I was getting a little worried as I trudged through the tutorial to Pac-Man Championship Edition 2, the second sequel to one of my favorite games of all time. 2007's Pac-Man Championship Edition is a legitimate arcade classic — it rebooted a legendary title that I was never particularly fond of by bringing it right up to date as a slick, fast-paced, high-score attack designed to be played in a few minutes. Its design was minimalist through and through, putting nothing between you and the pill-munching.
Pac-Man CE 2 is not quite like that. Though the basic concept is the same, it builds upon new features added in 2010's Pac-Man CE DX and comes up with several of its own. The result is a game that took a little more time for me to get my head around. The tutorial introduces you to gauges and power-ups and boss battles and enemy behaviors that, taken in turn, make the game seem like a mess.
Then I started playing properly, and all was forgiven. Almost.
It's more like a racing game than anything else
If you're not familiar with Pac-Man CE, here's how it works. Like the original Pac-Man games, the aim is to clear a board of dots and munch on ghosts when you get a power pellet. There are far fewer dots on the board at once, however, and once you eat them all the layout shifts and play continues. Pac-Man CE isn't about beating discrete levels, it's about constantly chasing these paths of dots and getting the highest score possible within a fixed time limit. It's more like a racing game than anything else.
Pac-Man CE 2 is built upon the same basic template, but a few new mechanics make a big difference to how you actually play the game. The first is a gauge at the bottom of the screen that gradually fills up with each dot you eat. Fill the gauge, and a piece of fruit appears; eat the fruit and the board layout resets. Similarly to DX, sleeping ghosts are placed along each dot path and wake as you go near them, joining a ghost train that chases you throughout. Sometimes the gauge will spawn a power pellet. rather than fruit — as in other Pac-Man games, this turns the ghosts blue and lets you eat them.
While DX let you simply turn back on yourself to swallow the whole train in a row, which was hugely satisfying, CE 2 sends the leader of the train in a mad rush across the board and you have to hunt it down. You're constantly chasing down dot patterns, and in another big shift, running into an enemy ghost usually doesn't kill you — they just get mildly perturbed unless you bump them too often. The mad rush to eat ghost trains along with the less frequent deaths make CE 2 feel like the fastest Pac-Man CE game yet.
CE 2 feels like the fastest Pac-Man game yet
There are more tweaks and features I could go into, but they were boring enough to play in the context of the tutorial, so I don't imagine they'd be any more fun for you to read about here. What you need to know is that when you sit down to play Pac-Man CE 2, it largely comes together. The game's design nudges you into getting to the most intense parts of the original — breakneck dot-munching with ghosts on your tail — faster than ever before, and those moments are still far more heart-stopping than any game about a yellow circle really has any right to be.
However, I'm not really sure what makes Pac-Man CE 2 worthy of the numbered-sequel designation over DX, which did at least as much as this game to build upon the original blueprint. The three releases feel like iterations upon the same idea, with seemingly minor rule changes that make major differences to how the game is played. I'm more than okay with this — I think all three are well worth anyone's time, and it's fun to have a new way to play Pac-Man CE.
But I don't really know who Pac-Man CE 2 is for. If you liked the previous two games as much as I did, you'll be happy to have another twist on the formula — but you'll also probably be picky about the changes that were made. I don't like the way you have to chase after ghosts after eating a pellet, for example, since it feels like a random and unfair way to suck up your remaining time. And when you do manage to catch the ghosts, the excessive 3D graphical effects take you out of the experience. Don't even get me started on the boss battles.
You may like the things I dislike in this game and dislike things I liked in the others, which is fine, and if Namco wants to keep experimenting with the Pac-Mac CE series I'll be happy to indulge it. All three titles are great. But if, like me, you felt that DX's wild, gratuitous hedonism detracted a little from the purity of the original CE's austere design, just know that CE 2 eats another few dots along that path.
Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 is out tomorrow on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.