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The GoodPrior to downloading this gem on my Xbox360, I only saw it in pictures and heard that it garnered some solid reviews. The pictures looked pretty cool and it has been a popular featured item on the Xbox 360's discounts and deals, so I snagged it.
And. This. Game. Is. Awesome.
I'm pretty familiar with a few retro-revivals from the past few years and some others. I have the N64-era revamped Robotron, Space Invaders Extreme on the DS, and spent time with Namco's other modern take on a classic, Galaga Championship Edition. Contra 4 could probably be thrown into that mix as well, since it was the first original throw-back to 16-bit-era Contra games after two generations of generally poor Playstation renditions.
This is the proper way to bring a classic game into the modern era, while still keeping it intact. Sure, Space Invaders Extreme is an excellent game (hard as hell), and does a modern take on a classic formula very much the same as this Pac-Man game. I don't think Space Invaders is quite this good, however, in part due to the near expert-level difficulty required for much of the game. Essentially, both games maintain the same basic formula and gameplay as their classic forms, while adding flashy colorful flair to the graphical presentations and ramping up the speed and overall intensity for modern audiences.
The graphics are bright and colorful, and when viewed in that full High-Def glory on a digital TV, they have the same classic glow that old-school arcade monitors had. Where the colors on the screen feel and look more like intense neon lights than flat colors. Similar to how Space Invaders was updated, graphics maintain their original shapes and design, but use vibrant and clever color use to craft games with a modern look and feel. Pac-Man CE DX also features eight different graphical styles (labeled with letters A through H). This both adds a nice variety to the overall style, and allows room for players to stick with a style that they find the most comfortable. Personally, I stuck with styles A and C because I love the "classic arcade" feel they both evoked. Two of the styles look like Legos.
The gameplay is absolutely amazing. Controls are extremely responsive, featuring movement with either analog stick or the D-pad, and any button firing off bombs. Bombs are simply used to clear the way when things get too crowded. What's amazing, though, is how rare it is to end up actually cornered. Chock this up to some of the most impressive programming I've ever seen. Allow me to explain:
Each stage has a very smooth flow to it--clear a few pellets, eat a fruit to open up a new maze and a new trail of pellets to devour. Each stage, except for the one called "Half" feature mazes and trails of pellets on each side of the screen and fruit to eat to open up the stage to another maze. This is less about memorizing new mazes and routines, and more about simply falling into a groove and understanding how the game was made--experiencing how stages unfold is, to put it quite simply, beautiful in its logic. The flow of the stages is surprisingly natural.
This logic is topped of by some of the smartest programming you'll likely ever see concerning the classic ghosts, Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde. This game introduces green ghosts sleeping all over the stages and a secondary objective to devouring pellets in smooth trails and expanding mazes. The point here is to dash past the sleeping green ghosts to wake them up and cause them to follow Pac-Man, with the goal of eventually chomping through a huge series of them. Something like 20 or 30 ghosts can end up following you at a time (which forces a unique level of attention to detail), and stages can be just crowded with far more than that. As of right now, the highest number of ghosts I chowed through in a single Powered state is 112. You'll never have that many following you at once, there's some crafty gameplay required to get to numbers past 60.
Now, this isn't to say that you'll never be trapped or cornered. It'll happen. But what I found is that, when playing and cruising along with the logical flow of the game, the four regular ghosts very, very rarely caused a problem. More or less, they seem to be there to trip up the player and create a panic to amplify the intensity of the game. When in "the zone" as it were, the four regular ghosts rarely prove to be a problem. Falling out of the smoothness of maze-clearing in any way, however, has a tendency to change the gameplay focus. Rather than focusing on clearing pellets in smooth pattern-heavy trails, gameplay changes to survivalist twitch gaming. Either way, it's freaking exhilarating.
Now, if having a couple dozen ghosts following at once wasn't enough, the game also features fifty speed settings, which tend to ramp up very quickly as ghosts are eaten. This creates a modern intensity to the classic Pac-Man formula, and the smoothness of the overall gameplay remains unchanged as the speeds increase. Even the most astute of us, however, are likely to get lost in the craziness of a screen coated in ghosts in a game running at speed 50. Two elements have been graciously added to the game to save us from close calls. The afore-mentioned bombs, which launch active ghosts back to the center starting position for a second, and a slow-down moment during split-second run-ins. Where you might normally drive headlong into a ghost, Championship Edition DX slows the action and focuses for something like a half a second or so before grim death takes a life. This half-second moment gives, what feels like a minute of breathing room for players to save their butts from catastrophe. Either blast a bomb or change direction.
There are pretty ample bombs and lives for most modes in the game, but Pac-Man is all about the high score. And losing lives and using bombs interferes with score building.
The BadThis section intentionally left blank (aside from this sentence).
The Bottom LineThat's right, I listed no negatives. I honestly feel that there are none. There are a variety of stages, including what I believe to be the original Championship Edition stage (which features no green sleeping ghosts), and each is different enough to keep things fresh. Within most of the stages are large lists of challenges, with five and ten-minute score attack challenges, a Ghost challenge (to eat as many as possible during a single "power" session), and about a bajillion time trials. The Half and Darkness stages are nothing but Time Trials.
Normally, there are few things in all of gaming that I loathe more than time restraints and having to accomplish a task within some kind of time limit. However, I discovered that the time restraints here are the making of the player. That's right, it's you that you're up against. All the preset time limits for the Trials are far more than generous, and it's my belief that pretty much every Time Trial can be completed in half the time allotted. I completed most ten-minute Time Trials somewhere around three to four minutes. After this, the time you're up against--is your previous best. It's hard to be annoyed by time restraints when the harshest ones are of my own making.
Depending on how you view such things, the Achievements are a total cakewalk. As in, this is the first game that I have 100% completion in Achievements of my Xbox 360 games. This isn't because I suck at games (well, I might), but more that I don't have the time or 100% completionist in me anymore. Usually, the Achievements I skip are the "gotta play the game more than once" Achievements, and many of the "collect 100% of a bunch of little bits of hidden crap in a game." All of Pac-Man's Achievements are pretty straight forward and easy. Mostly about scoring tons of points, surviving in certain parameters, etc. Frankly, I'm happy to have one game so far where I managed to snag all of 'em. And I did it all in two days. Eleven of twelve in the first night.
While I knocked off the Achievements easy, this is one game I return to constantly. It's fast and easy to fire up at any time, and the huge list of challenges, mostly in Time Trials, keeps the game fresh. It took me about a week and a half or so of casually attacking the game to unlock and finish every challenge in some form. Even then, the addictive gameplay and constant reminder of my status on Leaderboards for every little thing constantly drew me back into the game.
Simply put, this is a video game at it's finest and most pure form. Everything works and works extremely well. And if one can manage to maintain the gameplay in it's beautiful, logical rhythm, the pellet-munching and maze clearing runs like an absolute dream.
The things I might complain about, it would feel wrong to do so. Two of the stage designs are hell for me to see my way through, but will probably work for a lot of other people. My own gross missteps are my own fault, but man, can some of those missteps lead to a whole hell of trouble. The standard four ghosts that normally tend to steer clear of Pac-Man when moving smoothly through the mazes become the utter nuisance they were always intended to be should a player venture too far outside the rhythm. But gameplay, graphics, sound, music, variety, challenges, etc--everything is about as much perfection as any gamer is likely to find anywhere. Even the rumble features rock (just make sure you turn it on, it's default appears to be "off").
This is a perfect example of how a small downloadable title should work and look, and a perfect example of how to revive a classic title for modern gaming tastes. The game is beautiful and absolutely wonderful. A true gem not to be missed. Here's hoping that one day, it finds a solid release in some kind of physical form with other revamped Namco classics. I'd hate to see such an incredible game lost to the perils of harddrive failure after a move to the next generation (hopefully still some time out).