Version tested: Xbox 360
Well this certainly caught us by surprise. Remember how the original Pac-Man Championship Edition turned everyone into bug-eyed crazies for about four months of 2007? Remember how it got people into Pac-Man that didn't even like the flappy-jawed yellow blob? Well, this DX edition has the audacity to improve everything we loved about the first one tenfold, and not even warn us about it in advance.
As usual, it's all about clocking the best possible high score, but Namco Bandai gets around the repetition by not only upping the maze count from two to nine, but also by layering on new mechanics and new modes that twist the formula in a frantic and relentlessly exciting new direction.
The most obvious change, initially, is the presence of stationary green ghosts, snoozing at various points around the maze. If Pac-Man moves past them, they wake up and give chase, allowing you to build up a huge, snaking conga line of ghosts if you can hold off from eating a power pill for long enough. The payback is that you can turn the tables in spectacular style, chowing down on literally dozens of them and clocking up a massive score in the process. Some ghosts will even top up your time bar, so eking out your feast becomes a strategic balancing act as you weave your way along the most effective route to score-based glory.
Another interesting tweak comes in Pac-Man's new ability to bomb all his pursuers back to the centre of the maze. With a simple tap of the trigger, you'll not only avoid losing a life, but save the associated time penalty that comes with being out of action for a few precious seconds. It does come with a small penalty, though, dialling the game's speed down a notch and therefore slightly reducing your ability to rack up a leaderboard-troubling score.
The game even gives you a get-out-of-jail-free card by slowing the action down to a crawl if you're in imminent danger of crashing into a ghost. As controversial as these fundamental changes undoubtedly sound, they keep the game flowing in a completely thrilling way. The price of staying alive is the constantly rising gameplay speed, and once you start getting into the realms of 40 and above, the battle to keep Pac-Man on course becomes an increasingly futile one. At this point, you'll probably be muttering about chunky old-style 4-way joysticks and shouting at the joypad.
Having successfully introduced these exciting new twists to the formula, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX goes one step further by adding enticing new modes designed specifically to ensure that you won't be doing anything constructive for the next few weeks. As well as the usual five- and 10-minute score attacks for each maze, you now get time trials which challenge you to eat a designated number of apples in the shortest possible time. As usual, clearing the dots on one half of the maze presents you with fruit on the other side, so carving the most efficient route becomes an obsession.
But clearing a time trial stage merely unlocks further stages, and your overall time trial leaderboard position relies on your ability to pick your way through each stage and painstakingly reduce your total time as much as possible. Needless to say, it's ruinously addictive, and essentially turns Pac-Man into a crazy racing game where relentless consumption is the aim.