Pac-Man is one of gaming’s most notable icons, best known for his original 1980 arcade game. Though Pac-Man has branched out to other genres, he has shone brightest in games that expand upon the old formula. Bandai Namco’s Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 Plus is the latest update, hosting a fast-paced score attack mode and new two-player co-op.
The game may look like Pac-Man, but it provides a very different experience. Most notably, the game moves at a ridiculous speed; it’s several times faster than the fastest speed of the arcade game. Every five-minute run of Score Attack is an adrenaline rush. Otherwise, the basic elements are retained from the original, but are presented and utilized differently. The core gameplay is still to guide Pac-Man through maze boards and eat dots scattered about while avoiding deadly ghosts. Whereas the original arcade game focused on surviving and devouring every dot, Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 challenges players to get the highest score possible within the time limit.
As such, the game is not so much about board progression as it is maximizing your score by choosing the most efficient pathways and seeking the best payoffs. The changes in core mechanics effectively emphasize the goal while tasking players to make split-second decisions. For example, you don’t have to grab every dot to clear a board. Instead, you proceed by gobbling the fruit that appears after amassing enough dots. The fruit always appears near the middle of the board, so finding a route that ends in that sweet spot takes high priority. Alternatively, you can use a limited supply of bomb jumps to immediately warp you there, but deciding when to use them can be tough since you also have ghosts to worry about.
Unlike in the arcade classic, you don’t immediately lose a life if you run into a ghost. Instead, you merely bump into them. But do that enough times in a certain period, and they will become angry and try to eat you. Additionally, when you pass by smaller ghosts nestled in each board, they automatically join up with a ghost to form a train that can block your path. In turn, by eating a big dot known as a Power Pellet, you can chomp down on ghosts, whom you can chase down by following their on-rails paths on the screen. The bigger the ghost train, the higher the score.
In general, the new rules are fresh and exciting, but they have a high learning curve that requires fans of the original to completely forget the old rules and any muscle memory with it. For instance, I found it disconcerting how you could touch ghosts without dying after decades of habitually running from them. And sometimes I still forget that I don’t need to grab every single dot. These alterations to the formula work for the intended score attack nature, but they may run counter to established playstyles and expectations. In addition, there are a lot of elements to keep track of at a time, which can get overwhelming at a blazing speed. I hardly had time to think about advanced maneuvers like boosting precisely through corners and using jump portals. The interactive in-depth tutorial helps a lot here; as unintuitive as it is at times, it’s exhilarating when all the moving parts come together. The speed heavily contributes to this trance-like desire to quickly chomp everything in sight.
Attaining high scores within the five-minute time limit requires dedication. Hardcore players can share their accomplishments on online leaderboards for Score Attack mode’s ten courses, each with three difficulty tiers. Unfortunately, the limited number of courses, albeit solid in design, feels lackluster over time. Regardless, the game is fun in spurts, and the Nintendo Switch’s functionality for portable play leads to spontaneous runs, though you’ll still need a Wi-Fi connection to upload your scores.
For a more structured experience, there is an Adventure mode with over 60 levels. Granted, many levels are extremely similar - after all, they are all simple variations of the same few challenges, including eating all ghosts and chasing wayward fruit. End of area boss fights spice it up, but not by much. Like the other levels, you play through a set number of boards, with the only difference being that a gigantic ghost boss occasionally rams the screen and makes ghosts angry and hungry. At least you end with a satisfying cutscene of Pac-Man devouring the boss. Getting 100% completion by playing harder difficulties is a nice gesture, but the game wears thin by that point.
The Plus edition does add one exclusive mode: co-op, in which either the computer or a local friend controls a blue Pac-Man. It’s almost identical except for two big changes. First, both players must converge to eat fruit and ghosts, Lady and the Tramp style. This led to hilarious situations where my partner and I were shouting at the Pac-people to kiss every few seconds. The second change is bigger, but not necessarily better. Like in Adventure mode, there are boss levels. But you actually get to fight boss ghosts directly by jumping into them when they’re vulnerable. However, I frequently got disoriented, mistakenly jumping in the wrong direction or heading the opposite way. Wailing on the boss is fun when you get it to work, but Pac-Man gameplay doesn’t translate as favorably to a platformer boss fight as one would hope. The mode is entertaining with a friend, but it grows thin even faster with only six levels, one of which is just a boss rush mode.
The presentation is a snazzier interpretation of the arcade original, complete with psychedelic backgrounds, glowing boards, and flashing scores. Cutscenes during ghost feasts and finishing blows shift to a visually impressive and satisfying 3D perspective. The game performs well both docked and undocked, though there were some distracting moments of slowdown in the latter. They’re not super common but can throw you off in this twitch-based game. You can also change the maze graphics and music, which borrow styles from other Pac-Man and Namco titles. The upbeat electronica soundtrack contributes effectively to the game’s heart-pounding nature, though it wasn’t memorable, aside from familiar series jingles.
Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 Plus expands on established Pac-Man gameplay with faster speeds, complex mechanics, and an increased focus on high scores. The two-player co-op mode is icing on the cake, even if it doesn’t take long to devour the whole thing. The gameplay changes that run counter to the original arcade game don’t always work, and it takes time to learn this new playstyle; but the elements overall synergize to form a worthy and thrilling deviation of the classic formula.
I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!