Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 finds itself in the rather unenviable position of trying to follow up a breakout hit. Back in 2007, nobody expected an XBLA-exclusive Pac-Man reboot to be any good, so finding out that it was not only playable, but actually downright addictive, came as a surprise to most. Three years later, Championship Edition: DX came out, refined the original game’s formula to near perfection, and a star was born. Today, Championship Edition DX is available on nearly every device under the sun in some form, and is still widely regarded as one of the best downloadable games to come out on the last generation of consoles. Even though Pac-Man fever may have worn off a little in the nearly ten-year gap between the original Championship Edition and Championship Edition 2, there are still plenty of fans eager for a worthy follow-up.
Sadly, this isn’t it.
That isn’t to say Championship Edition 2 is bad in any particular way, but it always fails to shine quite as brightly as its predecessor. I went in expecting all of the same modes and features that I’ve grown used to in the series, with some new mazes, shiny new visuals, and a tweak or two. While my first two expectations held true, the core formula of the original Championship Edition has been significantly altered this time around in a way that, while not entirely devoid of fun, feels like a step backwards after CE:DX. Part of me wants to applaud Namco-Bandai for taking as many risks as they did—after all, the light refresh I described above would almost certainly have sold just fine to fans of the previous games—but the way they’ve changed things up just doesn’t work. Almost every significant change in Championship Edition 2 takes away from what the last game accomplished instead of building on it. While a lot of these changes may seem like minor details if you’ve never played a Championship game before, they culminate in a whole that feels very different than the games before it.
The two biggest changes to how Championship Edition 2 plays have to do with trains and ghosts. The former, for the uninitiated, is the concept at the core of all Championship games. The goal is to score as many points as possible, primarily via waking up green, “sleeping” ghosts in the maze by brushing past them, at which point they join a “train” behind one of the four coloured ghosts chasing Pac-Man around the level. In Championship Edition DX, after clearing a certain number of mazes by collecting fruit and eating pellets, a power pellet would spawn and the tables would turn, allowing Pac-Man to chase down and consume these massive chains of ghosts for hundreds of thousands of points. Successfully doing this provided an awesome dopamine rush; Eating trains looked, felt, and sounded fantastically satisfying in DX, and controlling Pac-Man as he went from hunted to hunter and gobbled up dozens of pursuers was downright cathartic.
Championship 2 turns most of this on its head by making ghosts a lot more difficult to catch and eat, as well as automating the actual eating process once you’ve caught a train. Trains can only be eaten from the very front now, and the more you eat the faster the others move (to the point where the final train is significantly faster than Pac-Man himself). Getting in front of these trains is a massive pain, especially because touching any part of the train other than the leading ghost will bounce Pac-Man backwards. This led to numerous situations with longer trains, where I literally couldn’t even get into half of the maze to chase down a ghost because I was physically blocked by the rest of the train. Seeing as how success in Score Attack is largely determined by how well you can manage your time, I found the increased difficulty around eating ghosts to be immensely frustrating, and I ended up dreading power pellets. My favorite part of DX became my least favorite part of Championship 2, and realizing this put me off of the game in a big way.
As mentioned earlier, the other big change this time has to do with death—more specifically, how it happens and how often. For the first time in the series’ history, touching ghosts does not kill Pac-Man. Instead, bumping into them enough times will knock them into the air for a couple of seconds (allowing you to go underneath them) and will make them “angry” for a short period of time. Angry ghosts move much faster than their relaxed brethren and will kill you on contact, but since they must be triggered first, they generally pose a much smaller threat than they did in Championship Edition or Championship Edition DX. This changes the pace of play significantly, and absolutely changes how you’ll play. Sometimes charging straight at a ghost and letting Pac-Man hit him is actually for the best, as wasting precious time going around it would be less efficient than simply going underneath it. Overall, this change isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s another element that really distinguishes the feel of Championship Edition 2 from its cousins, and for one reason or another the resulting changes to pace and strategy lose some of the magic that made DX so darned addictive.
There are still some redeeming qualities to the game though, and for what it’s worth, I still find myself wanting to come back to it to improve my score. Maybe it’s just that I don’t own the current-gen port of its superior precursor, but Championship Edition 2 successfully scratches my score-chasing itch, in spite of its disappointing design decisions. It’s still Pac-Man, and perfectly clearing mazes, gobbling fruit, and watching your score shoot up is still enjoyable, even if there are more obstacles in the way than before. The controls are still very tight and responsive, the visuals flashy and colorful, and the soundtrack—while perhaps not the best in series history—is still a solid collection of upbeat electronica tunes that suit the action perfectly. Alongside the classic Score Attack “Normal” and “Extreme” difficulties is a brand new “Single Train” mode. This mode serves as an introduction to each maze should you need it, removing all ghosts but one in order to make play a lot simpler. It’s nice to have, but most players will probably prefer to stick to normal in order to compete on the standard leaderboards, and face a more significant challenge.
Also new this time around is Adventure mode, which sadly feels more like a throwaway side activity than a full-blown alternative to Score Attack. Each level is a short challenge that tasks you with either completing all mazes in a sequence in a limited amount of time, or defeating a boss (by completing mazes in a limited amount of time, of course). The only real reason to progress is to unlock more levels so you can continue doing the same thing over and over, but with a different background or maze layout. It gets tedious very quickly, especially considering just how many levels there are (I counted over 50). Considering that it doesn’t include any unlockables or
use leaderboards, and seeing as how there is already a full-blown practice mode for players interested in sharpening their skills, I can’t see a good reason for anybody to play Adventure. Still, its inclusion isn’t hurting anybody, so I suppose it’s nice to have some kind of an alternative to Score Attack, even if it isn’t great.
If I’d never played Championship Edition or DX, I might love Pac-Man Championship Edition 2. It maintains most of its predecessor’s addictive qualities, but with less style and substance. If I didn’t know what I was missing out on, I might be okay with that, but in a world where Championship Edition DX is available on two generations of console hardware, PC, and most phones, it’s pretty hard to make a case for why you shouldn’t just go back and play that instead. Players brand new to the series might find it to be a good place to jump in, and those that have played DX to death and feel like they really want to change things up will likely have a good time with Championship 2. However, anybody looking for more of the same, or a big leap forward will walk away sorely disappointed.