There’s a certain exhilarating newness to Pac-Man Championship Edition, which is very strange. The original Pac-Man arcade game is almost 30 years old, and its iconic graphics, gameplay, and sound effects are practically ingrained in our Pac-DNA. Even Pac-Man CE is “old”, having been released on Xbox Live Arcade over two years ago. We have to get to the bottom of this: Why does this iPhone release feel so new? And why are we feeling tingly all over?
Pac-Man CE succeeds where Pac-Man Remix, released over the summer, failed badly. Pac-Man Remix was hard to enjoy because of poor controls, and Pac-Man CE fixes this several times over with options for D-pads, finger swipes, and regional controls that let you tap broad areas of the screen to move. No matter your preference, we found that the game controlled smoothly, even at the increased speeds that become frantic as each round runs out of time. But this is more than just a matter of controls.
I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more Pac-Man.
It’s not just about the amount of content, either. One of the big problems we had with Remix was that it was over fairly quickly, and there was not a lot of joy in replaying the game. CE, on the other hand, is all about replay value. The five initial championship boards are tuned to perfection, to be played over and over again, so you can master each five-minute course and achieve a slightly higher score. You’re also given 20 one-minute missions, which you can replay three times each with slightly tougher parameters for a higher medal.
If the initial batch of levels isn’t enough for you, you can always pay $3.99 and quadruple the amount of content in the game. The 10 extra championship boards, 15 challenges, and 100 missions are a staggering amount of extra content if you enjoy the game as much as we do.
We don’t consider this deal to be an awful initial buy-in; we instead see it as an amazing extra level pack. Maybe that’s because we see the glass half-full, or maybe it’s because Pac-Man slipped something into our drink and we’re seeing and hearing amazing things in this arcade disco.
Yellow man of custard, dripping from a dead dog’s eye.
The real reason we are so exhilarated by Pac-Man Championship Edition is not the controls or the amount of content, although both are excellent. It’s the astonishing presentation that makes you feel like you are in 1980 and on powerful club drugs. The techno/disco soundtrack is thumping and speeds up over the course of a five-minute round, while the colors swirl and wave, going submarine red when you’ve got a power pill, making ghosts fear you.
The widescreen mazes are generous enough to allow new routes to appear every few seconds as you gobble your way through a line of pellets. The score multipliers grow and grow, rewarding you for staying alive, nabbing ghosts, and clearing fruit and pellets as fast as they can appear. Whether you’re playing for one minute, five minutes, or an hour, Pac-Man Championship Edition has a mode or challenge for you to beat for a temporary nirvana.
A few oversights did bring us back down to earth. The lack of online high scores is surprising in a game that’s all about high scores, and we implore Namco to right this wrong. Also, the gamespace is a bit tiny, shrunk down to keep the ratio correct but leaving the bottom third of the screen unused.
While the downloadable content may be a mental barrier for some, if you choose to take the initial plunge on Pac-Man CE, the doors of perception will be thrown wide open for you. Inside is a fantastic game, one of the best arcade experiences on the iPhone, and like a junkie you’ll happily pay more for another big fix. Namco’s nailed it this time around.