Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Review: Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures (360)

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures has a bit of an identity crisis. Targeted at kids who are likely to watch the television series, the game offers challenging levels that I believe most of the younger crowd will have a hard time figuring out. For adults, the design is going to remind you of the plethora of PlayStation 2 platformers that you might have enjoyed during the previous last generation of gaming.

In my case, the game was a round of double-nostalgia. Some of the sound effects feel like they were ripped right out of the 1980 arcade game. Combined with a feeling of comfort similar to what I experienced in the Pac-Man World games of the previous generation  had me running around with a big smile on my face. I also felt that the developers likely spent time in the Ratchet & Clank universe, with the circuitous level design and clever discovery of bonuses.

You select the level you want to go to in a hub world design reminiscent of the many platformers that have come before it. There are the "usual" things you would expect to find in a game like this such as a lava world and an ice world, each with various levels that build upon different mechanics that Pac-Man can power-up

The placement of the special power-ups is obvious (and necessary to complete the levels) and you will get various abilities depending on which one you eat. For example, you can become a chameleon to hide from the enemies, or use your extended tongue to swing from special objects. When you have the ice power you can freeze enemies and gushing geysers of lava (or water). There are optional hidden areas that you can explore to get more power pellets and the one advantage in the Pac-Man world is that they also act as reverse bread crumbs that show you parts of the level that you haven't
been visited.

During the normal levels of play you won't ever feel like your life is in danger. You have parts of your life that can be taken by ghosts and you can replenish them by eating hamburgers and cheese and other yummy foods scattered throughout the levels. If you eat a pie it not only replenishes your current life, but adds an extra one to your bag of tricks. While you are not likely to need them during the majority of the levels (unless you keep falling off in the trickier platforming areas), you might need them in the boss levels. I found the first boss harder than it should have been, requiring me to stock up on extra lives by replaying the first level over again and hoarding extra lives. Once I figured out what I had to do it wasn't as bad, but there were more "cheap" deaths than I would have liked.

The various power-ups offer varied gameplay elements beyond the normal chomping, but the game also gives you some additional elements to keep you interested. For example, you might be controlling Pac-Man in a giant ball (not that dissimilar to Super Monkey Ball) but it is executed so well that the fact that the idea is not new didn't bother me at all. Even shooting Pac out of a canon a la Super Mario 64 was so fun that I think I enjoyed the memory of that game as much as playing the new one. The game is full of throwbacks to classic games whether you realize it or not.

The graphics are actually quite nice. While the textures of the world are a simplistic clean design, the world itself is full of life (reminding me of the big draw distances in Ratchet) with activity buzzing  everywhere, and small details like a classic Pac-Man maze on the floor of the classroom made it fun for an old-time gamer like myself. In fact, the more I looked in the universe the more I would find.

The sound is mediocre at best. While many of the sounds appear like they are from the original, the music is forgettable at the best and slightly annoying at the worst but overall, it works.

The controls are decent. At first I felt they were a bit sloppy until I realized that timing jumps in the Rubber Pac mode for example are more of a rhythm than anything. Once I got the rhythm, my control problems went away.

There is a multiplayer mode that allows you and up to three additional friends to be the ghosts and chase Pac-Man. You can also pick up special power-ups to cause trouble for each other and it's essentially a first-person view of the maze. The original is included and then there are seven additional levels you can run around in. While the idea is good, the execution is just okay. The gameplay for all eight levels is essentially the same so once you have done the first one a few times, you are unlikely to want to check the other ones out. Since there is no actual online multiplayer you'll have to play with friends in the same room or with the computer A.I. Either way, you are going to tire of it relatively quickly.

It's the single-player adventure that you are here for, however, and my first instinct was to score it a little lower. It's too hard in some places to be a kids game, and it's too cartoony overall to be a serious adult game. The problem is that I had fun with this game, so if you are feeling nostalgic for Pac-Man or miss the fact that there are few 3D action platformers left (like I do) then this game is seriously worth a look. Wakka Wakka!

- Syd Bolton

The Good
- Polished platformer with a surprising amount of nostalgia "Pac"ked in
- Fun to play with a variety of worlds, power-ups and bosses
- No printed manual, but a cool glow in the dark poster is included!

The Bad
- Game design suffers from an identity crisis
- Multiplayer is clearly an add-on that leaves a lot to be desired

Score: 7.0 / 10

Syd Bolton surrounds himself in thousands of classic video games as Canada's top video game collector at the Personal Computer Museum (http://www.pcmuseum.ca) in Brantford, Ontario, Canada.