Version Reviewed: 1.0
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Pac-Man Championship Edition first hit Xbox Live a little over two years ago, and it was an unexpected re-imagining of the classic arcade game. It introduced a time limit, evolving game boards, high definition neon-tinged graphics, and a techno soundtrack, all of which brought new life to the series. Pac-Man CE quickly became a hit with the community, as players feverishly gobbled pellets and chained ghosts in attempts to best their friends' highscores. Namco has finally ported this modern classic to the iPhone, and while it's the best Pac-Man experience you will have on the device, it doesn't quite match the feel and excitement of the original.
The core gameplay of Pac-Man CE has you gobbling pellets and avoiding ghosts over a 5 minute time period. You have a limited number of lives, and the goal is last for the duration while obtaining as high a score as possible. As you clear one vertical half of the game board, a bonus fruit appears on the other side. Collecting that fruit lays out a new pattern of pellets back on the other side, and often changes the configuration of the maze as well. What you get is a constantly evolving playing field, and a good run will find you stringing a path back and forth as things organically evolve. As you keep building your score, with bonuses for chaining ghosts, etc., the pace keeps increasing until it reaches a breakneck speed.
While not every feature of the console version of Pac-Man CE has been ported, this new version does include many extras in the form of new maps, a Mission mode, and Challenge boards. Mission mode is of particular interest as it gives you many little scenarios to complete. Unfortunately, Namco has decided to experiment a bit with its pricing structure for the game. Pac-Man CE is being sold at a regular price of $2.99, but it only contains 5 out of the 15 game boards, 20 out of the 120 missions, and none of the challenge courses. You basically get a sixth of the total game for the entry price, and then must shell out another $3.99 to obtain the rest. It's a somewhat odd decision to break things down this way, as there are many other games that have structured their DLC in a more logical manner, even from Namco themselves.
Pac-Man CE is ultimately all about the control, and it gives you 4 different types to choose from. There is a d-pad mode, a very non-intuitive directional buttons mode, and 2 different swipe configurations that are essentially the same. Both the d-pad and swipe methods are initially okay, but can get spotty as the speed of the game increases. I preferred the swipe controls, but was often let down when the speed reached a fever pitch. It's not terrible by any means, but can definitely be frustrating when the twitch factor is high and you want the responsiveness of the old joystick or gamepad. The game boards themselves are also very small, so the controls take up a sizeable chunk of the screen real estate. While Pac-Man CE may sound as good on the iPhone, the visuals suffer a bit from this cramped layout. It would have been interesting to have included a swipe control method that removed the on-screen joystick completely and reconfigured things to use the full screen of the device for the maze.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Pac-Man CE is the complete lack of global leaderboards. For a game whose driving factor is repeatedly playing a timed mode for high scores, this oversight is pretty big. Hopefully it will be added via a future update, with options to challenge and track your friends. This was probably the biggest selling point of the original, and even the local leaderboards included are minimal at best, with no option to enter your name, etc.
Pac-Man CE is definitely an admirable effort, but there are enough caveats to make it lose a bit of its luster. The controls are responsive to a degree, but get questionable when things get too fast. The graphics are clean, but on the small side. There are a good number of maps and missions, but most of them are available via the strange DLC setup. And there is a good amount of challenge, but there are no leaderboards for it to really matter at times. All these things add up to a game that is good, but ultimately feels less than what it could have been.
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