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X3F hands-on: Pac-Man Championship Edition


If we told you that Pac-Man Championship Edition is the most significant thing to happen to Pac-Man in years, you'd probably call us crazy. Well, call us crazy, because Pac-Man CE rocks. Quite simply, Pac-Man CE has made Pac-Man relevant again. Yeah, maybe it's not the huge announcement we were all hoping for, but once you put some time into it, you'll find out that Pac-Man Championship Edition has some legs.


Pac-Man CE is more than ordinary Pac-Man with a new coat of pixels. More accurately, as Joystiq puts it, Pac-Man CE is "a true sequel to the original Pac-Man released 26 years ago." Yeah, Ms. Pac-Man was a sequel of sorts, but Pac-Man CE is more than just new mazes and a bow. Sure, at its core the game is still about munching pellets and alternately evading and chasing ghosts, but Pac-Man CE manages to modernize the gameplay in a completely new way. Of course, the new-and-improved visuals and audio don't hurt either (we really dig the re-invented background music)..

What Pac-Man CE essentially does is transform the original formula into an extended survival mode. No longer do you have individual mazes that you must clear of pellets in order to move on the next maze. Instead, the game starts with a only handful of pellets on screen. Eat all the dots on either the left or right side of the screen and a piece of fruit appears. Eating the fruit has two effects. First, it generates more dots on the opposite side of the screen. Second, eating fruit actually changes the maze layout on the opposite side of the screen. Essentially, the game becomes a cycle: eat pellets, eat power pellets, eat ghosts, eat fruit, create new patterns and more pellets, repeat. The game imperceptibly grows faster as you progress, too. It is this unending, ever changing aspect of Pac-Man CE that makes it addictive as hell. If you can imagine Pac-Man crossed with the frantic, psychedelic survival of Geometry Wars, you're on the right track.

Pac-Man CE expands on the new maze-changing dynamic with several different modes of play. Every mode is accompanied by a clock. You must outlast the clock in order to officially "complete" each mode. A graph of your score is presented at the end of each round, whether you outlast the clock or run out of lives before time runs out. The graph displays how many points you earned from eating pellets, fruit, or ghosts, at any given time during the round. It's an interesting feature for the game, and sure to please those looking to top the leaderboards.

As for the modes themselves, each is characterized by a different initial maze layout. One mode starts players on a small, cramped maze that expands as fruit is consumed. Another mode cranks the speed up to 11 and sets players on a more linear course. This mode also cuts the standard 10 minute time limit in half, but trust us, lasting 5 minutes at insanely high speeds is tough. Another of the more interesting modes darkens the entire maze, though the area directly adjacent to the player (and ghosts) is always visible. At the beginning, navigation is easy thanks to the pellets that outline the different pathways. As the pellets are eaten, however, the darkened course becomes much more difficult to navigate, and ghosts are harder to avoid as you run into walls that you can't see until the last moment.

All in all, Pac-Man Championship Edition is very entertaining, surprisingly so in fact. And this is coming from someone who is admittedly not a Pac-Man fan. Namco Bandai has taken an arcade game designed to suck away your hard-earned quarters and transformed it into a genuine console title with hours of appeal. The desire to beat the clock and best your high score will undoubtedly have players hearkening back to their first 500,000 points in Geometry Wars or their first perfect run in Guitar Hero II. Granted, it's still Pac-Man and that's not for everyone, and the fact that this is the third rendition of the title to hit Xbox Live Arcade hurts it to a certain extent, but Pac-Man CE is still the most definitive edition of the game in years. Honestly, if it had multiplayer of any kind, it could have been the new Xbox Live Arcade title to beat. At 800 MS Points, we can't recomment Pac-Man CE for everyone, but Pac-Fans and Live Arcade buffs should definitely take notice. It's easily the best version available.

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