Pac-Man has been an icon of the video game industry since the 1980’s, and his image is recognized around the world. The game’s popularity was such that it spawned various merchandise, and the infamous song “Pac-Man Fever.” However, the Pac-Man series hasn’t changed with the times. Although the original Pac-Man and Mrs. Pac-Man remain classics, the other games in the franchise have been mostly lack-luster. Several 3D Pac-Man games were released, but they lost sight of what made Pac-Man unique. However, that all changed with the release of Pac-Man Championship Edition (2007) which helped revitalize the franchise, and brought it back to its roots and put a new spin on the classic formula. The sequel, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, was recently released and innovates on the formula once again, and it’s the best it has ever been.
Pac-Man DX could be seen as a commentary on modern game design. Games have made major technological leaps over the life-span of the medium, but they have also changed in the way they are played and structured, replacing brutal difficulty with empowerment. One of the biggest changes is how games deal with in-game death. In fact, Pac-Man DX does everything short of making the player invincible. Well, at least not all the time. Ghosts are rarely the cause of player frustration and are usually avoided by the game’s implementation of its own brand of bullet-time and the addition of bombs, which gives the player more leeway in escaping ghosts in a tight spot. The idea of death has become obsolete due to the fact that Namco isn’t trying to win your quarter anymore. The focus of Pac-Man has changed to player empowerment and reward.
One of the biggest additions to Pac-Man DX is the sleeping ghost. These ghosts are placed throughout the maze, along the player’s route through the maze, and will begin to follow Pac-Man as he passes. The result is a massive train of ghosts that forms directly behind you, following you through the maze, and also one of the most satisfying and empowering moments in video games. Just imagine eating twenty or more ghosts in a row as they enter single-file into Pac-Man’s mouth, if that doesn’t bring a smile to your face I don’t know what will.
While Pac-Man maybe trying to empower the player, it still manages to balance a healthy level of challenge comparable to the original. Since the typical idea of advancing from stage to stage was removed in Pac-Man CE, the challenge has come from the race against the clock and the ever important high-score. This brings me back to the ever-so empowering bullet-time and bombs. While they do help the player avoid death, they also create a sort of meta-challenge for the player. When used, bombs will bring down your combo and slow down game speed, both reducing the points you collect and how fast you can rack them up. The bullet-time, while appearing to be nothing but helpful, can trick the player into triggering their bombs breaking the players combo. These nuances create and added level of depth to Pac-Man DX that create an interesting challenge.
Pac-Man DX is also insanely addicting. Games are digestible and quick, and create that “just one more time” mentality. This quickly turns a quick five minute game into a several hour session. Also, trying to constantly one-up both your friends and your own high-score will quickly become your new favorite pastime. There is also a plethora of interesting game modes and mazes that will keep your attention for a long time.
Overall, Pac-Man DX takes a classic game and flips it on its head. It manages to strike a great balance of empowerment and challenge that will have the player coming back for more, time and time again. DX brings Pac-Man into the modern realm of video games, and can still stick it out with the best of them.