Always Be Chomping
My roommate is asleep. She's lying in her bed, and looks quite comfortable. I am currently resisting the urge to make just enough noise to wake her up, but not enough to make her suspicious that I did it on purpose. You see, if she wakes up, I can play more Pac-Man CE DX, and trust me, I really want to be playing more Pac-Man. Maybe if I brew some coffee...
Dammit, that didn't work. I guess I'll just keep writing this review.
For anyone who played Pac-Man in the arcades, or even one of the many releases for consoles over the years, the first time you eat a ghost chain is an incredible moment. It triggers nostalgia, sure, but it does nostalgia one better by actually being a far more satisfying moment than any Pac-Man game previously delivered. It's hard to describe in print, but as Pac-Man eats ghost after ghost, he gets faster and faster while the iconic chomping noise gets higher and higher pitched. During their Quick Look, the guys described it as a tingling feeling, that the game was actually causing a positive physical response in their bodies. I believe that feeling comes from taking our memories of loving Pac-Man in the past, and delivering that ghost-chomping fun through a better, undeniably more satisfying experience. Chomping one ghost was always fun. Chomping hundreds is almost numbing it's so awesome.
WAIT A SECOND MY ROOMMATE IS STIRRING I THINK SHE'S WAKING UP... Nope, false alarm. Fuck.
So chomping hundreds of ghosts is sweet, but a few other changes make the game even more addictive. Pac-Man CE was already more about score than survival, and DX goes even further in that direction. In fact, the game goes out of its way to make avoiding death far easier than it has ever been. Pac-Man has bombs now, and you can use them to blow every active ghost on the screen back into the ghost cage in the center. In addition, when Pac-Man gets close to an enemy, the game slows down and zooms in on the impending collision, giving you ample time to turn around or use a bomb. And, in a subtle change, when a ghost "activates", even if they are directly in front of you, they will purposefully turn away from you when they hit the next intersection. These three factors combine to make death very avoidable. But surviving isn't the big challenge in DX. What you really are going after is the leaderboards.
THE GOD-DAMNED LEADERBOARDS! I swear to god I was ranked first for a little while there and now I'm not and I HAVE to get back to first it was so sweet I can remember the glory and if I'm not first why am I even alive? I... I...
Sorry about that. Where was I? Oh, right, the God-Damned leaderboards. In a simultaneously insidious and inspired design choice, the main menu shows your overall rank in the game, every map-set shows your overall rank for that map, and every individual mode shows your rank when you select it. Unless you aren't connected to XBL or PSN, you're going to be staring at your rankings each and every time you play a game. In addition, you can watch the replays of the top players and your friends with just a few button presses, figure out their strategies, and do your darndest to beat the ever-living shit out of their scores. By being so integral to the presentation, the leaderboards become one of the most compelling reasons to just try one more game.
Just one more, I swear.
Holy hell, this review has gone on too long. There are a ton of maps to choose from, all of them unique and fun. The game has great music and brilliant graphics, with several different styles to chose, from classic Pac-Man all the way to a new, shiny look (the shiny look is the best because it is shiny). Each map has multiple modes - five and ten minute score challenges, a "Ghost Chain" mode where you try to eat as many ghosts as possible without losing your Power Pellet Power, and a dozen or so Time Attack maps that challenge you to clear a set number of boards as fast as possible. All of these modes are fun, and endlessly re-playable thanks to the god damned leaderboards.
Some games are addictive. Some have a great nostalgia factor. Some introduce new, interesting gameplay mechanics. And some are filled with beautiful design choices. Pac-Man Championship Edition DX has all of those, and is so flawlessly executed that it can be jaw dropping. Not that I haven't already, but allow me to slip a little bit into hyperbole here: this is the best version of Pac-Man ever released. It's so damn good, and the gameplay has been tweaked so expertly, that I'm pretty sure even people who never liked Pac-Man will have some fun with it. And, even though 2010 has been a great year for videogames, this is an honest-to-god contender for Game of the Year, even against staggering achievements like Mass Effect 2 and Red Dead Redemption.
My roommate is still asleep. I'm going to go take a very noisy shower and hopefully wake her up. You see, I really want to play more Pac-Man.
Oh, and seriously, Brad? "Always Be Eating Ghosts"? Always Be Chomping, fool!