Over the course of 36 years, Pac-Man has taken many forms, both inside and outside of the maze. His classic arcade experiences are imbued into pop culture. When Bandai-Namco experiments with Pac-Man it can be a definite hit, like the wonderful Pac-Man 256, or a forgettable miss, like Pac-Man Party for Wii, a blatant and bland Mario Party rip off. Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 takes the spirit of the yellow puck and adds flashy lights, ear thumping music, and slick gameplay that keeps the aging icon from fading into obscurity.
At its core, Pac-Man still has to follow a line of pellets around a maze-like board while avoiding ghost enemies. Eat enough pellets to fill the meter at the bottom of the screen. This meter spawns the fruit or a power pellet, which allows you to advance to the next board. The more pellets you eat, the more points you will earn for eating them. Pellet points max out at 500 and reset if you lose a life. This reminds me quite a bit of Pac-Man 256 on mobile, without the punishment of missing a pellet resetting your points. CE2’s pellets are laid out in a specific path on the boards. This path of pellets is the quickest route to get all the pellets scattered across the board. While it’s easy to see the path you need to take, it is a whole other task to stick to it.
A large shake-up in the traditional Pac-Man gameplay is with the ghosts. Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde don’t take Pac-Man’s life in one go any more. Our little puck has built up tougher skin over the years. Now you can bump into a ghost one or two times before it gets mad enough to kill you in one hit. This lends to a more forgiving experience in your attempts of the levels.
The ghosts have another alteration that lends itself to one of CE2’s most satisfying and delightful features. Scattered along the pellet path are little green ghosts that sleep until Pac-Man gets close enough to wake them. Once awake, these little ghosts attach themselves to the colored enemies on the boards. This creates a long train over the course of the levels. When it comes time for a power pellet, cut off and corner the leaders of these ghost trains and chow down for maximum loads of points.
Another nifty feature is the addition of bombs. A tap of the X button and Pac-Man will launch back to where he started on the maze. This can allow for a quick snatching of the fruit to advance the board or can get you out of a tight spot with ghosts.
CE2 comes with two modes: Score attack and Adventure mode.
Score attack is the tried-and-true addictive formula of chasing the top score on the leaderboard that has been a staple of the yellow muncher from the beginning. The game features 10 levels with three different difficulties; single train, regular, and extreme. You have five minutes to do your best to max out your score. Each level has a scoring system that shares with your friends and leaderboards. To have a top tier run, you have to weave through the course with precision picking up pellets, waking up ghosts, and chomping down on long trains of ghouls.
The rush of cornering ghost trains and barely beating the score above you on the leaderboards is thrilling. It’s a loop that I see myself chasing over and over again. It captures the spirit of the arcade without having to put in 25 cents every time you want to top your score.
Adventure mode is more akin to the variety of Pac-Man spinoffs. It features a three star system similar to popular mobile games that hook you with familiar goals like collect all three items or complete these three tasks. The goal is to collect enough stars to face a boss ghost at the end of a world. Adventure mode’s biggest problems are a lack of variety in challenges and no leaderboards. The challenges are all about getting X amount of fruit in a certain amount of time. Crank up the difficulty to have fewer lives and less time, which leads to earning more stars. Points don’t matter. As long as you collect all the fruit before time runs out or lose all your lives, you earn the stars. I wish there was spice to the challenges. The lack of pursuing a top score and a repetitive task wears down the mode’s longevity quickly. Adventure mode feels more like filler than substance. I would have preferred a few more hand crafted levels to climb the leaderboards in than meaningless boss battles.
Before starting a round, there are quite a few options of how you want the level to look and sound. You can change the maze theme and colors, the background, character models, camera angle, and the music. It is a cool level of aesthetic customization. Almost all the options work together and pay homage to Pac-Man’s past. I do wish there was a preset I could create for all levels however, instead of tweaking each level individually to my liking.
The music alone deserves its own spiel. The thumping electronic beat matches the rush of racing through the mazes and dodging ghosts. It sucks you in and eggs you on to reach that high score. Having music like this in an arcade game really adds to the experience to make it richer, like Resogun or the Hotline Miami series.
CE2 is quite the arcade package. The addictive score chasing is in peak form for Pac-Man’s latest game. With vibrant visuals coursing through the little yellow body, CE2 is a dope game for new and experienced players alike. The leaderboards will keep you coming back as you chase the top slot, even if the Adventure mode takes a back seat.