Finally, a version of Pac-Man I could believe listens to Tupac!
Jumping into Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures without any prior knowledge of the animated show on which it is based and with which it shares its name presents a shock to the senses that begs many questions.
Why is Pac-Man in high school?
Where is Mrs. Pac-Man?
Why the hell are Blinky, Inky, Pinky and Clyde hanging out with Pac-Man and his friends?
And why in the world do I look like a chameleon?
These inquiries are mostly worthless, as the demographic at which the game is aimed will know the answers. An old fogey like myself sees the Ghost Gang exchange pleasantries with Pac-Man and can’t compute the relationship; a Pac-savvy seven-year-old will not only tell you that the famous ghosts serve the evil Betrayus while providing Pac-Man and friends with inside information, but will have done so without visiting a Pac-Man Wiki immediately beforehand (the Internet is the best)!
If it’s not clear yet, it’s time for those of us who harbor old-school notions of what Pac-Man’s world is like to get with the 21st century. This newest iteration is a youthful, spunky hero who more often simply goes by “Pac”.
And this game bears little similarity to the pellet-popping pastime that’s defined the character for decades. With his new dimension comes new gameplay – platforming. Besides the pellets that dot the landscape, enemy ghosts are the only familiarity (and even they sport different sizes and abilities than you grew up combating). Six worlds are divided into five to seven chapters for a bit over 30 levels to traverse, and scattered through each are hidden extra lives and tokens that you can collect to play mini-games in the game’s hub area. Special power-ups in the form of “Power Berries” (inspired by the classic “Power Pellet”) help you conquer each level.
How does it all Pac-stack up? (The characters' names and dialogue are littered with puns. Sorry)
Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures sure doesn’t get off on an inspiring note. Most of its first levels are also-ran-caliber takes on stuff you’ve seen in every other platformer you’ve played. The initial power-ups – fire, then ice – had me thinking “oh what a terrifically mediocre adventure I’m about to partake in”. The breeze with which the initial levels can be sailed through did nothing to ease these suspicions. Then something happened.
The game got decent.
The next world, tinged with a Mayan mystique, felt less derivative of better platformers and more well-designed from the first. This was aided by the addition of two power-ups that were about as far from fire and ice as one can get – stone ball and rubber. The stone ability transforms Pac into a giant, smiling, granite version of himself that can boulder over ghosts, dash forward at a rapid pace and activate heavy switches. The rubber power-up turns the hero into a bouncy-ball style Pac-Man that can knockout enemies with a shockwave and wall-jump against two surfaces that are near enough to one another. Both of these power-ups added different layers to the game and showed unexpected creativity on the developer’s part, and set the tone for the remainder of the experience.
Granite ball Pac-Man never stops smiling, even as he destroys Mayan relics. Sadist.
The level design continues on the upward trajectory through the remainder of the title. Fire and ice play a more predominant role as level themes in the two different worlds, with the Netherworld (a Hell-like zone where show villain Betrayus apparently resides) standing out as the world with the most variety in its tasks. (*SPOILER*) Even Pacopolis, the lackluster first world, gets re-visited and improved upon in a second outing that introduces the ever-clever yet woefully underutilized spin power-up (*END SPOILER*). Perhaps the biggest design fault after the first world is that there are only five more worlds to visit after it (including the final world), making for a briefer outing than one would like.
So much of the game’s design revolves around the use of the special abilities, and this dependence lends itself to negative critique despite the genuine fun and variety it generates. Because every level can only be completed by using certain power-ups at a given time, such abilities are as readily available as sermons on a Sunday. There’s no built-in timing/ammunition mechanism to limit essential functions of a power-up save for a few near the end of the game. Worse, though, the player is never in the shadows about what they ought to do next. A Power Berry is always within eye-shot of an area where it’s necessary to use one, and the aforementioned pellets guide the user on the rare occasion when there’s any doubt.
Those decisions were clearly made with accessibility to younger gamers in mind and certainly should aid the tykes. But, more experienced users will feel little impedance en route to conquering the main game in little more than four or five hours. The controls figure heavily into the simple experience as well, with the left (movement) and right (camera) control sticks, and single-button presses (the main four face buttons) being the only controls one has to worry about.
Re-Pac-playability (punny, right)? There’s a little. You’re encouraged to replay through the story’s levels in order to earn tokens to play four “arcade” mini-games in the school-themed hub area. The mini-games each take a classic arcade-style game (space shooter, tank, etc.) and gives it a Pac-Man theme. There are extra levels in worlds, akin to the Mario series, that open up but aren’t necessary to complete the story (though Mario trumps PATGA in sheer amount).
The game features some terrific boss battles. Bet you can't guess what this bad boy's name is.
There’s a local multi-player mode (no online aside from trophy support) in which up to four players play as either Inky, Blinky, Pinky or Clyde in a game that’s a throwback to classic Pac-Man, except from the “villain” perspective. Players earn points for thwarting other ghosts’ attempts at catching the title character, but the most points are awarded to the ghost who catches the yellow guy. This mode is a decent diversion with several different level themes to play in, but its slow pace (the ghosts were wearing lead boots when they died, apparently) and luck-heavy scoring system wear on the player after a while. It’s a good idea that I’d like to see improved upon if sequels to PATGA are produced in the future. It might not also be a bad idea to consider adding multiplayer features to the arcade games in future titles, which in and of themselves were a lot more fun than the dedicated multiplayer mode.
The game doesn’t wow graphically but it gets the job done. Its best-looking areas and models are best compared to their above-average equivalents in the Ratchet and Clank series. Its most impressive moments are during some of the early boss fights, in which the much-larger-than-normal enemies chew up the scenery against colorful backgrounds while a sea of fire/ice/darkness/etc. pours around the setting. For the most part the game handles large fights well, but there were a few instances late in the story when the steady frame rate became infringed upon due to a high volume (10+) of enemies and weather elements in the level. There were also a handful of glitches I encountered along the way, including one instance where I fell through an iced path on which Pac-Man was supposed to glide down to a bottom area, and landed on another level of the ice path and the gliding feature didn’t kick in (I was able to walk to the area without problem).
How about a summary?