Namco Bandai; 3DS (version tested)/PS3/WiiU/Xbox 360; £30; Pegi rating: 3+
Pac-Man, voted the most recognisable video-game character and biggest-grossing arcade game of all time, is famous for gobbling up pellets while trying to escape ghosts in a neon blue maze. Keen retro game-players will recall how the beeps would quicken, how everything would speed up, and ghosts would be frightened when our unlikely hero chomped the flashing power pill energisers.
It was the Atari 2600 version that first brought the thrill and atmosphere of the arcade into the living room. This simple and powerful game developed by Namco, which was played with a joystick, had much of the charm of the addictive original. Since then, there have been countless updates, sequels, tie-ins and re-imaginings, arguably reaching a zenith four years ago with the surprisingly innovative Pac-Man Championship Edition DX on Xbox 360 and PS3. But if that was the peak, welcome to the trough.
Now, of course, it’s easy to don those nostalgia-tinted blinkers and be critical, but a year after the poor Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures was first released – inspired by an animated children’s television series – the second installment developed by Monkey Bar Games doesn’t rescue the brand. Instead, it reminds me of the way Sonic the Hedgehog was arguably damaged and hasn’t recovered from his transition to 3D.
How do you solve a problem like Betrayus?
Pac-Man 2 follows the same worryingly thin premise as the previous game. Baddie Betrayus, lord of ghosts and the Netherworld, is trying to terrorise PacWorld and releases a horde of robots and ghosts. It’s down to Pac-man and his merry friends Cylindria and Spiral to beat them beyond the Pacopolis streets.
3DS players can move Pac-Man around using the circle pad, and defeat foes by either “chomping” them using the Y button, which made me chuckle, or by using their special attack with the X button. Throughout the game, power-ups are available, transforming Pac-Man and giving him new special attacks. He can also mix things up in his ice or fire suits.
The set-up is given a halfhearted twist in several levels where Pac-Man switches out and you play as one of his buddies. In Spiral’s levels, for example, you engage in a series of obstacle courses. I most enjoyed playing Cyli’s stages, when you’re given the control over her pink rocket-skater, and can target and attack enemies with a blaster while flying around. Simple pleasures.
Yet the majority of the game, which has you playing as Pac-Man within PacWorld, is frankly quite dull. Gameplay quickly becomes a case of pushing forward on the circle pad and mashing the Y button. The rest it seems is taken care of by the game itself. Pac-Man automatically eats his enemies so long as you comply to the above tactic of pushing forward and pressing Y. This is a game that may leave even complete newcomers wishing for a deeper experience.
More frustrating is the fact that exploration is limited by invisible walls. There are no camera controls, so you can’t tilt your view to see where you’re going – especially tiresome when you try to jump to another platform. Overall, the game feels choppy and incomplete – as though a cartoon version of an iconic arcade classic has been wrenched into a quickly produced video game conversion and tossed onto the shelves in time for Christmas.
And although Ghostly Adventures 2 seems primarily aimed at children who may enjoy the vibrant art style and kiddish cries that our once silent-hero yelps out, the atrocious voice acting will eventually annoy everyone. Familiar beeps from the arcade version are heard here and there. But when our hero whoops: “yeeeah!”, “time to power up!”, “get in my belly!” and “almost too easy”, he sounds like a second-rate Barney the Dinosaur impersonator.
So Pac-Man is yet to truly crack 3D visuals. The abstract and slightly chilling nature of the 2D games kept people immersed, and provided a limited but perfectly balanced environment for the maze-based action. The new generation of happy-clappy cartoon games don’t capture the slightly sinister essence of the original concept, even if you are strangely satisfied when gobbling up ghosts.
In some ways, the game’s simple ambitions would not have been a problem if the recipe had been respectfully crafted. But to a modern audience spolied for choice when it comes to excellent family games, it is something of a travesty.
This article was written by Aisha Gani, for theguardian.com on Thursday 9th October 2014 15.04 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010