"The more pellets you eat, the stranger things become. Youíll grab a piece of fruit and instead of simply causing some pellets to appear, itíll shift half the board. The arena glows and morphs until you have a new environment to explore. The seamless change prevents you from easily memorizing a pattern and keeps you on your toes."
Pac-Man has roamed arcades for more than 20 years now. Fans have delighted in racing around a maze as the pizza-shaped hero while gobbling pellets, ghosts and fruit. For whatever reason, the gameís simple design has appealed to each new generation. Simply looking at the screen is enough to make most peopleís fingers itch for just one quick round, even if theyíve already played it a hundred times (as many have). Still, there was no denying that an upgrade wouldnít hurt, so long as it was handled properly. Pac-Man: Championship Edition is that upgrade.
When Pac-Man originally hit arcades, it did so with a small selection of memorable mazes that have remained untouched for years. Namco has happily released the game in one compilation or another to just about every platform you can imagine, all without any change. In fact, the original title has already appeared on the Xbox Live Arcade, and at half the cost of this new release. So, why should you fork over the extra Microsoft Points? Well, there are a few reasons.
The first several reasons are the new mazes. Pac-Man: Championship Edition may look familiar at a glance, but a second look reveals that the familiar corners and alleyways are gone. All that remains untouched is the box at the center of the screen from which the ghosts emerge. When you first appear, youíll notice chutes along both the sides and top and bottom of the screen. Thatís different, but itís only the start of what makes this new release so unique. Another difference youíll notice is that there are only a few pellets on the screen. This might prompt you to think theyíve dumbed things down, but they really havenít.
As Pac-Man consumes the pellets and the ghosts chase him, youíll notice something odd. The instant you clear away the dots along the right or left side of the screen, fruit will appear alongside the box from whence the ghosts came. When you snag it, youíll cause more pellets to populate the area you just cleared. Thereís no actual level progression here--and no cinema sequences about Pac-Man and his darling wife--because the game is one big level. You just keep eating pellets and ghosts as your score climbs.
The more pellets you eat, the stranger things become. Youíll grab a piece of fruit and instead of simply causing some pellets to appear, itíll shift half the board. The arena glows and morphs until you have a new environment to explore. The seamless change prevents you from easily memorizing a pattern and keeps you on your toes. As if that werenít enough, the ghosts swarming about also grow faster.
Speed is a big part of Pac-Man: Championship Edition. It starts out slow, but before you know it youíre careening all over the place, darting down alleys and through quick turns, surviving on reflexes as you race toward the power pellets that will give you some reprieve. Then you grab one, and another difference arises. In the original Pac-Man, you could grab one power pellet and all of your ghostly rivals would turn blue. As they slowly fled, you could gobble them up for first 200, then 400, then 800 and 1600 points. Thatís still true, only now you can eat another pellet before the effects of the first are extinguished without resetting the bonus value. You can receive up to 3200 points per ghost. Not only that, but you can keep the chain going for as long as you have power pellets remaining. Typically, thatís not very long unless you take a proactive approach. If youíve set things up properly, though, you can keep causing more pellets (and by extension, power pellets) to appear. Your score continues climbing as one ghost after another falls victim to your rampage.
That effect is pretty cool, and it really changes the dynamic you might remember from the arcade. Score becomes the all-important factor. It doesnít matter how many stages you clear, just that the digits at the top of the screen keep climbing. The game enforces that notion by imposing a 10-minute time limit. Everything you want to do must be done within that restriction. Then you can check the leaderboards to see how you fared compared to other players throughout the world in any of the available modes.
Pac-Man: Championship Edition has several ways to play, and none of them are the original version of the game. Instead, theyíre variations on what was described above. Mostly they mess with the orientation of the arena. One of the extra modes, for example, is made up mostly of straight lines. As you play, youíll find Pac-Man moving around in a near-blur as the ghosts race around him. Itís frantic and feels almost like a race. Another begins by placing a bunch of power pellets on the screen, close together, so that your score can skyrocket before a draught that will force you to play for quite awhile without any such support. Yet another has most of the lighting extinguished, so that you must fumble through the darkness while sure-footed ghosts chase you mercilessly around each dim corner.
The gameís Achievements are obtained by playing through the available modes. Thereís one reward for each of them, and youíre also recognized for attaining certain scores and grabbing the power-up items that appear. This all encourages you to play through each of the increasingly different boards.
After watching Pac-Man star in numerous adventure and racing games that had little in common with his original outing, most people never really expected an update to the old Pac-Man formula, especially one that felt so fresh without abandoning what made the first game so timeless. Pac-Man: Championship Edition came out of nowhere. Itís fresh and fun and presently available only on the Xbox Live Arcade. If youíre a Pac-Man fan, this is one you must try and a textbook example of how to update an arcade classic for the new millennium. Donít miss it.
Staff review by Jason Venter (June 11, 2007)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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