The Pac is back
1980: The Empire Strikes Back is released in cinemas, John Lennon is tragically shot dead, a small Irish band called U2 release their debut album and Pac-Man arcade units show up in arcades across the world. All of these are massively significant events, ones that changed the world, but only one of them has resulted in over 50 games, an animated TV series and even a Top 10 hit song.
The formula of Pac-Man has changed numerous times over the years, but the simple “maze chase” gameplay of the original is still the most iconic and enjoyable. Or at least, that was the case until Pac-Man championship edition launched in 2007, which took the maze chase gameplay and turned it into a timed score attack game, focusing on getting as many points as possible in a set time. Its follow up, Championship Edition DX, built on this foundation, and now a “Plus” has been added on the end as it finally makes its way to PC.
Just to make things clear, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX Plus is effectively Pac-Man Championship Edition DX but with some new mazes and a few bits of extra content. The core of the game is the same as the console versions that launched in 2010; in fact the console editions will get all the new content as a free update.
The new mazes are Championship III (which is easily the best out of the new additions), Big Eat, Mountain and Highway II. Championship III is one of the more challenging mazes on offer, whilst Big Eat – if played correctly- can be one of the easier ones thanks to the abundance of Ghosts. Personally I wasn’t keen on mountain; I found it difficult to navigate efficiently, and Highway II had the same problem despite being very similar to Highway I.
Along with the new mazes there are a few new visual themes based upon Dig Dug and Rally X, as well as Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures. The new visual styles are definatetly fun little extras, especially the Dig Dug one, but I always found myself going back to the more traditional art styles in the end.
Another of the new additions to constitute the “Plus” is the medals, which are effectively challenges, much like achievements, that in reality have very little value. These medals don’t add any extra challenge to the game as most of them, also like the achievements, can be unlocked through normal play. But perhaps the biggest issue with the new medals is that, to gain all of them, you have to use the horrible Facebook integration
Achievements and medals can be posted to Facebook if you are so inclined, which normally is not too much of an issue as many people chose to ignore this option. However, in order to gain 3 of the medals, and thus the classic Pac-Man skin, you have to post to Facebook. One medal even requires you to post all of your achievements and 5 other medals, resulting in 17 posts cluttering up your Facebook profile and irritating your friends.
The fact that Pac-Man CE DX Plus has the audacity to require Facebook posting to unlock medals is bad enough, but withholding the classic Pac-Man skin is even more of a kick in the teeth. The classic skin is one of the best in the game and should be enjoyed by all.
To make matters worse, the social integration often doesn’t work, or appears not to have worked. On a few occasions updates could not be posted, or did not appear on my Facebook feed. Some may say this is a blessing in disguise, and I am somewhat inclined to agree, but having a feature that must be used to complete everything, but which then doesn’t work properly is definitely a major annoyance.
Despite the horrible social integration the core gameplay is still a joy. Nothing has really changed from the original DX on this front so the static ghosts are still present, as are the slow motion effects when near a ghost and the superb level design.
The way score dots appear on the map results in optimum routes to take; some will allow you to gather all the points without going near a ghost, but others will result in a chain of ghosts following Pac-Man. It’s the routes with the most ghosts that you want to take, as having multiple ghosts chasing you can turn from a difficult situation to one that awards thousands of extra points in a instant.
The unsung hero of Pac-Man CE DX Plus is the electronic soundtrack. Personally I am not a fan of electronic music, I much prefer rock and at times a good bit of 80’s pop, but the soundtrack in Pac Man Championship Edition DX Plus is by far the best electronic style music I have ever heard. What makes it even better is the fact it fits so well with the game. It beautifully complements the neon visuals and even appears to fit well with what’s going on in the game.
VERDICT: While playing you will be lost in the game and trying to better your score, but take a step back and there is a brilliance to Pac Man Championship Edition DX Plus that often goes unnoticed. The way the mazes lead you around, offering both simple and more risky routes, the soundtrack that seems to alter based on your current situation, the slight speed changes and the amazing visuals. All of these add up to what is the best Pac-Man game ever. The formula may be an old one, but sometimes the old ones are the best – or at least they would be if they didn’t have Facebook integration.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.