In 1980, Pac-Man took the world by storm, introducing arcade players to an entirely new kind of gameplay style. The titulad pill muncher went on to become a universally recognised icon of gaming, while also spawning numerous sequels and spinoffs to the inaugural debut over the decades that followed. Now, Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 Plus aims to continue that legacy set by the original, iterating on the classic formula in notable ways, but still leaving the core of it intact. The end result is what could be seen as one of the very best versions of Pac-Man available
Gameplay in PCE2 aims to go back to the roots of the franchise and recapture that simple, yet addictive arcade gameplay where you guide Pac-Man through mazes in a never-ending quest to eat more dots, all the while being pursued by four ghosts. The key difference here is that this game is fast, taking that simple concept and elevating it to a heart pounding, adrenaline pumping sugar rush of pure arcade bliss. It takes some getting used to, but once you’ve worked out the rhythm of careening around corners and consuming countless ghosts, this becomes a Pac-Man experience like no other, perfecting the idea that its predecessor introduced.
PCE2 mainly revolves around its Score Attack mode, which challenges you to blast your way through as many boards as you possibly can within a five-minute window. Pac-Man drops into a maze and usually can follow a linear dot path that traces around the stage, with each dot contributing to a gauge at the bottom of the screen. Once filled, a bonus fruit appears, and grabbing this sends Pac-Man and his ghost assailants to a new board with a different layout, filled with more dots. All of this happens in the span of about ten seconds (or less), and repeats until you run out of time.
Every few boards, a power pellet will spawn instead of a fruit, and this is where things get really interesting. See, each board has 'sleeping' ghosts scattered about, and going near them causes them to wake up and fly to the nearest ghost chasing you. This creates a ghost train that extends in front of the ghost, telegraphing where it will turn next. As you move through boards, the ghost trains continue to grow, but they’re sharply cut down in size when you get to a power pellet board. Once the pellet is grabbed, the ghost trains run away at blazing speeds, but lines will appear on the maze that indicate the paths the ghosts are taking. Once you intercept a train, Pac-Man tears through all the ghosts, racking up a massive score boost in the process.
This all combines to make an experience that’s hard to look away from and hard to put down. Every element of the Pac-Man formula has been examined and retooled to flow seamlessly together, capturing everything great about that unique gameplay. Touching ghosts would prove to be a problem at the speeds you’re playing at, so you’re allowed to bump into them a couple times before they get 'angry' and actually do you harm. Scouring every maze for every dot would slow things down, so an easily followed path of dots is usually in place that ensures you’ll fill the gauge as quickly as possible.
Most boards don’t even require you to clear out all the dots, and in many cases, it’s in your best interests to get to the next board as soon as possible. Both Pac-Man and the ghosts gain speed with each successive board, so the last minute or so of each run is a white-knuckle battle for survival and glory, as you chomp your way to a hopefully higher score. This is Pac-Man at his most kinetic and frantic, but it’s also Pac-Man at his most exciting.
There’s plenty of diversity to maze designs, too, and this helps to keep things fresh and interesting. A menu screen gives you several options where you can choose a difficulty level and design, with some mazes having gimmicks such as jump pads that send you between parts of the screen or significantly more tight corridors that lead to intense chase sequences. They’re not different enough that they feel like unique game modes, but the different mazes help to fend off any notions of stagnation.
On top of this, you’re given a plethora of cosmetic options, which can be tweaked to your liking at the start of each run. There are 'sets' of options that are used by default across the different mazes, but you’re allowed to mix and match them as much as you’d like. If you’d prefer playing as Dig-Dug on a neon maze with the music from Pac-Land playing in the background, you can set that up with just a few tweaks. This is clearly designed to be a flexible game that players can adjust according to their tastes, from difficulty to cosmetics.
If climbing the leaderboards or achieving that coveted 'S' rank on stages isn’t your thing, then there’s also an Adventure mode that offers up a slightly more linear challenge. Here, you move through a series of 10 challenges, each of which will task you with collecting a certain amount of fruit under the time limit on a fixed set of boards. Upon completing a level, you’re given one to three stars depending on which difficulty setting you picked, and collecting enough of these will eventually unlock the boss fight for that world. These are basically the same thing as the other challenges, with the caveat being that a giant ghost in the background occasionally sends all four ghosts on the board into their angry state.
While Adventure mode doesn’t really have much in the way of unique gameplay to differentiate it from Score Attack, the focus on achieving an objective instead of just going for a high score makes for a nice slight change of pace, offering a different kind of challenge. Though it doesn’t take very long to reach the end of the 'campaign', achieving three stars on every challenge is no mean feat, one that will keep even the most skilled players busy for some time. It’s a nice inclusion that ensures players that aren’t crazy about chasing scores will have a goal that’s a bit more tangible than simply getting a better score; there’s a coveted 100% completion rate to be pursued here.
Score Attack and Adventure mode are just half the game, though, with the other half being devoted entirely to co-op play. This is largely the same as a two player Score Attack, but there’s a few notable differences here. For one, there’s no bumping into ghosts here, one touch will lead to certain death. In place of the bumping, however, is a bullet time effect that triggers when a ghost is dangerously close to you, giving you extra time to react and dodge. If you still manage to get caught, there’s a window of a few seconds where your partner can come and save you if they’re quick enough. Another change is that most elements of the game are adjusted to require both players’ participation.
When all the dots have been eaten, the two players must 'kiss' in order to receive the bonus fruit to send them to the next board. When somebody grabs a power pellet, individual ghosts can only be 'dribbled' in front of one player, requiring the other player to come from the opposite direction and sandwich the ghosts. If there’s a board featuring a ghost train, one player must first attack from the front while the other has to attack from the back before a gauge runs out.
Another notable difference is the inclusion of actual boss battles, which involve you and your partner attacking a giant, voxelated ghost. Here, you move about in arenas that wouldn’t be out of place in a 2D platformer, climbing up the walls and jumping to disconnected platforms in pursuit of all the dots, all while being followed by a massive, slow-moving ghost. Once the dots are clear, the power pellet drops and you can attack the boss by holding down the jump button and repeatedly bouncing into it like a pinball, with each strike sending smaller ghosts flying out which can be eaten for extra points. It’s the biggest departure form the standard Pac-Man gameplay in the game, yet it plays quite similarly and feels like a good fit. Though the controls here can be a little tough to get to grips with, these boss battles provide some of the most intense moments to be found in PCE2, mixing up the gameplay in a memorable way.
It may sound like adding another player into the madness of PCE2 needlessly complicates things, but the rapid-fire flow of jumping between boards isn’t lost here at all. If anything, it’s even enhanced. Having a friend on hand helps you clear out boards far faster than doing so alone, and the even more chaotic pace that results leads to plenty of laughter and shouting as you two struggle to survive together. Couple this with the interesting boss battles, and you have a mode that can provide loads of replay value and intense action while changing just a few things about the standard mode. Best of all, this co-op mode can be played solo with an AI partner, too, and we found that it is more than capable of holding its own and supporting you. Any way you cut it, the additional co-op content that comes with the Switch version is a great inclusion, building on what came before in new and interesting ways.
All this gameplay is wrapped up in a similarly exciting presentation that’s just bursting with life. A high-tempo dubstep and electronic soundtrack helps to keep the excitement of gameplay high, with pounding drums and satisfying hooks keeping your ears just as tuned into the action as your eyes. There’s plenty of catchy beats here that will be bouncing around in your head for some time, and the inclusion of classic sounds and samples from the arcade games pay the perfect homage to the past. The visuals are similarly attractive, opting for a colorful, neon art artstyle that feels like the perfect fit for an arcade game, while the other optional cosmetic changes can make the game look completely different if you so choose. Little details, like sleeping ghosts and dots that change color and bounce to the beat of the music, help to make the visuals and music mingle seamlessly together, putting on a show that’s pleasing to the eyes and ears.
Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 Plus is everything that fans of the classic arcade game could want out of a legacy sequel, focusing on delivering a pure, high-speed realization of the concept that was introduced way back in 1980. Between the single player and multiplayer modes, there’s enough content here for hours of play, and it’s all endlessly replayable. We would give this game a strong recommendation to anyone that enjoys the easy to learn, difficult to master gameplay that you typically find in an arcade game; PCE2 has it in spades. For 20 bucks, this one is a no-brainer.