First of all, ow. Ow ow ow ow ow. Bandai-Namco, if you’re reading this (and I’m sure you are), please turn down the HD rumble on the Nintendo Switch – never has it felt so much like a game was trying to wrestle itself free of my clutches while I was playing it. It’s not just the wrist ache, that alone I could live with from a game – I got a Wii on launch and played it for about fourteen hours straight, after all – but the noise maxed-out HD rumble makes is just caustic; an uncomfortably loud buzzing sound as a metal controller skeleton tries to rid itself of its plastic shackles, like a Terminator action figure.
With that out of the way, a review of the actual game; Pac-Man Championship Edition 2+ (Error 404 catchier title not found) is a Switch port of Championship Edition 2 released for PS4, Xbone and PC in 2016, itself a sequel to Championship Edition released on Xbox Live Arcade way back in 2007 and the DX+ Edition of that game for most platforms in 2010. More of a family shrub than a family tree when it comes to Pac-Man games.
Unlike the name, the gameplay does have a fairly interesting spin on it compared to “vanilla” Pac-Man, one that takes some getting used to but is ultimately very rewarding. Unlike the old games where eating every “pellet” on the map was mandatory, they’re laid out in circuits on the board, and you only have to eat a certain number then grab the fruit / bell / key (Pac-Man score bonuses are strange, nobody questions it any more) in the centre to move on to the next board. Blocking certain paths are strange little green ghosts, which when passed by join the main ghosts (the classics, Inky, Pinky, Stinky and Clyde (why is this information I didn’t have to google)) to make a “ghost train” (har har) which are more obstructive to your pellet-munching activities BUT get you crazy combo points when you eat a Power Pellet and turn the tables. It’s a fun, faster-paced gameplay loop that changes the main challenge of Pac-Man from understanding the patterns of the ghosts to quickly reading (or knowing) a board and planning ahead, and quick frenetic inputs not unlike that of a rhythm game.
Speaking of rhythm (my segues are on point today), PMCE2+’s (the acronym is equally uncatchy, it sounds like either a medical condition or a postcode) soundtrack is one of its finest features. In what feels like a natural progression for the Pac-Man series, with its retro sensibilities and obsession with neon, the music is a pumped-up, rave-style affair that compliments the faster-placed gameplay very well, making you feel like a total badass when you nail a board, combo multiplier ratcheting ever higher. The graphics for what it’s worth compliment this too, there’s a few different styles – mostly variations on neon, as expected, but also a nice old-school filter – that overall makes the gameplay very coherent, immersive and enjoyable. It runs at a very smooth framerate both on the TV and the Switch screen, too.
That is, once you’re actually in a game – the menus that get you there are still stuck in the eighties. At the end of the day they’re perfectly functional, just clunky, ill-designed and not very clear. They don’t mesh with the rest of the game’s look, in “adventure” mode it’s hard to tell what you’re selecting, and by default it selects the last stage you cleared instead of the next one to clear, which is strange, and you have to quit all the way out to the main menu to access the two-player mode (which by the way is excellent, more of the same but with a friend), which is stranger. Also, while the little cut-scene that plays when you munch a ghost-train is suitably hype, sound-effects and all, it takes you out of the action and can mess up potential combo plays – fun, but an option to turn them off after the first million times would be appreciated.
I don’t have a huge amount to add – it’s Pac-Man with a twist, and it’s good. It looks good, plays good, the soundtrack is masterful, but at the end of the day it’s Pac-Man, with a core gameplay mechanic that hasn’t changed in literally thirty-seven years. If you’ve not played a Pac-Man game recently, as I imagine most of us haven’t, it’s worth a dip, and even if you’re a pellet-munching savant this is the best portable Pac-Man you’ll get, and the two-player justifies it as well. Waka waka indeed.