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Xbox Live Arcade Review: Pac-Man Championship Edition

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In 1981, Midway began distribution of a Japanese arcade game called Puck Man, which was renamed in North America as Pac-Man. Created two years earlier by Namco’s Toru Iwatani, Pac-Man broke ranks with most of the other arcade games, steering away from space-themed shooting games and birthing an entirely new way to play games that didn’t involve piloting a spaceship and blasting away aliens.

The simplistic controls and quick learning curve helped make Pac-Man incredibly popular, but with maze layouts that gradually increased in difficulty and a quartet of ghosts chasing Pac-Man down, it gave hardcore arcade junkies a good challenge.

Twenty-six years later, Iwatani is leaving the video game business, but before he does, he has left gamers with one final present: Pac-Man Championship Edition on the Xbox Live Arcade. More than just a simple polished-up port, Pac-Man Championship Edition breathes new life into the ages-old franchise, and in doing so, becomes a must-have game for all Xbox 360 owners.

The basic game play of Pac-Man Championship Edition is no different from any of the past Pac-Man games: munch down pellets, bonus fruits and power pellets, all while avoiding those pesky ghosts… at least until they turn blue and become munchable, too. The real differences all lie in the new features that Pac-Man Championship Edition brings to the table.

Iwatani’s maze designs are fully updated this time around, including multiple tunnels and unique patterns never before seen in a Pac-Man game; in fact, the mazes change during game play. No longer are all the dots on the screen at once; the maze is split into two joined but independent halves, each which can change independently from the other. Clearing one half of the board makes a bonus fruit appear on the other half, and munching the fruit causes a new dot and maze pattern to appear on the cleared side of the screen.

Other new functions are welcome additions to the Pac-Man series, including Pac-Man respawning at the point he dies, longer-lasting power pellets, and increased game speed the further a player progresses. And unlike other Pac-Man games, Championship Edition either ends when you lose all of your lives or the new timer displayed at the top of the screen runs out.

The directional pad or left analog stick works exactly like the arcade joystick would, though the analog stick feels a bit more like the arcade set-up. However, one of the new features is that you can hold down the analog stick or directional pad in the direction you want to travel before you reach the corner. In doing so, sparks will emanate from Pac-Man and you’ll get a speed boost going around the corner. This is especially helpful when it comes to outrunning ghosts that might chase you.

Championship Edition features six different modes of play: three Extra Modes, two Challenge Modes, and Championship Mode. The two Challenge and three Extra Modes feature game play that differs from the more “traditional” Championship Mode, including immersing most of the maze in darkness or a high-speed mode. These differences, combined with Championship Edition’s changing maze layouts, works well to provide new experiences, even to Pac-Man veterans.

The biggest noticeable difference is in how the game looks. While Pac-Man, the ghosts, and bonus fruits don’t look much different than they did back in 1981 — except maybe a bit more polished — it is again the mazes that have gotten the biggest facelift. Though at first they might seem just the same, once you munch down on a power pellet or a bonus fruit, things change. The maze color changes to a bright red when a power pellet has been eaten, slowly fading back to blue. This not only looks good, but also gives you an indication of how much longer you’ve got to munch ghosts before they’re back to normal. As you advance through tougher levels, the maze colors respond by slowly changing to reflect the increased difficulty.

In the sound department, Championship Edition blends classic with modern. For example, the “siren” sound that Pac-Man made in the original game is supplemented by a few techno beats, fitting in well with the updated graphics. The other major addition is that of a techno-like soundtrack that fades in and out of the background. The new sounds don’t detract from the Pac-Man experience, and the new soundtrack is actually not too bad.

Pac-Man Championship Edition’s achievements appear to be pretty simple, and the first few are easy to obtain. However, while achievements like clearing Extra Mode 1 or eating the key might seem too easy, Championship Edition has enough difficulty to make them tougher than expected. Only through gaining experience playing Championship Edition can some of the harder modes and some of the harder achievements be unlocked.

Only six modes might make Pac-Man Championship Edition seem short, but with the randomization of mazes and the increasing difficulty the further you make it in the game, there’s plenty of replaying to be had. Each mode is different enough that there’s something for everyone to enjoy, from the hardcore gamer down to those new to Pac-Man.

The question of whether Pac-Man Championship Edition is worth 800 points ($10) is irrelevant, because the answer is a resounding yes. Championship Edition is one of the best games to hit the Xbox Live Arcade, ranking up there with Arcade classics like Geometry Wars. If you own an Xbox 360 and can download this title, do it. You won’t be disappointed.

Pac-Man Championship Edition is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.

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