Review: Don't call it a remix
Pac-Mac: Championship Edition for the Xbox Live Arcade is being billed as containing the first new Pac-Man mazes in 26 years. In reality, the game features the first new mazes created by Pac-Man's creator, Toru Iwatani, in 26 years. That, in and of itself, is still a pretty big deal. But there's a few more reasons why Pac-Man CE is important and they are that the game is exciting, addicting, fun and it makes Pac-Man relevant again for the first time in decades.
With a subtitle like Championship Edition, it's easy to get the wrong impression that this game is just a remix of the original Pac-Man. Happily, that's not the case at all. Pac-Man CE is probably the closest thing we will ever get to a Pac-Man 3 (for those scoring at home, Ms. Pac-Man is more or less considered Pac-Man 2). The series' classic gameplay has been subtlely changed while still featuring the same pellet-chomping, ghost-dodging style.
First off, to fuel the game's Championship Edition tournament style, all of the game types in Pac-Man CE are timed. The maze has been oriented horizontally (as opposed to vertically), so that it fills the entire screen of an HDTV. The maze is also invisibly split down the center and when Pac-Man eats all of the dots on one side of the screen, a piece of fruit appears on the other. Eating this piece of fruit sends a shockwave across the screen modifying the maze design of the now empty side and refilling it with a new pattern of pellets. This design means that the game is always changing and that truly great players can keep refreshing the maze in an attempt to keep the ghosts off guard with more Power Pellets. Grabbing Power Pellets turns the lines of the maze red and if Pac-Man can eat another Power Pellet before the maze turns back to normal he can increase the nubmer of points awarded for eating a ghost to 1600, 2400 and 3200 points.
Gaining points at such an exponential rate is required to expect to compete in the game's lively Leaderboards. New players are adding Pac-Man CE all the time and attempting to stay on top of my friends is almost half the fun for me. But gaining fistfuls of points isn't all sunshine and rainbows. The ghosts are smarter now and they get smarter by the minute. Pinky now "knows" where Pac-Man is at all times and he can use this knowledge to use the other ghosts (who still more or less run randomly) to flank Pac-Man into a corner for the kill.
Pac-Man can counter with some new moves of his own as the shaky control of previous Pac-Man games for the XBLA has been improved and a "drifting" move to turn corners has been added. When the player holds the control pad or analog stick in the direction they want Pac-Man to turn sparks will form underneath him. Once they reach the corner, Pac-Man will get a speed burst and quickly turn the corner, lengthening any gap between him and the ghosts. Mastering this skill is the only way to master Pac-Man: Championship Edition.
But what about all of these new, timed gametypes? Well, they are The Championship Mode, Challenge Mode 1 (Patience and Reward Course), Challenge Mode 2 (The Darkness Course), Extra Mode 1 (The Freeway Course), Extra Mode 2 (The Manhattan Course) and Extra Mode 3 (The Overall Course). Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, but all are pretty fun. As players delve deeper into each mode, the sense of speed increases as well, creating new and unqiue challenges (because the maze is always changing shape with new fruit) every time.
The Championship Mode attempts to be the most "balanced" with equal numbers of Power Pellets and dots while the Patience and Reward Course alternates between giving the player lots of Power Pellets and then giving them none. The Darkness Course is just as it sounds, the only thing players will be able to see are the dots, the ghosts and Pac-Man. The maze itself is shrouded in darkness (but eating a Power Pellet expands Pac-Man's field of vision slightly). The Freeway Course is one based on pure speed and The Overall Course takes bits and pieces of all the other modes and mashes them together.
The graphics and sounds have also been given a slight HD overhaul including a new techno soundtrack. The graphics have this sheen to them that makes the whole thing feel very dreamy like a pulsating neon/laser light show. But underneath it all, it's still Pac-Man. This brilliant choice no doubt just adds to the game's addictive nature.