Sometimes you have to go backwards to move forwards. No studio knows this more than Namco Bandai, as they look to harness the wealth of goodwill and the unique place in the gaming pantheon that they inhabit, thanks to some of the finest videogames ever created. The release of Pac-Man CE in 2007 on Xbox Live Arcade provided a wonderful re-imagining of a stone-cold classic, bringing it bang up to date. So how does the latest release, Pac-Man CE DX fare?
Out to coincide with the 30th Anniversary of the original games debut, Pac-Man CE DX (the CE stands for Championship Edition, the DX denotes Deluxe) literally takes off from where CE left things, but this time decides to throw some new ideas into the mix. Pac-Man’s goal was always to clear mazes while constantly being chased by Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde. That is until a power-pill was swallowed and the hunted became the hunter, gobbling up his adversaries until the timer ran down and the roles reverted to type once more. Now our Yellow chum could almost be construed as the Pied Piper, leading a procession of Ghosts on a winding journey around the current, ever evolving maze of choice.
Pac-Man CE DX is all about chaining; starting out slow, Pac-Man wakes up sleeping Ghosts as he passes them and who, with a blink of an exclamation mark above their head (married with a look of severe displeasure at their untimely awakening) follow Pakkuman wherever he goes, looking to send him to a more permanent slumber. Each section of the maze cleared produces a fruit which can be gobbled up for additional score until the pinnacle of items, the crown, is achieved. The layout of the section that was previously cleared morphs and changes each time, creating more ways to collect even more Ghost followers. Kind of like a supernatural Justin Bieber, but without the attendant earache or lower bowel pain.
When to cash in this train of Ghosts is crucial, and becomes a balancing act of time versus score. The precise moment is one of pure celebration, as the chain is devoured and the score continues to mount. The player will look to cultivate the power pills that some Ghosts hang onto if they’ve been spawned over one, which then in turn helps Pac-Man continue his rampage.
And while this is going on, there’s always the need to keep a beady eye on the timer and its inexorable tick towards the final countdown, urging the player ever onwards to create the next chain. It might sound a tad too easy, but each cleared chain automatically speeds up both Pac-Man and the Ghosts, leaving the player with fewer margins for error as they harry and chase them down. When cornered by a particularly speedy Ghost, proceedings will slow down in a bullet-time style, giving Pac-Man the chance to throw some sparks up and avoid the oncoming disaster. The final resort is a bomb move which tosses our ghostly chums back to the pen in the middle, but never breaking the chain that’s been created.
Pac-Man CE looked amazing with its bright, neon-retro, yet futuristic look and CE DX is no exception. There are numerous filters to customise everything from the backgrounds, to Pac-Man and the Ghosts, with pixel art styles to pseudo-3D and beyond. All of this is garnished with a upbeat electronic mix that keeps momentum with the action on screen, dovetailing nicely with the frantic end game when it comes around.
For all that it plays and looks incredible, maybe Pac-Man CE DX won’t appeal to the purists and it’s unlikely that Billy Mitchell will be logging into a Xbox Live account any time soon to attempt a “perfect run”, but it is one the finest titles released this year, let alone for the download services. Sure, the leaderboards don’t have the slick integration on display in Trials HD and Super Meat Boy, and the bomb function and bullet hell-esque slowdown could be accused of making things almost too easy, but attempting high scores will consume many hours as the player continues to gamble between score and time constraints.
In an age where jumping around in front of the TV is considered the way forward in interacting with games, Pac-Man CE DX shows you can still attract people of any age group and skill with a stick, a button and a simple, yet addictive premise. This is proper social gaming, but without the need to strike weird poses at a camera or seven square feet of clear space.