Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures Review
Microsoft Xbox 360Also available on Nintendo Wii-U, PC and Sony PlayStation 3
When is a Pac-Man game not a Pac-Man game? When it scraps the very concept that made Pac-Man famous to begin with in favour of a Super Mario style three-dimensional platformer, complete with a ridiculously cheesy storyline that somehow tries to logically explain over three decades of arcade goodness. But before you grab your pitchforks and rally up a posse, have a little think back to just how long it’s been since Pac-Man was first released. At thirty-four years old, the pellet chomping mascot of arcade gaming has to prove he’s still “down with the kids” in order to make a living these days.
Call him a sell-out if you will, but Pac-Man - or “Pac” as he’s known to his friends - appears to now have his very own Saturday morning cartoon. Seemingly the last of his kind (his kind being of the yellow variety), Pac discovers that it his destiny to protect Pac-World from the Ghosts of the Netherworld, led by General Betrayus. If the name doesn’t give it away, he’s the baddie. He must now work with his friends in order to save his world and send those dastardly ghosts back to where they came from.
The cartoon gives Pac the 3D makeover by adding arms, legs, doe eyes and a great big fat mouth. Naturally the game follows suit, and sporting gloves and snazzy trainers, he appears to have joined the Sonic the Hedgehog school of fashion. He’s even been granted the power of speech, and has the annoying vocal stylings of the go-getting teenager - a type of fictional character that we’d all thought died at the end of the nineties. Don’t worry though, for all you big kids playing the game, he still manages to fit in the occasional wakka wakka when he’s chowing down on pellets or ghosts.
Yes, some things don’t change and there are certain aspects of Pac-Man’s roots that are still very much present in Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures. While running and jumping across platforms may not be in keeping with the spirit of the original arcade game, eating pellets and fruit most certainly is, particularly where high-scores are concerned. Similarly, ghosts can still be gobbled up, albeit this time with the addition of an attack button, rather than with a large power pellet.
This is perhaps one of the more disturbing pieces of nostalgia that the creators have opted to keep in the game, and quite possibly the cartoon too. It’s one thing to see a flat Pac mindlessly wakka through a ghost and watch them scramble back to their home base. It’s quite another to see ghosts disappear altogether as you bash the attack button. Call us old-fashioned, but walking, talking cartoon characters shouldn’t go around biting people.
It’s not all about the chomping either. Pac also has an arsenal of weapons - sorry - power-ups that can be picked up throughout the game. Coming in the form of power berries, they replace the traditional power pellets as the go-to method of weaponizing our yellow hero in his battle against the ghosts. A minty ice berry will give him the ability to put ghosts on ice before he eats them while the equally imaginatively named minty fire berry will allow him to shoot fireballs and barbecue ghosts to a crisp. Before he eats them.
The ghosts aren’t completely defenseless either. Many of them have similar elemental traits depending on their location, although in a stroke of bad luck for them, they tend to linger around the power berries that were designed to kill them. It’s good news for Pac though as he melts icy villains with his fire attack, or freezes those ghosts that are just too hot to handle.
Moving away from this somewhat sadistic side to Pac, the game functions perfectly well as a nuts and bolts platform game. Levels are large enough to provide multiple routes from one end to the other, but still focused enough that you’re not spending ages searching for the exit. There is little reason to explore aside from to save your friends who are trapped in slimey green goo so once you’ve done that, it’s quite simply a case of finding the piece of fruit that marks the end of the level.
Aesthetically each level doesn’t necessarily vary too much, but never fear as there are six worlds available throughout the game, each with their own quirky theme in typical platformer fashion. Navigating between worlds opens up the game a little further, as along the way there are a number of bonus levels to unlock throughout. These can generally be accessed by taking alternate routes through each chapter, meaning there are a number of reasons to revisit past levels in order to achieve 100% completion.
The cherry on top of the Pac-Man and the Ghost Adventures package is the inclusion of an offline-only, four-player multiplayer mode that turns the original arcade game completely on its head. Given the choice of one of the four infamous ghosts of Pac-Man fame (Inky, Pinky, Blinky, and Clyde for those who don’t know), your objective is to search for Pac-Man while he runs amok in a multiplayer maze of your choosing. Just like the single-player mode, the multiplayer adopts a third-person perspective. However, there is a map in the middle of the four split screens, that is shaped just like original arcade game layout, giving us the only shred of nostalgia the game has offered thus far.
For all its flaws and the questionable attempts to modernise the Pac-Man format, you can’t fault Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures for being a run-of-the-mill, inoffensive (except for the biting) platformer. However, Pac-Man is facing stiff competition, as rival platform heroes such as Super Mario and Rayman continue to innovate both gameplay and graphics in order to keep their brands very much alive. Perhaps the small yellow one is too far gone, caught on a crossroads between retro arcade icon and mediocre platform z-lister. Turn back while you still can Pac, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.