Pac-Man Championship Edition features some refreshingly new additions without compromising what made the original game such an engrossing experience in the first place.
Redesigning one of the most popular arcade games ever created must be an extremely challenging task since developers need to please both fans of the classic title and newcomers alike. Instead of making another complex 3D version of Pac-Man, Championship Edition is a heavily simplified iteration, featuring some refreshingly new additions without compromising what made the original game such an engrossing experience in the first place. This game is a clear example that reviving a classic franchise is definitely possible as Namco Bandai has updated the immensely popular 1980s classic by turning it into a time trial game where mazes are dynamically changing.
As in the original Pac-Man, the main objective is to move through various mazes, eating pellets. Thankfully, Championship has some refreshingly unique additions. Each maze is virtually divided into two and once you have cleared one side of the screen, an item appears on the opposite side. Additionally, when you eat that item, the side you have just cleared is completely redrawn and new pellets and power pellets appear so that the whole process can be repeated all over again.
The maze itself has been completely redesigned so that it may fit the widescreen and even though this may not appear to be a very significant change, it contributes to identify the virtual division between the two sides. The rest of the gameplay remains pretty much the same but small changes, like the fact that you can get a life every time you get 20,000 points, make the game feel fresh. Furthermore, the ghost pen is still in the middle of the maze and when you gobble up one of the scarce power pellets, the ghosts turn blue and they can be eaten for extra points. As you eat ghosts in a quick succession, more bonus points are received and in case you were wondering, doing this is as eminently satisfying as ever. Also, the game’s speed increases as you get more points and decreases when you lose a life, making the basic gameplay a little more forgiving.
There are six main modes in Pac-Man Championship Edition: Championship Mode, Challenge Mode 1, Challenge Mode 2, Extra Mode 1, Extra Mode 2 and Extra Mode 3. There is a time limit in each mode (either 5 or 10 minutes) and the main objective is to obtain the highest score within that limit. Apart from that, the game has a wide variety of awards (read: achievements) that encourage you to do various things like finish all the modes, produce sparks for 5 seconds, get 400,000 points and so on. Although some awards are quite difficult, it shouldn’t take you very long to get all of them. It should also be noted that each mode offers something different. For example, in Challenge Mode 2 you are surrounded by darkness and the board is only lit by pellets, power pellets and Pac-Man himself. So as you eat more and more pellets, the background becomes darker and darker, making the game a little more difficult as you progress.
The PlayStation Portable’s D-Pad is extremely responsive, even when the game becomes way too hectic. As I previously mentioned, another addition is that by pressing on the direction you want to move right before a corner, Pac-Man emits sparks, allowing him to turn faster than usual. This move comes in handy when there are multiple enemies following you.
From a technical perspective, the game features enhanced graphics and sounds that definitely contribute to its revitalized look. Visuals feature neon lights that ooze a unique retro vibe. Most sounds of the original Pac-Man have been reused in Championship Edition, but some others were added. That is the case of the techno track which can be listened in the background as you play. What’s good about the sound department is that most sounds are never intrusive, even when the game becomes very fast-paced.
Although Pac-Man Championship Edition is a great game, it definitely has some serious flaws. The main one is the fact that this isn’t Pac-Man Championship Edition DX. Considering that Deluxe had already come out when this version was released, I don’t think it would have been very difficult for Namco to put out the former as part of the Minis program. For the uninitiated, DX is a highly improved version of Championship Edition, rendering the latter pretty much obsolete as it included new modes, ghosts, music, graphics, a completely redesigned gameplay and many other features. The other problem is that the Minis version of Championship Edition doesn’t have online connectivity of any kind. It should be taken into account that no Mini has online features, but considering that this is a championship-oriented title, the lack of leaderboards or multiplayer seems like a conspicuous absence.
Pac-Man Championship Edition is a terrific game and it definitely succeeds at revitalizing one of the most popular arcade titles ever made. Controls respond precisely to your input, the sharp visual design is exceptional, mazes are expertly designed and the title exudes a palpable sense of déjà vu. Unfortunately, the fact that this isn’t the DX version and the lack of online leaderboards definitely hamper the package and makes it incomplete. The engrossing combination of old and new makes it almost impossible to go back to the original Pac-Man. And that’s an achievement in itself.