Wednesday, November 17, 2010

XBLA Look - Pacman CE DX

The original Pacman CE was and still is one of the best games to see release on the Xbox Live Arcade service. Anyone who is anyone has played it and to be honest considering how often the game has been given away through various promotions and bundles there's really no excuse for anyone to miss out on it. So what if it is based off of some game that came out over thirty years ago. Like any good update Pacman CE turned everything around with a dynamic maze setup, huge potential for chaining ghosts, and most importantly it made a game that can be completely satisfying in as little as five minutes. There are some that enjoy sitting in front of the same game of Pacman for several hours to get a high-score, I'm not one of them.

Has it really been thirty years? I can't help but get a little poetic here, like I should say something significant about one of the most important games of all time. Unfortunately in front of the computer I just never have the right words to say. It's sort of like how I'll be in my car and I'll come up with some brilliant thought but then the words are lost before I can even so much as write them down. Playing Pacman CE DX gives me that similar feeling. I want to properly explain what makes this such a brilliant sequel and yet I can't quite get it together.

There are more ghosts, more ghosts than originally thought possible. These ghosts are still of the edible sort provided Pacman grabbed a power-pellet but things are different now. The ghosts are usually sleeping, waiting for Pac-man to awaken them. Some of these ghosts even carry power-pellets with them. They are no longer the threat they were thirty years ago. It's like they have given themselves up for a greater cause. They do what they must to make the game fun.

Then there is the maze. As with Pacman CE the player must eat all of the dots and then the fruit to unlock a new half of the maze. Sure it sounds clumsy but as we all know it turned out to be an excellent idea. Obviously this update continues the concept but now with each new section of the maze comes the sleeping ghosts. They along with the lines are arranged in such a way that it is easy to collect all of them in a second or less...for the most part.

The goal is to create a chain of ghosts. Pac-man has ascended to a higher plane of existence just so he can shepherd these lost souls. As the mazes progress he will continue to lead these ghosts until the opportunity arises. There will be times when a maze will appear just filled with ghosts. The addition of power-pellets in these particular spots makes everything obvious. The ghosts then fall by the tens and possibly hundreds as Pac-man cashes in. I believe I've eaten more ghosts in a single game of Pacman CE DX than in twenty-five years of playing the other games in the series. The simple act of eating ghosts has never gotten old in all those years so without a doubt devouring a score of them in seconds triggers feelings I probably shouldn't be having about a videogame.

That's not all there is to it of course. In order to get the most out of a five minute time-limit it is up to the player's maneuverability and quick-thinking. There always tends to be a spare ghost or four floating around attempting to throw the player off and every second off of the track set by the game is wasted time. To keep things moving the game offers a couple new additions. When Pac-man is dangerously close to a ghost the game slows down dramatically. It's a handy tool but only useful in near-death situations, there's nothing slowing Pacman down from wandering off the path of optimal scoring. For those who have really goofed up there are bombs. These are limited in number and put a bit of a damper on the player's score but it does kick the ghost-chain back to their hideout along with any nearby sleeping ghosts. It's useful sure but when the entire purpose of the game is the high-score what's the point? Real men and women jump straight to the select button on the X360 pad, which restarts the game within seconds.

The game itself is split up into multiple map modes. These maps each have their own theme such as highway with its many straight passages or spiral and its all constant turning. From here the player can play the traditional five-minute game, a longer ten-minute one, or take on other challenges such as going for the highest ghost combo or doing time trials. One such map known as Half is entirely time trials as only one half of the screen is used to gather sleeping ghosts to create a safe route for Pac-man to get to the dots. It is a great mode on its own but more importantly it reinforces the concepts of the game and provides excellent practice for the other maps. The original Pacman CE is also playable and includes the bombing as well as death-avoidance systems. Interestingly enough neither of these functions helped me get a better score than in my runs with non-DXified Pacman CE.

Sure anyone can skip one episode of their favorite sitcom to get all of the achievements in this game but it certainly won't end there. There are a ton of leaderboards for friends and strangers alike to compete on and while the interface isn't quite as good as something like Geometry Wars 2 it is still solid and efficient. Obviously that still leaves out the gamers who don't care about scoring but that's their problem.

Even in the process of writing this review I still can't come up with the words to express how this game makes me feel. It's a good feeling but it seems like I can only describe properly it when in the middle of a game. It's probably something that can't be put into words because it would likely lessen the impact, or maybe the meaning isn't interpreted properly. Maybe I'll figure it out one day or maybe I was better off not trying to think about it at all. I mean let's consider what I said earlier. Y'know the part where I said "I believe I've eaten more ghosts in a single game of Pacman CE DX than in twenty-five years of playing the other games in the series". It gets kind of scary when I think about it. Just think, nearly an entire life gone by in as little as five minutes. The only time I really get to reflect on this is the couple seconds of time that elapse as Pac-man engorges on a particularly long ghost-train.

Everything from the faded memories of playing Pac-man on the Atari 2600 to the days spent playing in the local bar are in that one train of ghosts. Those days spent in laundromats playing Ms. Pacman and the early days of the Internet talking about how much Pac-man sucks...all of them are gone with the chain. Then there is all the time spent playing the countless sequels, remakes, updates, and spin-off. Everything up to even the time spent with Pacman CE is just a miniscule portion in the average game of DX. Every game of DX I play is spent trying to recapture these moments and the events that surrounded them. If I beat my high-score well that's wonderful too but more than anything this game gives me precious moments to recall. It's probably all just the same as nostalgia but I guess I want to say "Thank You". As in "Thank you Namco for giving me this opportunity". Aside from producing an excellent game Namco was able to trigger all of these thoughts and emotions despite the game itself having nothing in the way of a storyline. It's probably all just history and nostalgia but I don't care. I've said it and I will stand by it for as long as I myself am standing.

Game rating - 5 out of 5 stars
My rating - 5 out of 5 stars

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