No veteran gamer needs to be told just how iconic and lasting a figure Pac-Man has become – a feat made all the more impressive given his popularity spanning a number of console generations. Even so, it’s entirely possible that Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, has slipped below your radar.
It’s just as likely that the animated TV series of the same name is completely alien to you, but Namco Bandai has not only spread their beloved yellow sphere onto television, but adapted the show back to video game form. Is it a game sure to please the show’s target audience?
First off, it’s important to simply overlook the fact that Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is a game based on a TV show based on a game. While the game may not share much resemblance with the hero’s first outings, the TV series has turned Pac-Man into a spunky, adventurous young hero in a fictional world populated by similarly odd characters (and ghosts).
Given that premise, the re-skinning of Pac-Man into a predictable, not particularly innovative 3D platformer makes plenty of sense. But the vocal performances and visual treatment – not to mention the lack of real difficulty early on, and throughout much of the game – make it clear the the young audience targeted by the show is the only real audience being pursued.
That isn’t to say that Namco Bandai has watered down the formula to a damaging degree, since this platformer is a perfect encapsulation of the kinds of gameplay that helped spawn the genre. Or perhaps, to put it more concisely, the kind of game that platformers used to be. Given that, players will largely be split between those who have come to expect a bit more from a 3D action game, and those who value a dose of nostalgia (or haven’t been around long enough to develop it).
For the most part, the enemies are placed in the game not to pose a particular challenge, but to give players a reason to keep playing. Even so, the satisfaction of gobbling up ghosts is as strong as ever, and the ability to chain together attacks when enemies are close enough is a strong addition.
And for much of the game’s early stages, the core platforming is just as rote; the challenge is so low, more experienced gamers (or, sadly, less patient youngsters) may only feel the pull to progress if only to see more of the characters already familiar from the TV series. But if Pac-Man’s voice isn’t grating enough for casual players – so sweet it will make your teeth hurt – the slow pace could be enough of a deterrent on its own.
All these issues aside, the game does exhibit flashes of inspired design. Most are credited to the unique Power-ups granted Pac-Man throughout, paired with new types of enemies (throw fireballs to melt frozen baddies, throw ice to freeze lava streams, etc.). The gameplay stages that turn Pac-Man into a stone boulder are particularly surprising, immediately conjuring visions of Super Monkey Ball.
On the other hand, the welcome changes in core gameplay often coincide with sharp increases in difficulty. Difficulty spikes or steep learning curves are nothing new to the realm of 3D platformers, but given the relatively simple mechanics surrounding them, frustration or flat-out dead-ends are a very real possibility for amateur gamers.
By changing up the pace, the developers have packed a surprising amount of variation into what, at first, seems like a relatively paint-by-numbers platformer. It may be just that, but with a healthy budget and no perceivable corners cut, the younger audience familiar with the series will find the time worthwhile. And at the budget price, parents should feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth.
Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is available for $39.99 for the Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii U.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.