seems to be missing here is “classic”, they’re all quite flashy, neon covered and bright, but there will be one you can get on with.
Viewing the leaderboards might make you sad and depressed as there are some awfully high-scores littered in the top rankings. Thankfully there is a rather useful option of being able to watch the entire point-gobbling bout of the top ten players, so it’s a good place to pick up a few tips - not that Pac-Man feels like a demoting event, far from it. Along with being able to vary the difficulty, the introduction of “bombs”, which some may find a little too far removed from the Pac-Man purity, means that even in the tightest of tight spots you can dodge death by setting one of these off. By the time you’ve eaten enough power-ups, with which Pac-Man’s pace increases every time, they almost become a necessity, given the speed at which he runs about the maze.
Pac-Man Championship Edition DX is as an exhilarating experience as its sibling, and provides enough differences from the previous game to make the aggressively priced 800 MSP title a worthy addition to your XBLA collection - a single go will have you gagging for more. Perhaps the instalment is a little bit more diluted and not as pure as CE, but you will still be chasing high-scores trying to beat those on your friends list, time and time again. Namco has managed to pull off what seemed impossible a second time: Pac-Man for a new generation of pill-popping ghost-munching lovers.