Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Wii-U and PC
There was a time when Pac-Man spent his days trapped in a maze with only four antisocial ghosts for company, but those days are over now he’s made the jump to 3D. Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2, a largely average platformer based on the similarly named television series, sees him doing battle against the evil Lord Betrayus, ruler of the ghosts, to save Pac-World. The game is one which sadly ignores the character’s illustrious arcade roots in favour of childish simplicity, and is unlikely to enthral anyone above the age of eight despite the competencies of its gameplay.
Upon booting up Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 and discovering that Betrayus has sent his giant robot the “Grinder Tron” to destroy the city of Pacopolis, you might be forgiven for thinking that the action is kicking off straight away. It’s quickly obvious, however, that the story is scant and serves only as an excuse to make Pac-Man traverse from place to place; you’ll have completed a fifth of the game before you even get to fight the robot. The rest of the game continues in the same manner, with only the occasional scene to remind you of Betrayus’ peculiarly convoluted scheme to re-obtain his corporeal body.
Of course, this might not necessarily be a bad thing. Pac-Man himself is no longer the silent, voracious hunter of old, but a high school student who has an annoying voice and friends with even more annoying voices. The plot is so stupendously simple that it would be a worrying sign should any five-year-old be impressed by it, and it barely manages to link your progress through five areas of the world into a coherent narrative. It’s a shame that, even while limited by the television series on which it is based, the game doesn’t try for something a little more ambitious.
Fortunately, things start to pick up with the gameplay. Long gone is the need to navigate the endless maze, playing cat-and-mouse with ghosts, having instead been replaced with more regular platforming elements. Pac-Man runs, jumps and eats his way through each level, collecting the traditional yellow pellets as he goes. Eating food – obtained from vending machines or recycling bins – replenishes his health, and there are three pieces of fruit in each level which increase your final score. You are then awarded a medal depending on your performance, and can challenge any level again to improve your results.
The standard attack, called “Chomp”, allows you to eat ghosts, and it can be extremely satisfying to gobble up a whole host of them in one go. Some types of ghosts require a variation in tactics – if they are charged with electricity or protected by shields, for example. There is also a special attack which is normally called “Boo”. This allows you to scare ghosts, turning them blue and making them unable to attack Pac-Man for a short time. You can also obtain power-ups which change Pac-Man’s form and alter his special attack. Need to bounce higher? You can transform into a rubber ball. Need to walk upside down on a metal surface? Magnetic Pac-Man is the answer.
There are also occasional levels where you play as one of Pac-Man’s friends, Spiral or Cyli. These see you flying (by helicopter and hoverboard respectively), in on-rails shooter sections. It’s never really explained why you’re taking control of them, or indeed, what they’re doing while Pac-Man travels on foot. There are boss fights, too, at the end of each section, and this all adds a nice bit of variety into an experience which might otherwise be one-dimensional.
Yet as competently as Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 plays, it never demonstrates anything ground-breaking to elevate it into the upper echelons of the platform genre. It’s impossible not to be reminded of a dozen other games as you jump around and power yourself up; it all works perfectly well but there’s nothing original about it. This, in combination with the shallow storyline, renders the whole experience smooth but somewhat characterless.
Graphically, the game is again competent but far from impressive. It relies largely on bright colours to impress, hoping to bedazzle and keep you from noticing the distinct lack of detail in many of the textures. That said, this tactic does largely work, as the levels are sufficiently interesting to keep you awake and paying attention. Within each area, the levels are not much different from one another – but given the game’s short completion time of five to six hours, this isn’t a fact which stands out.
There are extra missions and areas to explore, should you wish to extend your time with Pac-Man. The missions tend to be small challenges involving the use of a certain power up, and take place in fairly dull side-scrolling environments. You can also wander around Pacopolis, talking to Pac-Man’s friends and collecting extra pellets and bits of food. There doesn’t seem to be much point to this, however, unless you are particularly hell-bent on gaining the extra lives that two-hundred pellets will award you.
Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 also suffers from a few technical problems. There is some slowdown in later levels, which seems strange given the game’s simplicity. Perhaps most annoying is the way it saves every time you exit a level and every time you select a new one. Given that these events usually happen in the space of a few seconds, it’s actually possible – and indeed, probable – that you’ll have two save icons stacked and queued up in the corner of the screen. This is a pointless exercise, especially as you’ll be left waiting for them to finish before you can start playing again.
More generally, some elements of the level design seem arbitrarily added to create a challenge. One level sees Magnetic Pac-Man standing on the bottom of Spiral’s helicopter, dodging obstacles like spikes – even though Spiral could just fly upwards and avoid the spikes altogether. Perhaps Spiral secretly hates Pac-Man? Perhaps he has the intelligence of the strawberry he so closely resembles? Whatever the reason, there are other cases of arbitrary elements, such as when Betrayus challenges Pac-Man to defeat a certain number of ghosts within a time limit. Completing the challenge earns you extra points, but there’s no particular reason for it. As with the story, it all just feels like an excuse to make something happen, no matter how stupid or sensible it is.
If you’re looking for a way to keep the kids occupied for a few days – or, indeed, if you are a kid looking to be occupied – there are many worse options than Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2. It plays well and is easy enough that only the very youngest tykes would struggle with it. For the rest of us, however, it doesn’t have anything to make it stand out in the platform genre. It lacks the wackiness of Rayman, the bombastic fun of Ratchet and Clank, the sheer joy and originality of Mario.
It suffers from the same problems Sonic came up against in the transition to 3D: an overabundance of irritating supporting characters and the inability to update the gameplay which once defined it. Perhaps the biggest problem is that although it’s merely a children’s game, it feels like it could be more. Pac-Man is, after all, consistently hungry enough to eat his still sentient enemies and rifle through bins and vending machines in search of food; imagine the dark, crazy concepts that could arise from this gluttony. Unfortunately, no-one at Bandai Namco had the imagination to do anything interesting with the character and his signature hunger. The result is that this latest offering is perfectly serviceable but more than a little bland.