Almost three-and-a-half years have passed since Pac-Man Championship Edition first hit Xbox Live Arcade. Debuting as part of 2007's Pac-Man World Championship, the reimaging of Namco's classic title, Pac-Man CE was an instant hit. After its initial run, the game was included on a pack-in disc with the Xbox 360 Arcade model as well as later appearing on the Namco Museum: Virtual Arcade compilation disc. Seeing the success of Pac-Man CE, Namco went back to the drawing board with the intention of making Pac-Man CE even better. Thus, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX was born.
Despite the title, it's important to point out that Pac-Man CE DX is not simply an extended edition of Pac-Man CE. It keeps some of the core concepts, but almost everything here is brand-new. The look, the feel, the gameplay: It's all gotten a complete overhaul.
The biggest gameplay change in Pac-Mac CE DX is the fact that, aside from the time penalty, death is immaterial. Unlike the classic game where survival was the focus, or even in Pac-Man CE where you had to balance survival with the collection of points, here it's all about racking up the biggest score possible.
To assist players in this goal, there is now a new type of ghost on the board. The sleepy green ghost hovers in place and doesn't move until Pac-Man whizzes by to wake him up. After that, any woken ghosts trail behind the player in what can best be described as a neon rainbow conga line. As you pick up more and more ghosts, the line grows, similar to the old-school Atari 2600 launch title, Surround. Initially, these "follow-me" ghosts are the only ones on the board, but as time progresses, the traditional free roamers will also appear, presenting you with one more obstacle to avoid.
Since having a long chain of ghosts following you can make navigation more difficult, the first reaction of many Pac-Man CE DX players may be to simply avoid them. After all, if you snag a fruit, any sleeping ghosts are wiped from the corresponding half of the map when it resets. Doing this is a mistake, though, if you're gunning for a high score. Building up a long line of ghosts is key to hitting the top of the boards. Build it up, grab a power pellet and then turn around to go to town. There is something oddly satisfying about munching 30, 60 or more ghosts in a single go.
Helping you to extend the scoring runs are ghosts that carry power pellets inside their bodies. This does you no good when they are in chase mode, but when the ghosts are blue and edible, munching on one with a power pellet resets the countdown timer and gives you that much more time to max out the chomping bonus. There is a surprising amount of strategy involved in finding just the right time to eat the chain.
If all this were happening at the normal Pac-Man speed, the game would be trivially easy, and that's why Pac-Man CE DX doesn't hesitate to kick it up a notch — or 50 notches, as the case may be. Things start out nice and slow but quickly speed up as you complete boards and eat ghosts. At the highest levels, Pac-Man CE DX is a twitch fest of the finest caliber, where every flick of the joystick matters and a single misstep can mean the difference between a boatload of points. The speed level decreases every time you die or when you use a bomb.
Yes, there are now bombs in Pac-Man land. Limited in supply, the bombs immediately send all of the ghosts back to the ghost house in the center of the map. This is particularly useful when you've been cornered by one of the free roamers or managed to get yourself trapped by a super-long chain of ghosts. The penalty for use is the corresponding drop in speed, which is something you want to avoid if at all possible. After all, the faster you go, the faster you can rack up points.
Another little trick in Pac-Man's arsenal is bullet-time. Many games have used it in the past, and many to poor effect, but like everything else in Pac-Man CE DX, the implementation is spot-on. Get too close to a ghost, and the on-screen movement automatically slows and zooms in, giving you precious milliseconds of extra reaction time to reverse course or turn out of danger.
Ensuring that things stay fresh, Pac-Man DX CE is packed with both maps and modes. There are eight distinct map patterns to choose from, plus the ability to play any of them in a dark or free variant. The dark variants only illuminate the immediate area around Pac-Man while the free variants are a good way to practice. In free mode, the timer is set at 10 minutes, with 99 extra lives and 99 bombs. You also have the ability to set the number of free roaming ghosts between zero and four.
One thing worth mentioning is that the map pattern from Pac-Man CE is one of the eight options here, but it plays as something of a hybrid between the old game and the new. Four free roamers are present at the start in the Championship I map, and there are no sleeping ghosts. Instead, ghosts are dropped into the map and added to the conga line at regular intervals. Pac-Man also keeps the bullet-time ability and bombs, two things that were not present in Pac-Man CE. For fans who have mastered Pac-Man CE, it's a new twist on an old favorite.
Rounding out the package is the presentation, which has gotten just as much of an overhaul as the gameplay. Pac-Man CE DX looks really good. Colors are incredibly vibrant, with liberal use of neon lighting and visual effects, such as motion blur. Namco also mined through Pac-Man's history to provide a healthy selection of graphic options for the characters and map. You can play in traditional Pac-Man style or choose visuals that have been inspired by various Pac-Man games over the years. Want 3-D rendered characters? Done. Prefer to play with a pixelated look? Not a problem.
Audio behind the game is a mixture of classic sound effects, along with a handful of remixed electronic music. Along with the new music, some of which wouldn't be out of place in a club setting, the background music from Pac-Man CE is also included. Much like the graphics, the music can be automatically selected or chosen manually.
It is rare for a game to hit perfect marks in every category, but Pac-Man CE DX does just that. From the gameplay to the presentation, everything is incredibly polished and works flawlessly. If there are any complaints to be had, it's the simple fact that the analog stick on the standard Xbox 360 controller isn't quite up to par with the necessary movements. If you really want to max out your score, an actual joystick is needed, but it's difficult to blame the game for a hardware issue.
In short, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX is everything you've come to love about the series, distilled down into its purest form. This is Pac-Man with everything turned up to 11, so don't hesitate to purchase this one. At a mere 800 MSP ($10), it's worth every penny.
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