Screwing up Pac-Man Championship Edition DX ($4.99) on mobile seemed like it would be difficult. All Namco would have to do is to basically port the game over, maybe make some tweaks to help it work better on mobile with touch controls, as the ludicrous speed of the console and PC version might not work so well with most people using swipes to move. Maybe throw in iCloud and support for both iCade and MFi controllers, and you’ve got yourself a five-star package. Namco almost did screw this up with a wacky free-to-play version of the game based around levels and energy timers, but thankfully they came to their senses and decided to just drop the game with minimal mobile tweaks on the App Store as a premium game. The world is better for it.
If you ever played Pac-Man Championship Edition ($2.99), you’ll know the gist of what’s going on here. Essentially, you play in a Pac-Man maze that shifts every time you clear one side of dots, causing the other side to change once you eat the fruit that pops up on it. So, you’re playing a Pac-Man game that’s constantly shifting, and you can get point bonuses for eating up to 8 ghosts in a row, with 3200 point bonuses for the 8th ghost and beyond. The same core rules are in play here, but Namco decided with the sequel “how do we improve not on Pac-Man, but on Pac-Man Championship Edition?
The answer was to change the way ghosts work. Now, mazes pop up static ghosts that, if you roll past them, they will join a chain of ghosts that follow you around, like Snake or Tron lightcycles, which you must avoid. The game is a bit more selective about giving you power pellets, but what happens is that when you get one, suddenly you can eat dozens of ghosts at once. And it feels amazing to do that, as it maximizes that feeling of turnabout, while still giving you incentive to keep hunting down the next power pellet, especially since some ghosts have power pellets that can only be had by eating them.
This also mixes up the maze strategies. Instead of constantly adjusting and going after power pellets, you’re now making quick decisions as to whether go past ghosts to add them to your chain, or to take a quicker route to reset the board. Plus, some routes might be more dangerous. There’s an element of learning, and when you can recognize a map in an instant and know how to fly around it, you feel like an expert.
Plus, the game is just fast. It’s not as fast as the console and PC original, but having swipe controls for most users will do that for you. It still gets super-fast, and demanding on Expert mode, where you have one life for most of your playthrough. You do have bombs now that can help you out in sticky situations, and a slowdown that helps when you’re near ghosts, to react quickly.
This game still feels like Pac-Man, but in a highly evolved way. It really does iterate on the experience, while still maintaining the frantic elements that make the series great, just amplifying them. Outrunning ghosts feels more intense when you have a constantly-changing map, four ghosts running around, and a couple dozen following your every move right behind you. And the turnaround feels even better. The game’s fast speed makes it feel great and intense, too – it’s still a heart-racing experience, even if it’s not as ludicrous as the original game is.
There’s a solid amount of content here, with 7 mazes that can be played in 3 minute, 5 minute, ghost combo, and time trial varieties, with the time trials requiring you to complete maze segments in less than the allotted time. Half mode throws a bunch of challenging time trials your way based on solving one half-maze, but with difficult ghost patterns. Darkness mode has 5-minute time trials for each maze, but where you can only see the walls in your immediate vicinity, along with the ghosts and pellets, so you have to know the mazes and figure out where everything is on the fly. Finally, Free mode lets you create your own scenarios to practice to. Me, personally? I like playing the score attack modes, as they show off the strengths of the game the best.
It’s really worth playing the Championship I level, because it’s the maze from the original Pac-Man Championship Edition, albeit with DX rules. The difference between the two games becomes apparent here, though you now can make ghost chains by getting close to ghosts to anger them, and then having the chain pick them up as they go nearby. It has a Ghost Combo mode that’s interesting to play because you don’t just have static ghosts to pick up, you have to earn your chains. It’s an all-around interesting experience thanks to its mixture of old with the new. I hope some of the DLC levels from the console and PC DX game make their way to mobile, too. There are no in-app purchases at the moment, but I’d be fine with DLC purchases for the additional levels and character skins.
The swipe controls work really well to play the game, but the pinch gesture to use bombs is kind of annoying. As someone who played the game before, I figured I’d just jump in without playing the tutorial. I had no clue how to use bombs, as the “Use Bomb!" alert that pops up doesn’t use a bomb when you tap it. Instead, you have to pinch out, which is a difficult gesture to pull off in a pinch, especially if you play with your thumbs instead of a pointer finger.
Thankfully, there is controller support, which is perfect as you can trigger bombs whenever you want, with ease. Plus, as a console port, I expect controller support. Great job implementing it, Namco. I got reports that iCade support is in the game, too – I can’t confirm as my iCade controllers are in storage right now, but if you don’t have an MFi controller yet, you can enjoy the game that way. Or, you can use the iCade with arcade-style joystick as the arcade gods intended.
Rounding out the functionality is iCloud support, which is something I’ve let become a pleasant surprise since iCloud can mess up. But when I loaded the game up on my iPhone after playing on iPad, and saw my unlocks carry over, I was quite happy! This is how iOS gaming should work!
If you derive any sort of joy or pleasure from playing Pac-Man, and you’re open to the wacky things Namco has done to the core game that I’ve described, you need to play Pac-Man Championship Edition DX. It’s a great game with a great mobile port. Namco didn’t mess with anything they didn’t need to in the end, and we are all better for it, as this is a must-have.