The Pac-Man franchise has had a few good platformers in its 30-plus-year history, despite being known for puzzles. Pac-Land was a classic to some fans, but the Pac-Man World trilogy really made the yellow orb a platforming star. Thus, it makes perfect sense for Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures to be a platformer as well. If you're not too familiar with the recent animated series of the same name, though, expect something that's very different from the Pac-Man platformers that have come before.
The plot is standard, but it would fit in well with the series thus far. One day, Pac and his friends have been called together by Sir C so they can be shown some of the ancient spheres that lead to other temples in the world. Unfortunately, the spheres need energy, and you're tasked with getting it. As you're doing this, the ghostly double agents of Betrayus (Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde) have come to warn you that he has another dastardly plan that involves stealing a giant freeze ray and using it on Pacopolis. At the same time, your friends Cyli and Spiral get kidnapped, making your task even harder than it should be.
The plot sounds like it tries to deepen what should be a story for a typical children's game by compounding different calamities, but the conflicts are presented plainly without trying to disguise it with some witty banter. Not only is there a lack of the writing style from the show, but secondary characters rarely appear until you need an important story point identified. Without even a little bit of humor, it becomes pretty boring.
The gameplay follows the platforming formula at the height of the genre, which is roughly around the PSone and PS2 eras. The game is essentially a 3-D platformer where Pac-Man collects pellets while chomping enemies until he reaches the end of the stage, where he collects fruit. He can also unleash a scare move to rob nearby enemies of their will to fight, and the ability needs a five-ghost chomp chain before it can be used again. Enemies have various attacks, including spitting slime, rushing forward, or sneaking up for an attack from below. There are a few boss fights thrown in for good measure. Collectibles range from food for health to regular yellow pellets to gelled energy that can be used to upgrade Pac's overall health.
The levels run the gamut, from ice- and fire-themed levels to show-specific ones, like the city of Pacopolis and the slime temple; each has a set of sub-levels to conquer. In each case, combat is mixed with lots of platforming elements, so jumping in the correct spots and executing chomp chains to climb to other areas help to break up the combat.
Breaking from series tradition and borrowing from other platformers, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures gives Pac-Man special abilities in the form of special power pellets. Some abilities have been mainstays, like red pellets that throw fireballs and blue pellets that throw ice beams. Both of those do exactly what you'd expect to enemies of opposing elements and level obstacles, such as take down snow barricades or freeze lava fountains. A magnet pellet lets you defy gravity by having you stick to metal platforms but lets you attract nearby ghosts so you can chomp them in rapid succession. A rubber pellet lets you execute a smash move, jump higher, and bounce off walls for better jumps. Green pellets turn you into a chameleon, so you can become invisible and use your tongue to latch on to poles for swinging jumps. Then there's the brown pellet, which turns you into a large rolling boulder so you can dash into objects and smash things in your way. Though the idea isn't new, it gives the game some life, especially when certain stages have you juggling the different abilities.
It is this power-changing ability that really helps the game stand out. Take that away, and you have a solidly built platformer that doesn't do anything new to set itself apart. Even with the license in tow, the game doesn't do much with it. Fans can expect their favorite characters to appear, but that's about it. With other licensed games throwing in some insider info or well-known jokes and references, this title is content to throw together a generic adventure where original characters are swapped out for more recognizable ones.
Despite this, the game can be pretty desirable among platforming fans because there aren't any more games like it. The trend for platforming games seems to be going back to their roots for a 2-D approach, with or without polygons, instead of the 3-D approach from a few years ago. While the Wii had a few good 3-D platformers, that genre is all but extinct for the Wii U. Every platformer for the system is 2-D, leaving 3-D platforming fans hungry. Such titles on the system are currently tied to physical figures, raising the cost of the game exponentially. While Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures isn't the pinnacle of what 3-D platforming should be, it is good enough that fans will get some enjoyment from the title.
Mimicking 3-D platformers from a few years ago means there are some inherent issues to solve, and the game simply carries over those issues instead of fixing them. The most visible of these issues is the camera, which can be manually controlled but is, for the most part, semiautomatic. Like past 3-D platformers, it works well in open areas but fumbles horribly in more confined areas where obstructions can exist. Lock-on also becomes an issue at times because you can't initiate it. The game automatically locks on to a ghost or power pellet when you decide to chomp, and it works well most of the time, but there are times when the lock-on misses, causing you to lose a combo or leave yourself open for an attack.
Aside from the main adventure, the game has a few other things. Progressing through each of the levels opens up fruit, which unlocks several minigames in the high school. Appropriately enough, the games are housed in arcade units and play like classic arcade games, albeit with a few aesthetic changes to make them look more modern. They all cost tokens to play, and while you can get tokens via replaying the adventure levels, it feels mean to impose limitations on the games when you've gone through the trouble of unlocking them.
While the minigames are all single-player, there is a multiplayer mode that hearkens back to Pac-Man Vs. as everyone plays ghosts out to hunt down Pac-Man in several different mazes. The mode is fine but could have been better since all of the players can only control the ghosts and not Pac-Man. When you consider some of the AI gaffes that Pac-Man exhibits, such as running into walls or directly at ghosts, you wish that there was an opportunity to emulate Pac-Man Vs. and have one person be Pac while everyone else chases him.
As far as controls are concerned, the game uses almost every control scheme supported by the Wii U system. Whether you want to use the Classic Controller or the Pro Controller or even the Wii Remote with Nunchuk, you'll be fine in this game. The simple control scheme only requires two analog sticks and four face buttons. Alas, the game fails to take advantage of the second screen of the Wii Control Pad. There's no extra functionality or data afforded by the screen, and while the game supports off-TV play, it does so only because the game mirrors the display at all times. The extra screen doesn't give players the opportunity to play the multiplayer mode with five players, something that would have made it more exciting.
Graphically, the game is quite good. It's brightly colored, with characters and environments using up a wide swath of the color palette. Movements are very fluid, with a nice smattering of particle effects accompanying some moves. The frame rate is solid at 30 frames per second, with no drops or slowdown when anything is occurring on-screen. Probably the most exciting aspect is the fact that the backgrounds are quite busy, especially the city of Pacopolis, with lots of ghosts flying in the background. The level of activity diminishes once you get to the other worlds, but the level of detail stays behind, making it a nice-looking game.
The sound, overall, is decent. The music matches the vibe of the series well enough, with some appropriate tunes for every world. The effects are also nice, with some nostalgic throwbacks to classics games, such as old chomping effects and the game over ditty that plays whenever you die. The voices are also good, though the interesting thing is that none of the voice actors from the series are used here. The voices sound pretty close to the voices in the series, but why the whole cast needed replacement is a mystery.
Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures does a good job of meeting expectations. The platforming is solid enough, though it still suffers from common camera issues. It follows the source material well enough but does so without trying to make itself stand out in any way. The presentation is good but not really extraordinary. If anything, it all works well because the genre has been dormant for so long. With the only other game of this type on the system being the upcoming Super Mario 3D World, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is a safe bet for those craving some 3-D platforming from a few years ago.
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