Hey there, readers! It's been almost a year since my last post on here, because I'm a complete and utter prat who keeps forgetting that this domain name even exists. Still, never mind, I'm here now, eh?
What's brought me back into the fold, you may ask? Well, it's the hotly anticipated release of Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 on the PC (and various other platforms, but I do 99% of my gaming on a PC, so the PC version is what we're talking about here.)
For those unaware, back in 2007 Namco released a new edition in their venerable Pac-Man franchise. The focus was more on high-scores and competition between friends rather than completing mazes, and the game was incredibly well received by many, myself included. The frenetic pace and the gameplay changes surrounding the concept of only eating half of the maze at a time and having optimal paths to do so made going for higher and higher scores very addictive.
In 2010 it was followed by Pac-Man Championship Edition DX (and a DX+ update on Steam) which improved on the formula some more by adding the concept of "collecting" ghosts in a train - ghosts would be sleeping at various parts of the maze and would wake up when Pac-Man flew by. You could then chomp on a power pellet and go straight on down to snack town. Take a look at this video of me playing it if you're not sure how that works in practice:
As you can see, very different to the original Pac-Man, but also much more fun.
The sequel, imaginatively titled Pac-Man Championship Edition 2, was released at the start of September. It's basically more or less the same, but they have tweaked the concept a bit - contact with a ghost is no longer instant death as it was previously, now you can bump into a ghost a few times which will "anger" it and make it chase you around the maze, which can be used tactically if you're skilled enough (I'm not.)
The ghost "trains" that build up over the course of each round are now only munchable if you eat the head ghost, and Pac-Man will then automatically eat the rest of the ghosts, and as if that wasn't complicated enough, when you eat a power pellet the trains now speed up instead of slow down, but follow preset "escape routes" which are highlighted on the maze so you can "head them off at the pass."
There are a few other spanners in the works, too - sometimes you'll come across a "runaway" power pellet or fruit - these will actively try and get away from you as you approach, but with careful decision making and blazing your way around corners you can easily catch up.
Another new addition is boss battles. In these, you have a set amount of time to complete a set number of mazes, and each time a massive ghost behind the maze bumps his noggin on it which triggers the appearance of a couple of extra life power-ups and the fruit/power pellet that you need to get to the next maze.
There are also updates to the "bomb" system from the original game. In the original, you could press Space and (if you had some) a bomb would go off which would send all of the ghosts back to their house and you could carry on your merry way. This was excellent when things got a bit too hair-raising. Now, though, the bomb does the same thing but moves Pac-Man back to his start point. This adds a tactical element whereby you can instantly get to the "reset" fruit by using a bomb.
It's fun enough, I suppose - but I have to admit I don't like it. Take a look at my video below, and I'll run you through some of the things that I really don't like.
The first thing that really winds me up about the sequel is that the fruit power-ups needed to reset the maze are "out of the way" and you have to move up or down into the space to eat it. Doing so resets the maze, and puts Pac-Man back in the place above the fruit ready to go again (see 0:14 in the video). This makes sense, of course, but I just can't gel with it - if you look at the original game up there, Pac-Man never changes direction or moves without your say so, which makes for a much more fluid experience.
In the sequel, his position gets reset whenever the maze resets, and also whenever you eat a ghost train (more on that in a second) and it completely screws with my forward planning.
My other major complaint with the game is the way everything goes a bit haywire when you eat a ghost train. Take a look at 0:40 onwards in the video. When you eat the head of a ghost, the view changes to a sort of "3D camera" and the player loses control of Pac-Man. Pac-Man will snake his way around corners with gay abandon munching on ghosts and then when he's finished, control is returned to you but suddenly you're not where you were and you completely lose your bearings.
To make matters worse, the other major problem I have with this new train system is that while Pac-Man is eating a train, if another train passes through the same area (see 0:44 in the video) Pac-Man completely ignores it rather than chowing down on that too. This seems really odd to me, and just adds to the feeling of disorientation that the game gives me.
That's nothing though compared to what happens when you eat the final train on the maze. Skip ahead to 0:51 on the video and you'll see what happens when you do this. The camera goes absolutely bonkers and you lose sight of the maze altogether as Pac-Man goes flying off seemingly into space.
When he returns, he's out back on the maze, directly above the fruit that you need to eat to reset the maze - you have to move down into it, which then triggers the same reset that normally occurs. However, if you don't do anything, Pac-Man literally just stays there waiting for your command.
In my opinion, which isn't worth much admittedly, these changes to the core gameplay are great on paper but the execution just flat out doesn't work - the game wrestles control of Pac-Man away from you far too many times and you just come away feeling like you don't know what's going on. Pac-Man should never come to a complete stop once you start him off unless you run him into a wall, it's fundamental. Interestingly, the game also includes a "brake" button which stops Pac-Man dead in his tracks and can be used to avoid a ghost encounter if you need to. This is probably useful in some of the later mazes, but I've not had to use it yet and again it seems like it's making the game more complex than it really needs to be.
Using the bombs in this game also destroys any flow, as it moves you back to your start point where you stay still waiting for instructions.
The boss battles (not featured in the video) aren't particularly well thought out, they're not so much boss battles as timed rounds with some "defeat a boss" animation frippery thrown on top.
Other than this laundry list of complaints, I can't really think of much else to criticise. The graphics, sound and control scheme are all excellent (although I may just be imagining it, but I'm sure in this game Pac-Man will move "back" a bit to make a turn if you're a bit late pressing the key, which again makes it very hard to control properly - I can see I've passed the turning, so I'm already holding the turn key for the next junction, don't move me back to the one I've missed!)
I'm still unconvinced that this game is an improvement on Championship Edition DX+, but I'll give it some more time - I may warm up to it after a while.