Version tested: Xbox 360
Does the Xbox Live Arcade really need three versions of Pac-Man? God love it and all, but we could reel off a gigantic list of other games we'd rather see dusted down and squeezed down our in-pipe instead. Or so you might imagine, at least.
The rather surprising reality of this new one is that it's (whisper it) really bloody good. It's what Namco should have done in the first place, with the seminal original game thrown in as a nice extra for those of us that demand it. A bit like how Rare handled Jetpac Refuelled, for instance.
But what's done is done, and what's more important is the fact that someone's finally managed to take hold of the age old pill-munching concept and make it exciting and relevant for today's retro-minded gamer.
To be someone
That 'someone' happens to be Toru Iwatani, the original designer and 'special advisor' to this revival of one of gaming's most enduring (but perennially abused) brands. Rather than do something stupid like make another rubbish platform game (or worse, a karting game), Iwatani-san and his Namco chums have taken a more 'retro evolved' approach that stays true to its fundamental maze game elements, while keeping a balance and adding the sort of variety and intensity that keeps you coming back for more.
As you might have read in the recent news announcement, the game boasts a total of six 'modes', though what they amount to are simple score-based maze challenges set around a time limit. As usual, the premise is to guide your little pill munching fiend around gobbling the dots and avoiding the attention of Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde. No change there, then.
What's interesting isn't the high-def, widescreen reworking (thanks for that), but how Namco has subtly tinkered with some of the basic elements of the game so that it's no longer just about clearing one maze after another. Essentially what you've got now are two halves of one big widescreen maze, and once you've gobbled up the dots dished out on one half, a fruit appears next to the ghost pen on the opposite side. Gobble the tasty fruit treat and dots will once again fill up on the other side, forcing you into a testing mercy dash into often dangerous territory.
Talking about my generation
More often than not, you won't have an entire maze of dots to clear, but a few well-chosen paths of dots to munch - often with a lone tempting power pill to aim for to give you the occasional ghost gobbling edge, and other times with a disproportionate number of power pills but few dots surrounding them.
With the emphasis firmly on getting a high score within a strict (but ample) time limit, it's no longer just an endless maze-clearing exercise. It's specifically this bite-sized, furiously intense goal that goads you towards using the power pills strategically via the new ghost-chain scoring system. The new dynamic really adds to the real risk/reward element, and makes you play the game in a completely different way.
Back in the olden days, 'classic' Pac-Man's ghost-chomping adventures always topped out at 1600 points after you'd munched all four of your pursuers in a row. But now, if you collect another power pill before the effects wear off, you can build up that tally to a maximum of 3200 points. Keep it up and you'll very quickly improve your score and clock up bonus lives for every 20,000 points - helping you through the round, and ensuring you have a better chance of survival when the game starts getting crazily fast.