At the Pac-Man tournament in New York City, we were able to dedicate ample time (hours, maybe) to the final Xbox 360 version of Pac-Man. Championship Edition is, in fact, a true sequel to the original Pac-Man released 26 years ago. Certainly, that seems unimaginable to some -- but there are significant additions to the classic arcade gameplay that make this far more than a pretty HD remake.
The new widescreen perspective is taken advantage fully in this Xbox 360 exclusive. While the game is still about avoiding ghosts and eating pellets, the wider field of play has created a new dynamic to the title. The maze is now separated into two distinct halves: left and right. Instead of simple mazes that end at the collection of all the pellets, players will find that the mazes feature an endless supply of dots, and a constantly shape-shifting map. When successfully consuming a sufficient amount of pellets on one side of the field, one of Pac-Man's iconic fruits will appear for collection. Eating the fruit will send a rippling shockwave toward the other half of the field, replenishing the dots, and oftentimes, changing the design of the maze entirely.
Through continued play, one can appreciate the meticulous design choices made in the new mazes. Certain maps create new opportunities to be trapped by the ghosts. Of course, it also provides new strategies of escaping the clutches of the ghosts as well. The shifting design of the levels introduces a refreshing, dynamic feeling to the title, forcing players to stay sharp-witted at all times.
The various challenge and extra modes that are included in Championship Edition are interesting. Of particular note is Challenge Mode 2, aka "The Darkness Course." In this mode, only the area around Pac-Man and the ghosts can be seen. As you begin a level, the pellets make it clear what the maze design is. However, as you continue to eat the pellets, you increase the overall darkness of the level, forcing you to rely upon either your memory or sharp reflexes, to avoid the chasing ghosts. Running away from a ghoul, only to crash into a wall that you had forgotten about is devilishly fun.
Extra Mode 1 also deserves special mention. Also known as "The Freeway Course," this variation simplifies the maze designs, and increases the speed of play quite significantly. Observers were shocked to see the more skilled players tackle the challenge, as everything appeared to move at blinding speed.
While certainly not a revolutionary announcement some thought it would be, Pac-Man Championship Edition is definitely a solid title. The subtle layers of complexity are still there -- each ghost will have a slightly different AI pattern to exploit. The new additions to the title have transformed a title from a simple retro classic to something the modern tastes of Xbox Live Arcade players will certainly appreciate. If we had one major complaint, it had to be the suspicious lack of multiplayer. Certainly, having a Pac-Man Versus styled mode (sans GBA connections) should have been an obvious addition to a game entitled Championship Edition. At 800 Microsoft Points, we admit that this is a pricey purchase. However, don't pass this game over because "it's just another Pac-Man."
Pac-Man Championship Edition will be available for download on Xbox Live Arcade in less than six hours: 5AM EST.