The summer of Pac-Man – latest versions of 1980s video game will tempt purists

The good news for Pac-Man aficionados is that game developers just keep coming up with new, fun ways to bring the popular 1980s maze-running arcade game into the 21st century

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2016, 11:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2016, 11:03am

Since Pac-Man and I were born in the same year (1980), I’ve always felt a kinship with the iconic dot muncher. Some of my first gaming memories can be attributed to his Atari 2600 debut.

After spending months playing the stellar Pac-Man: Championship Edition for the Xbox 360 in 2007, I thought Pac-Man was out of my life for good. I figured there was nothing more game developers could do with the maze-running concept.

For a while, I was right. Aside from landmark anniversaries and the occasional nostalgia trip, Pac-Man stayed out of my thoughts for the next nine years. Then the original arcade versions of Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man were released for the PlayStation 4 earlier this year, and I couldn’t resist the retro appeal. My hands were stuck to the controller for the next month, and I gained a new appreciation for just how tough those classics are – especially when you get past level 10.

After tiring of those, I again thought my time with Pac-Man was over. Then Pac-Man 256 came out in June, followed closely by Pac-Man: Championship Edition 2 last month. Both games add unique twists to the core game play, reviving a formula I feared had been beaten into the ground.

Looks like Pac-Man will always be a part of my life. It’s too good not to be.

The best thing about Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 (for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC ) is that it feels completely different to its predecessor, Pac-Man Championship Edition.

Considering the constraints of the game’s simple design – an open maze filled with dots and ghosts – that’s more than an achievement. It’s a programming miracle. While the original Pac-Man Championship Edition felt a lot like the core game cranked up through a hallucinogenic speed tablet, this sequel is more complicated, more laid-back, and a bit more weird. Trust me, that’s a good thing.

Like its predecessor, CE2 uses high speeds and shifting maze patterns to create an experience that bursts with energy. Dots are arranged in patterns on the map as opposed to filling every corridor, acting as guidelines for players to get the most points and avoid ghostly pursuers.

The biggest change is in the viciousness of the ghosts – or in this case, the lack thereof. Simply touching a ghost won’t result in the loss of a life, and the adorable baddies can be bumped into up to three times before they attack. But this game moves far faster than the traditional Pac-Man experience, so the extra leeway doesn’t really make things easier – only manageable.

While it may not be as shocking as the 2007 release of Pac-Man: Championship Edition (the formula had never been reworked that way before), this is still the second best new Pac-Man game on the market.

Meanwhile, Pac-Man 256 (for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC) is the best new Pac-Man game on the market. I know this because my wife and I can’t stop playing it, even though we bought it three months ago.

Unlike Pac-Man Championship Edition 2, Pac-Man 256 takes a simpler approach to the classic maze formula, turning it into an endless run that always ends in death.

Up to four players (or just one) simultaneously take control of a different version of Pac-Man, then do their best to stay alive as they move towards the top of a quasi-3D, isometric maze full of the usual dots, ghosts and power pellets. As the playfield moves forward, the back half of the maze continually glitches out of existence, in tribute to the colourful glitch that plagued the last level of the Pac-Man arcade game – level 256.

Staying too close to the bottom of the screen results in instant death, but if you’re playing with friends, that’s not the end of the game. A new power-up will soon appear in front of the other players, and if they grab it, your Pac-Man is automatically resurrected. This results in a kind of relay of death, where deceased players wait patiently for their friends to rescue them so they can return the favour later.

In never gets old, and since the maze length is unlimited, a group of talented players could conceivably play this game forever.

While the game play is a lot slower than Pac-Man Championship Edition 2, the measured pace builds the kind of tension that continually turned my controller into a sweaty mess. I’ve played a lot of Pac-Man variations over the years, but nothing this intense.

This might be the one game to actually tempt Pac-Man purists into trying something new.

Like all the games in this franchise, Pac-Man 256 can get a little repetitive during extended play sessions, so I suggest you limit the action to about 30 minutes at a time. Unless you can play the game endlessly on the same life, of course.

In that case, I would like your name and address so I can learn at the feet of a Pac-Man master.