Can venerable dot eater Pac-Man be modernized a second time? The spectacular light and sound show that was Pac-Man Championship Edition has been given a deluxe makeover, remixing the rules by which Pac-Man chows down on dots and runs from his ghost pursuers.
Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, like its predecessor, is about eating your way to a high score against the clock. Pac-Man still winds his way through twisting, neon mazes in search of dots and Power Pellets that will grant him immunity against ghosts. As in Championship Edition, these widescreen mazes are divided in halves—chew through one half to fill up the other, leading to a volley of frantic back and forth dot chomping. DX alters this mechanic with a long list of new, game-changing additions, including sleepy green ghosts that relentlessly pursue Pac-Man if disturbed and bombs that Pac-Man can drop in a pinch.
People who like Geometry Wars or Pac-Man or some mixture of the two who also don't mind losing hours of their lives in five and ten minute chunks. Really, anyone with an internet connection that will let them download this glorious game.
Pac-Man Championship Edition was one of Xbox Live Arcade's most surprising accomplishments. The sensory overload of that game is further intensified in DX, a game so fantastic, so much more fully explored, it practically renders its marvelous predecessor obsolete.
Is Pac-Man Championship Edition DX really that different? Vastly. The snoozing green ghosts placed strategically throughout mazes will lock onto Pac-Man if he ventures nearby, relentlessly chasing after him. Ultimately, they'll combine forces with the classic pattern-following ghosts, forming a lengthy tail that adds a Snake-style threat to maze navigation. Building these trains of ghosts is a key component in achieving high scores in Pac-Man CE DX, because when Pac comes across rare Power Pellet power-ups, changing the entire ghost train into edible blue form, the tables turn and Pac-Man feasts upon his prey with overwhelming intensity. It's so satisfying to gorge on a long train of ghosts, a dazzling machine gun feed of points and pleasing sound effects.
How do bombs work in a Pac-Man game?! Understandably, the concept of Pac-Man with a weapon may seem counterintuitive to the game's original design—or that of Pac-Man CE's—but DX is faster than any Pac-Man game to date; viciously fast at times. The use of bombs is often critical to your survival. When surrounded by ghosts with absolutely no other option, players can drop a limited supply of explosives to launch Pac-Man's pursuers back into their holding pen. There's a penalty for doing so, as Pac's running speed and score multiplier will drop, which will ultimately knock down your score. Ideally, you'd never use these bombs, but you will want to use Pac-Man's other new death-defying tactic.
What's that? When things get particularly hairy and Pac-Man is pixels away from certain doom, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX will slow down its intense action, zooming in with a blurring "bullet-time" effect, giving the player a last ditch effort to escape. These seconds of dramatic focus only serve to heighten the white-knuckle intensity of Pac-Man CE DX. The slow-mo mechanic is a smart and welcome addition.
As good as Pac-Man CE was, it didn't offer much variety. Does DX address that? Remember when I said that the original Pac-Man CE was now rendered obsolete? The long list of new maps, fresh modes and visual styles in DX is the reason why. DX exploits classic Pac-Man map intricacies with new courses that prominently feature twisting spiral pathways or long uninterrupted highways. The original "Championship" course returns as well. Visually, players can mix and match modern and classic Pac-Man aesthetics, opting for Pac-Mania graphics, a glossy neon style and more. Or you can mix and match. The five and ten-minute-long score challenges also return, but now players can compete for longest ghost combos or bite-sized time trials that can be beaten in 30 seconds or less. DX is rich with new ways to enjoy the pursuit of higher scores, bigger combos and more efficient time trials.
Any negatives? A minor one. The game's leaderboard display doesn't show your own ranking against that of your friends elegantly, despite an excess of other ranking information and, thankfully, the ability to watch replays of high scoring matches. And if I'm being excessively picky, I would prefer a more challenging set of Achievements and Trophies. They're simply too easy.
Pac-Man Championship Edition DX is a delightful, visually astounding piece of arcade entertainment that hooks into your high-score pleasure center and never lets go. The new additions are never game-breaking, they're refreshing, an exciting step in the evolution of Pac-Man gameplay. A long list of modes and plenty of competition online for higher and higher scores makes this update to Pac-Man Championship Edition a must-have.
Editor's note: Pac-Man Championship Edition DX is deserving of an Editor's Choice award, but a bug prevents us from currently showing that accolade in this review. The review will be updated with the Editor's Choice star soon.
Pac-Man Championship Edition DX was developed by Namco and published by Namco Bandai for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, released on November 17 for XBLA, November 23 for PSN. Retails for $9.99 USD or 800 Microsoft Points. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played all modes, unlocking all levels and challenges on Xbox 360 version.