The most frenetic Pac-Man experience yet
The old saying, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" is something that could easily apply to Pac-Man's winning formula. After all, thirty years after its initial release and still people play it? That says more about the game's quality than anything a critic like me could. Namco obviously still saw some room for improvement, though. How else would we be blessed with the Pac-Man nirvana that is Pac-Man Championship Edition DX?
Building upon the foundation of 2007's Championship Edition, DX takes everything -- the bright, neon visuals, the frenetic, out-of-control speed of the action -- and expands on it in just about every way possible. Though some leaderboard oddities mar the competitive side some, what DX accomplishes make it the best, most varied, and all around enjoyable Pac-Man iteration yet.
The biggest change in DX is in the behavior of the ghosts and the role they now play. Before, they were but simple but-oh-so-devious pursuers who the player could do little more than avoid and occasionally gobble up. This time, instead of pellets being your primary target, the ghosts are the ones your after. Though Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde are still here, they mostly take a backseat to the action, instead letting other ghosts who are little more than score fodder take the stage. These green specters, rather than constantly patrol the maze, sit around sleeping at first until Pac-Man passes by them, at which point they wake and begin tailing him. As you follow pellet trails, you'll eventually amass a long stream of pursuers. This is called a "ghost train." The goal is to build up as big of a train as possible, then, once the power pellet appears, turn around and eat them all in one fell swoop to obtain massive amounts of points. This basically places Pac-Man in the role offense instead of defense -- a huge change in paradigm for the yellow eating machine. One that's more empowering and gratifying than anything he's ever been in before.
The satisfaction that comes from gobbling up ghost trains stems from a variety of factors. Firstly, there's the increase in game speed. Each time you gobble up multiple ghosts in quick succession, the game speed rapidly increases, causing Pac-Man and his adversaries to hasten their movements and lend the game that aforesaid out-of-control feeling as Pac-Man becomes harder to direct due to turns having increasingly tighter timing as the speed intensifies. Secondly, there's the audio cues. While devouring helpless ghosts, sound cues begin to chime and keep on building until reaching a crescendo of "ding ding ding ding ding!" to denote the climax of the feast and accompany the increased game speed. Crazy as it sounds, there's something incredibly satisfying about hearing those dings at the end of a large feast.
Apart from that, other new additions are a bullet-time-esque feature that slows down time every time you come too close to making contact with one of those deadly specters to give you a chance to move away or use a bomb to evade an otherwise untimely death, and bombs, which do what you'd expect them to: clear the field of ghosts momentarily. Its use is not much different from the bullet-time effect in that they're primarily to help keep you alive. You're only given so much at the start of a round, the amount of which is determined by which difficulty setting and course you're playing on, but you can earn more as you go.
With those safeguards in place, you're probably thinking that this game is devoid of any actual challenge. While it is certainly more forgiving than the arcade original, Championship Edition DX is far from being relived of challenge; rather, it's just been redirected toward score-attainment instead of survival. These new additions add some semblance of strategy to the mix: for example, where you would previously be always on the run in the original with your focus to stay alive, your focus is now on finding the most efficient ways to score points. The key to doing so is to make the most of the allotted time and to avoid using bombs. The former because, well, every second counts, obviously, and the latter because using bombs, while helpful, can cost you some valuable seconds whilst you wait for the ghost train to catch back up to you so that you may continue to build it up (ghosts only follow you once the established ghost train passes by newly awoken ghosts, you see). Using bombs also decreases the game speed slightly, so there's that, too. It's there where the brilliance of these new additions really shine, proving themselves as more than just a means of lessening the challenging nature of Pac-Man.
DX also has a nice number of modes available, ranging from the good ol' score attack mode, in which your focus is squarely on gaining as many points as possible within 5 or 10 minutes, and Time Trials, in which you move about the stage trying to collect a certain number of fruits within the fastest time possible, to Ghost Combo, the most interesting of the bunch. In Ghost Combo, your charged with building up as large a ghost train as possible before devouring it to obtain the biggest chain of eaten ghosts possible. Much patience is required in this mode, as the patterns in which the ghosts are lain don't often give opportune moments to rack up an extensive train, which makes for a interesting challenge.
All the modes have leaderboard support, though their implementation is odd to say the least. Scores are kept to the modes you earned them in, and you can view them either by the combined score earned from all the courses or by each one individually. You can also view your own scores and those of your friends, but you can't compare the two directly. You can get the gist of where you stand against your friends by switching between tabs, of course, but it's as unnecessarily cumbersome way of handling it.
Visually, Championship Edition DX quite varied. From the neon aesthetic from its predecessor to styles based on Pac-Man games past, such as Pac-Mania and one resembling the visual style of the original game, albeit in a higher resolution, among others. Styles can be mixed and matched as well, resulting in some interesting visual combinations. Music consists mostly of catchy techno beats that fit the frenetic action of the game, and the visuals associated with them, perfectly.
The most lamentable fact about Pac-Man Championship Edition DX is that there simply isn't more. Eight courses and three different modes is quite enough already, but with how quickly you can plow through it all, it's hard to not be left craving more by the end. That said, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX is easily the most satisfying Pac-Man experience on the market, and at $10, it's hard to say no to this incredible reboot of a beloved classic.