In June of 2013, a television series premiered in the United States titled Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures. The show took the classic Pac-Man and ghost arcade characters and restyled them as CGI mascots with an appeal towards young viewers. Less than six months later, a video game based on the show was released on most major platforms, including the Nintendo 3DS; unsurprisingly, as with so many interactive tie-ins that came before it, the game was received with mostly luke-warm reviews. Fast forward one year and a sequel to the aforementioned title has already been released — by now any observant reader should have no trouble seeing the red flags popping up around Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2.
Following the same plot as its Wii U counterpart, Ghostly Adventures 2 tells the story of Lord Betrayus – Pac-Man's spectral nemesis from the TV series – planning to take over Pac-World using giant robots. In a self-referential exchange between himself and his henchmen, Lord Betrayus makes a comment that implies his motives are little more than a ploy to do evil, just as they were at the start of the last game. We mentioned this in our review of the Wii U version as well, but it's worth the reminder that even those developing this game were apparently well aware that, no matter how much effort they put into production, this game was destined to be a shallow cash-in. That being said, the younger audience being targeted – the same audience that presumably watches the show – are likely to find humour in this exchange and in the rest of the voiced dialogue.
Unlike the first 3DS game that played as a side-scrolling platformer, Ghostly Adventures 2 has you running around in 3D environments. The game is broken up into five unique worlds each containing stages to match the theme, but the goal is always to advance to the end while chomping ghosts along the way. Pac-Man can transform into different versions of himself with unique abilities, such as Ice Pac who can freeze enemies and Metal Pac who can magnetically cling to walls, but even with these alterations the gameplay still feels rather bland, focusing mostly on basic platforming.
Stages are linear, but they do offer up some opportunity to explore and find hidden treasures, not unlike the stage design in Super Mario 3D Land. Despite giving the limited freedom to roam, the game still feels very restrictive, however, guiding its players to the end of each stage with a firm grip. The feeling of constraint also comes from the incredibly low difficulty setting; we acknowledge that this game is made for younger players, but it's worth mentioning that the adventure is easy to the point of swiftly growing uninteresting. Stages go by so quickly and spare lives are amassed with such ease that at no point did we ever feel like we were facing any sort of challenge. At the end of each stage you are given a score and a ranking, ensuring that anyone who can stomach multiple plays through will be returning to stages over and over again in an attempt to best themselves. There are also in-game achievements to unlock, providing further fodder for the perfectionist flame.
As mentioned before, each stage is rendered in 3D, but in attempting to create lush environments with intricate backgrounds and attention to detail, everything ends up looking like a grainy, muddy mess. There is a distinct lack of visible depth, making some platforming sections leap-of-faith situations, and the handheld console’s signature 3D doesn’t help the problem at all. Rather than providing anything close to the illusion of distance, having the 3D turned on instead alters the environments and characters into nauseating blurs; there are also issues with an inconsistent frame rate, especially with the 3D effect turned on. Adding to the subpar visuals is a finicky camera that will sometimes quickly pan around to odd angles, making it difficult to tell exactly where you are on the map and where you need to go. It’s obvious that a lot of care was put into designing the environments so each looks and feels unique, making it especially upsetting that this is one of the game’s biggest letdowns.
When all is said and done, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 for 3DS is not a very good game, but this points to a much deeper issue at hand. The Pac-Man character has fallen victim to something very similar to what Sonic the Hedgehog – we're looking you dead in the eye, Sonic Boom – now faces, and that's the threat of modernization. Rather than allowing these characters to exist as they are, the respective property owners insist on finding ways to appeal to new generations of fans and alter the characters to the point of being unrecognizable. When this happens, the characters change so much that we completely lose sight of what they once were.
Ghostly Adventures 2 is a video game that is based on a TV show, but when you trace it back one step further, that TV show is based on a completely different video game. Rather than being treated as a game character and focusing on making his games good, Pac-Man is instead treated as an opportunity for merchandise, completely shifting the focus to making the character himself appear "cool" rather than producing good games. Ghostly Adventures 2 attempts to cash in on a cash in, and the players are the ones being left empty handed.