“ Developer: Namco „
It seems that game developers are intent on making me feel old these days. I remember playing Pacman when it first came out (I even had the attractive yellow moulded plastic Grandstand handheld version of the game). Now, they're trying to tell me that Pacman is 30 years old and releasing a new version as a downloadable game on the PS3 Store to celebrate.
However, I'm willing to forgive them reminding me of my advancing years, since Pacman Championship Edition 2 DX (Pacman 30 from now on) is rather good, effortlessly capturing the spirit of the original game, whilst updating it to provide a new challenge.
It's always difficult with retro titles to tread that fine line between retaining the look and feel of the original whilst updating the presentation to stop it looking old and tired. Namco have done a great job. The whole thing has been given a lick of paint but remains undeniably Pacman. Anyone who remembers the original game will instantly be transported back to the smoky arcades of their youth to the time when Pacman was cutting edge stuff.
The most noticeable difference is that the walls of the maze now glow neon-fashion (the exact look can be changed to suit your taste), but beyond that change, everything else looks instantly familiar. Pacman still looks like a yellow pizza with a slice missing (the true inspiration behind the character) whilst Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde, the maze's resident ghosts, still look like small coloured jellyfish. But as I've said time and time again, a game like this is about the gameplay, not the presentation. OK, so graphics and sound are important in adding some atmosphere, but they are not the be-all-and-end-all. Pacman 30's graphics are functional (the mazes are clearly defined) but effective.
There's been a more noticeable updating in the sound. Basic sound effects are similar to the original but they've been beefed up to sound good on modern TVs. Once again, Namco have done a great balancing act between the new and the old. Retro fans will be pleased to hear the familiar Pacman tune at the start of each game, but there's no denying that the pulsating soundtrack which accompanies each level really gets the adrenalin pumping as the action hots up.
The biggest change comes with the gameplay. The old "go round the maze until you've eaten all the dots" has gone. Instead, the game has been redefined into a sort of mini game which focuses on short bursts of frantic action, not long, tactical games.
Pacman is now an unashamed score attack game. The main game modes surround time limited games where you have to accrue as many points as possible in five or ten minutes. Whilst this changes the fundamental nature of the game, it (heresy) actually improves on the original by making games short, fun and frantic, where previously (if you were good at the game), it could become slightly repetitive. Thanks to these changes, Pacman has been given a whole new lease of life and is as addictive as ever. Fire it up for it up for five minutes; lose the rest of your afternoon.
There's another major change, too. Mazes are no longer packed with dots and for the first few seconds of my first game, I wondered what was happening. Often, there is just a small trail of dots, but clearing these leads to another clever new gameplay mechanic. Eat all the dots currently available and the maze instantly redesigns itself on the fly and more dots appear elsewhere. Again, this stops the game getting repetitive as you are constantly having to learn a new maze layout and alter your tactics accordingly, rather than knowing exactly where every wall is located.
Ghosts no longer randomly patrol the maze, but actively follow you. Some are asleep and only wake up and pursue you when you go past them. Moreover, ghosts are no longer limited to just four, and it's not unusual to have 30 or more ghosts following, waiting for you to make a mistake so that they can pounce!
This is where tactics come into play. Scattered around every maze are the traditional power pills that allow you to eat the ghosts. In the original game, these helped you get out of a tight spot. The secret to Pacman 30 lies in NOT eating them. Allowing a massive chain of ghosts to build up behind you limits your room for manoeuvre, but maximises scoring potential, since every ghost you eat whilst the pill lasts acts as a score multiplier. The more ghosts are chasing you, the more points you score when you turn the tables and eat them! This strikes a brilliant balance between risk and reward - do you eat the pill now to give you a bit of breathing space or risk carrying on a bit longer, but lose a few crucial seconds from your time if you die?
The game is also insanely fast. It starts off at a relatively sedate pace, but slowly and surely speeds up until you have to negotiate mazes at breakneck speeds, pursued by hordes of ghosts. It's hard to describe the feeling that this gives you, but sweaty palms and a racing heart are all but guaranteed.
Thankfully, the controls help you out. Pacman is controlled using either the D-Pad or control stick and the game is incredibly responsive. After just a few short minutes you will be able to thread Pacman around the tightest of angles at the fastest of speeds. If things really do get too frantic you have a limited number of smart bombs (accessed by pressing any of the action buttons) which temporarily sends all the ghosts back to their home area. The simple, responsive controls of Pacman 30 give you every chance. If you die it's because you didn't react fast enough or used bad tactics, not because the game has been unfair.
Namco have really proved themselves capable of treading that fine line of updating their old properties for a new generation. Space Invaders Extreme for the DS and now this has shown that they know how to balance the old with the new. You might baulk at the £7.99 download price for what is essentially a 30 year old game, but it will give you so many hours of fun that it's actually a bargain price.
Other developers take a leaf out of Namco's book. Yes, us old men want to remember the games of our youth available on the consoles of today, but we don't want awful cheap cash-ins that just use the name. Once again, it seems that Pacman is showing the rest of the video game world just how it's done.
© copyright SWSt 2012