‘Pac-Man Championship Edition 2’ Game Review: New Rules Keep Fruit From Going Stale
Pac-Man Championship Edition 2, for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Steam, is the third installment in Bandai Namco’s Pac-Man Championship Edition series. The first Pac-Man Championship Edition was a fresh take on the arcade classic, and Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, despite its name, was a full-blown sequel, with a new set of rules and mazes.
DX‘s additions to the formula were bombs and the slowdown effect. In DX, using a bomb would automatically launch the four main ghosts back to their home in the center of the maze, giving Pac-Man precious seconds to continue his eating undisturbed. Utilizing a bomb would adversely affect your score, however.
The slowdown effect was another boon to the yellow icon, as when a ghost was within a dangerous proximity, the gameplay speed would decrease, giving the player ample time to react by changing Pac-Man’s direction. Between these changes, the threat of dying in DX was miniscule.
The first Championship Edition was the closest to functioning like the arcade games, and DX’s marginalizing of the ghost gang focused players’ attention purely on achieving new high scores. Both games are excellent, they both offer different takes on the Pac-Man formula, and they coexist beautifully. I personally prefer DX, and at my peak I was the 227th best player on the Xbox 360 version of the game. (If you’re curious, I’m the 298th best as of this writing.)
Needless to say, Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 has two very high bars to meet. Does the third time live up to them and find its own niche in the family?
Upon starting the game, you’re greeted with a tutorial explaining Championship Edition 2‘s new ruleset. Unlike the previous two games, eating a fruit will now change the whole maze, rather than half of it, and all wayward ghosts will retain their general location once you all land on the new maze. Pac-Man will automatically be sent to the center of the maze, next to a small safe area where the ghosts will never enter. Fruits are still spawned by eating enough pallets, and they debut in these safe zones.
As with DX, sleeping ghosts are situated across the maze. They’ll wake up when Pac-Man runs by and they’ll jump to join forces with one of the main ghosts. As with the preceding games, memorizing the optimal routes while munching pellets and maintaining a long ghost-eating streak is key to achieving impressive high scores. As with DX, you’re granted a ranking after your score is tallied: E, D, C, B, A or S.
Speaking of the ghosts, Championship Edition 2 breaks a major Pac-Man tradition: Pac-Man won’t die if he touches a ghost. Instead, he’ll bounce backwards unharmed, and the ghost will get agitated. If you keep hitting the ghost, it’ll eventually jump up in the air (Pac-Man can safely walk across during this brief moment) and when it lands, it’ll be enraged for a short period. If the ghost touches Pac-Man when it’s angry, then you’ll lose a life. This system serves as the replacement for the slowdown mechanic in DX. Another major break from past Pac-Man games is how you now need to manually collect extra lives, which appear every 1,000,000 points, instead of being accumulated automatically.
There are three difficulty tiers, and the harder you play, the less bumps it takes to irritate the ghosts and the less lives you’ll have at your disposal. The difficulty level will also determine how many of the classic four ghosts appear. However, while they’re still not too scary, the ghosts will prove to be more of threat than they were in DX, which brings this iteration more in line with the older titles in that regard.
Bombs return from DX, but with the inverse function: they propel Pac-Man back to the center of the maze, which happens to be where the fruit and Power Pellets are summoned. Not all of the maze segments include Power Pellets, and those that do only include one. The fruit will appear after the effects of the Power Pallet expire. Both items will only spawn if enough of the standard pellets were devoured.
This brings us to another key deviation with prior Pac-Man games: depending on the maze and difficulty, the Power Pallets and fruits will spawn in a bubble, and will then roam across the labyrinth. It’s up to you to chase them, although they’re not too much of a nuisance to catch.
Furthermore, unlike DX, the ghosts are much more evasive when under the effects of the Power Pallet; they’ll roam in a marked path, which can prove challenging when there are multiple ways they can move. While I appreciate the effort in tweaking the formula, and while it’s satisfying to outmaneuver the ghost trains, it’s a disheartening feeling when failing to catch a ghost results in you failing to get a new high score.
The “Score Attack” mode is where you’ll spend most of your time. There are ten mazes and, as noted, each contain what is essentially three difficulty levels. Some of the mazes are brand new, while others are modified from the previous two games. A practice version of each stage is available after you clear the three difficulties, although I feel it’s more practical to practice by playing the real deals.
The “Time Trial” modes from DX have been dropped in favor of a new “Adventure” mode. They’re similar on a superficial level – they both challenge you to bite-sized portions of Pac-Man action – but DX’s mode felt more beneficial. There, you had to complete a segment in as little time as possible, and every second and millisecond you shave off will come back to help you. What we’re presented with here hasn’t felt as empowering.
Championship Edition 2‘s “Adventure” mode also contains the boss battles you saw in its trailers. They aren’t particularly fun, but they’re short and they have to decency not to contaminate anything else. The boss – a giant ghost – lurks in the background. The fruit will arrive once you eat the requisite number of pellets, at which point the boss will hit the stage, permanently making all of the main ghosts angry. As usual, once you catch up to and eat the fruit, you’ll jump into the next phase of the maze, and the ghosts will be calm again. You’ll receive a Power Pellet on the final phase and eating it clears the stage, which gives you a cinematic of multiple Pac-Men eating the now-defenseless ghosts. The boss battles are, for all intents and purposes, effectively the same as playing “Score Attack,” expect your score is measured by how many lives you have upon clearing the stage.
Graphically, Championship Edition 2 deviates from its predecessors in that it has abandoned 2D sprites for 3D models. This is a trivial change during most of the game, but it was done for the purpose of adding dynamic camera effects. Unfortunately, this can be a nuisance once you start eating a vulnerable ghost; while muscle memory can carry you if you’re munching pellets, you need to be aware of the entire maze to see where the ghost trains are and where they’re moving, and it’s disorienting to automatically cut to a close up of Pac-Man when you’re trying to plan your path. Once you eat the final ghost, you’ll see another cinematic as Pac-Man is whisked away to his starting point, which is where the fruit will spawn if you ate enough pellets.
In addition to abandoning the sprites, Championship Edition 2 is less bright than DX, as the special effects when eating ghosts are less vibrant. While I miss the extra flair, the game maintains a practical presentation, and it still looks nice.
The biggest issue with Championship Edition 2‘s presentation is with its leaderboard integration. You always knew where you stood in DX, as it displayed your overall worldwide ranking, and looking up your placement in each individual mode was seamless. Moreover, comparing your scores to your friends’ scores was just as stress-free. That ease of access was lost in this iteration, which is a significant issue for a game that is built around score attacking.
While Championship Edition 2 alters the well-established formula in terms of its gameplay, its soundtrack is entirely consistent with the previous two Championship Editions. Your favorite tracks return, and the new pieces are consistent with them in tone and quality.
Ultimately, my problems with Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 arise with its deviations. When taken on its own merits, it’s still extremely enjoyable to try and attain a new high score, and the online leaderboards assure me that I’ll be trying to stay ahead of my rivals for a long, long time. There’s an intrinsic joy to surpassing a previous record, after all, and it’s this core component that has allowed Pac-Man to retain his status as one the most iconic characters in video games.
However, Championship Edition 2‘s changes are antithetical to how I enjoy playing Pac-Man. Whether it’s inserting cinematics in the middle of a game where they don’t belong or tweaking rules that have endured for decades, Championship Edition 2 isn’t my ideal manifestation of Pac-Man. I commend Bandai Namco for trying a different take on a classic – in fact, my precious DX came about by tweaking the rules. These changes just so happen to disagree with my sensibilities. They need to spruce up the leaderboards, too.