There's a moment during the opening cutscene of Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 where the series' villain Lord Betrayus delights over his giant robot being ready to ''unleash on Pacopolis. Again!'' It's just a throwaway joke that's fitting of the Saturday morning cartoon vibe, but while it may have raised a slight smile initially, that simple ''again'' manages to echo throughout the entirety of Pac's latest adventure. You want more of the same? Well here it is.
We found the previous entry in the series to be a charming, if simple take on the 3D platformer genre, that paid fitting tribute to the yellow gobblers arcade past with some nods towards an older, more nostalgic audience. As a sequel, Ghostly Adventures 2 does very little to mess with this formula, emulating it to a fault and all without the initial buffer of nostalgia to rely on. The unexpected fun of the original is lost somewhat when you're presented with an almost identical set of stages and abilities, but for the unfamiliar, we'll give a quick rundown on the gameplay style and setting.
Set in a re-imagined universe where Pac-Man is a cocky teen attending high school, the evil ghosts seek to reclaim their original bodies and escape the netherworld. Led by the ever-so-obviously evil Lord Betrayus, they've invaded Pacopolis to wreak havoc, forcing Pac and his friends into action. It's a simple setup that's competently told through silly voice-acting and a healthy dose of kid-friendly humour — expect slapstick, and lots of it. The characters will be familiar to fans of the show, and while the questionably high-pitched voice given to our hungry hero is a very minor complaint, it's nice to see some actual personality injected into much of the dialogue.
Pac-World is broken up into five distinct areas — ranging from the starting hub of Pacopolis to a take on Atlantis — and eventually you'll be knocking on the ghost realm's front door itself. The scenery makes for a welcome change from the fire, ice, and jungle worlds seen before, but the re-use of the city in particular is a real drag. Similarly, the gameplay is untouched for the most part, offering the same solid platforming mechanics with a few minor additions. Despite the tutorial's confusing decision to play in 2D (though this can be skipped), Pac-Man will be traversing a series of semi-linear 3D levels for the bulk of the game. Obstacles come in the form of switches to be activated, ghost enemies to be chomped, and pitfalls to avoid, so it's all fairly standard fare.
Once more, finding a power berry will transform you into one of several different forms, and these grant our hero with a few fun abilities to play around with. In his normal form Pac-Man is a blast to control, as stringing chomp attacks from one ghost to another is still a lot of fun. Typically, the special attack button 'scares' ghosts into a spooked shade of blue, as they're quite eerily ordered to get into Pac's belly for additional points. As Ice, Rubber, or Metal Pac, however, you'll be able to freeze enemies, bounce up to reach tall platforms, or cling to metallic surfaces to reach new areas. While these are a welcome source of variety, it's hugely disappointing that they're almost entirely the same. Pac-zilla was a commonly advertised new addition to these transformations, but opportunities to make the change are few and far between, relegated primarily to boss fights which seem to take some inspiration from Mario and Luigi: Dream Team. It's a cheap thrill, but we're sure even younger players would have enjoyed being able to turn giant a little more often.
Ghostly Adventures 2 also introduces a couple of new playable characters in the form of Pac-Man's best friends, Spiral and Cylindria. Kids are likely to love these levels in particular, which see you taking control of a helicopter as Spiral or jumping on Cylindria's hoverboard to blast some ghosts in an on-rails section that feels suitably arcade-y. You'll also team up with these two in the main adventure as well - using Metal Pac to hang on to a steel girder suspended from your buddies chopper for example. Pac-Man gets his own vehicle section as well, though these are generally much shorter, and serve as only one part of a larger area.
Broadly-speaking, levels will take about 5-10 minutes to complete, depending on how much you want to explore. Going off the beaten path (by cleverly utilizing different Pac-forms or nailing some additional platforming) can net you some extra points, but will commonly reveal one of three icons per level. These cherries, strawberries, and Galaga ships do little more than give the player some additional bragging rights, as does the points system in general, but it does at least set up a structure for some additional challenge if you so choose. Overall the game is far from difficult, with plenty of ways to restore health, earn lives, and reach the next checkpoint; even falling off the path won't result in death, but rather a quick respawn and the loss of a single heart. It's just as well too, as the camera issues that plagued the original still crop up here. Perspective is sometimes a real problem, particularly while on the magnetized walkways, but we're happy to report that it isn't too common an occurrence. Ghostly Adventures won't cause trouble for players young or old.
The visuals are as clear and colourful as ever, with some very nice space environments to gawp at while you bound across the jump-switch platforms borrowed straight from Super Mario Galaxy 2. The irony certainly wasn't lost on us. The music is light and upbeat, with some recognizable tunes making their presence known every once in a while to supplement the goofy banter that Pac and his enemies toss back and forth. While we may not have had an interest in roaming around the glorified menu of a hub world, young players could very well delight in paying a visit to Maze High or Sir.C's laboratory between missions, though they're largely empty spaces with very little to actually do.
With the disappointing omission of multiplayer and mini-games this time around, adults may not have interest in a second instalment (no matter how many King Kong or Airplane! references are crammed in), and this release sadly doesn't rise above the label of an unimaginative retread. Everything Ghostly Adventures 2 does right, it has its predecessor to thank for it.
Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 was released less than 12 months after the first in the series, and it absolutely shows. While there's still a solid platformer in here, it's a bare-bones attempt which underwhelms for the sole reason that it could have been so much more. Younger fans are likely to enjoy having more of the same, but anyone who found themselves charmed by the original may want to hold off on this one until you're sure those nostalgia goggles aren't making the decision. It can be fun, but it ends up feeling like an expensive level Pac. ....We mean pack!