Like many older retro gamers, Pac-Man was one of the titles that I cut my gaming teeth on. Indeed, I played this even before I owned a computer or console, thanks to the yellow Grandstand handheld version of the game that was available in the early 80s. The little yellow guy has gone on to become one of the few characters instantly recognisable even by non-gamers, but it’s good to see that he’s not forgotten his roots.
To celebrate 30 years since Pac-Man first arrived, Namco released a new version of the game back in 2010. They might not have given it the snappiest of titles (Pac-Man Championship Edition DX+), but they did a fantastic job with it, effortlessly capturing the spirit of the original game, whilst updating it to provide a new challenge. The whole thing has been given a lick of 21st century paint but remains undeniably Pac-Man. Anyone who remembers the original will instantly be transported back to the smoky arcades of their youth to the time when Pac-Man 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); beyond that, everything else looks instantly familiar. Pac-Man still looks like a yellow pizza with a slice missing; Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde still look more like small coloured jellyfish than ghosts. Pac-Man’s new graphics are functional but effective; paying tribute to the past whilst recognising that the world has moved on.
The sound has been more noticeably updated. Basic sound effects are similar to the original but have been beefed up to suit modern TVs. Retro fans will be pleased to hear the familiar Pac-Man tune at the start of each game, whilst the more modern, pulsating soundtrack which accompanies each level really gets the adrenalin pumping.
The biggest change comes with the gameplay. The old “go round the maze until you’ve eaten all the dots” gameplay has gone. Instead, the game has been redefined into a sort of mini game which focuses on short bursts of frantic action more than long, tactical games.
Pac-Man DX+ is 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 gives it a whole new lease of life, whilst remaining as addictive as ever. Games become frantic as you chase that high score against the clock, whilst the danger of the game becoming too repetitive (maze after maze after maze) is much reduced. Fire it up for it up for five minutes and you’ll lose the rest of your afternoon.
There’s another major change. Mazes are no longer packed with dots and are more dynamic. Initially this was confusing as I was expecting the traditional Pac-Man maze, but it really pays off. Eat all the available dots and the maze instantly redesigns itself on the fly. 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 are no longer limited to just the 4 either, adding to the frantic pace. It’s not unusual to have 30 or more ghosts following, waiting for you to make a mistake so that they can pounce…which is where tactics really come into play. Using these strategically offers the chance to really chase those high scores. 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 chasing you, the more 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 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 rush this gives you, but sweaty palms and a racing heart are all but guaranteed.
Thankfully, the controls are incredibly responsive. After just a few short minutes you will be able to thread Pac-Man 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 which temporarily sends all the ghosts back to their home area. The simple, responsive controls make the game a joy to play: if you die it’s because you didn’t react fast enough, not because the game was unfair.
The £7.99 download price (or £9.99 for an enhanced version) is an absolute snip for an updated classic that will give you so many hours of fun whilst also giving you a fuzzy, nostalgic feeling. Once again, it seems that Pac-Man is showing the rest of the video game world just how it’s done.