Circles. My mind is going round in circles
Success, you see, is a vicious circle, because the longer you survive, the faster things get - to the point where it starts to reach Geometry Wars levels of instinctive, intense excitement. Losing a life actually calms things down a notch, but it's only a matter of seconds before you're tearing through tunnels with that pesky Clyde in hot pursuit, adding palpable panic to every second. Such is the speed of the gameplay, time seems to slow down to a crawl while you weave frantically this way and that. Sometimes just getting through the last two minutes of a ten-minute game seems to take forever as you cling onto your precious stock of lives while the enemy's AI gets increasingly ruthless in their teamwork.
With an accompanying bass throb underscoring the traditional wakawaka sound effects, the effect is even more tense, giving you the bug-eyed glare of a wired clubber - especially as the game moves to its countdown climax and amps up the soundtrack even more. With subtle trailing graphical effects to enhance the spectacle, it's a game that has a wonderfully understated and wholly authentic approach to its rebirth. For instance, the main sprites still look identical, right down to the pixelated rough edges, but it's the little details, like the trail of 50s you leave behind when you're speeding through the maze eating dots that catches your eye, or the little spark trails Pac-Man leaves if you turn into a corner ahead of time.
It's a game you almost want to play in the dark to get that full 'bathed in retro effect' like it was in most seedy arcades. Hats off to Namco Bandai for finally demonstrating a true understanding what's required to take retro game and make it genuinely interesting. Not just to retro nutjobs in their 30s and 40s who insist you 'had to be there', but to those who just want an addictive, pick up and play gem to dip in and out of when playing an epic seems too much like hard work.
Plays by sense of smell
Despite the presence of six modes, you'd be forgiven for thinking that there's not an awful lot to it for your 800 Microsoft uberfunds. Beyond the basic five-minute Championship mode, there are a few variations on a theme, such as two challenge modes and three 'extra' modes. On the challenge side, number one (called Patience and Reward in the press guff, but not in the game itself) gives more power pills than normal, while number two (the Darkness course) makes things more difficult by being in, er, in the dark - predictably making it tough to judge where the turns are with only the small glow of Mr Pac to light the way.
The three Extra modes aren't exactly much different either, with only a small twist to justify their presence. The first (The Freeway) is made up of screen-spanning lanes, effectively, and runs at a crazily high speed right from the off, which is as amusing as it is hazardous. Apparently the second is based on Manhattan, but I wasn't observant enough to realise it when I was playing it - it could have quite easily been any maze, to be honest. And by the time you reach three (the Overall course), you're playing a mish-mash of all the other modes in one. It's all very cool to have this degree of focus, but there's absolutely no way it feels like it warrants the 800-point price tag. It feels more at home in the repetitious-but-excellent Jetpac Refuelled territory - except at least Rare had the decency to give you the original for curiosity value. But then again Namco Bandai would risk the ire of an almighty number of people if it started giving away a game that's been a big success on Live Arcade. Like I said, it probably should have released this in the first place, but with the original thrown in. Now that would have been irresistible.
Many - if not most - people who downloaded Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man had issues with the controls, which admittedly weren't best suited to the Xbox 360's analogue stick, and even less well-tailored to directional-pad control. It's refreshing, then, to see that Namco Bandai has seemingly fixed whatever the problem was with its arcade versions. Twists and turns feel much more fluid and responsive when you're under pressure - even when the game goes into super-berserk high-speed phases of imminent death. You'll still make mistakes, of course, but they feel more down to your own lack of foresight than any limitations of the pad.
As it stands, Pac-Man Championship Edition is a great addition to Live Arcade. What you're buying into is a fantastic celebration of a timeless classic, and one that does something genuinely interesting with the gameplay to make it relevant now. The problem is, basically, is that it's been put in totally the wrong price bracket for what is an impulse buy. A curiosity. With not even an attempt to make an online mode and omitting basic options like an endless mode for those that want to play it that way detracts from its long-term appeal. That said, once people get into the scoring element as they did with Geometry Wars, this could be a slow burner, and is definitely worth a trial even if you don't see the point of yet another Pac-Man addition to the Live Arcade. If the cost isn't an issue to you, then add another mark.
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