Pac-Man is the man. He’s one of the original video game icons. However, modern video game developers are faced with the obvious fact that Pac’s early adventures can’t be made these days. Those old arcade games in which Pac-Man must eat pellets and avoid ghosts in the same maze over and over…yeah, can’t do that anymore. So, perhaps the only logical thing to do is to maintain the spirit of the franchise while embracing an action/platformer format. Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures has a lot of colorful creativity, but it it’s a little uneven, and it lacks any real punch.
When I say that the visual presentation reminds me of the PS2 days, I know that sounds insulting. But I don’t mean it to be insulting; it just reminds me of older graphics because we don’t get that crisp high-definition clarity to which we’ve become accustomed. As soon as I began, I grinned because there was that faint fuzziness that I remember so well from the last generation. No, it can’t really compete with the big boys but on the plus side, the level design (minus the first few worlds, which are mediocre at best) is pretty good, and the animations are mostly clean.
Technically speaking, it has a few problems. The frame rate can be an issue and the audio is amateurish. The soundtrack is fitting and I like the variety, especially when you’re exploring wildly different environments, but it’s not especially accomplished. The voice performances range from terrible to subpar, but maybe the target audience won’t care. The effects aren’t bad, but more could’ve been done. I think the bottom line is this— From a visual and sound standpoint, this is a relatively stable presentation that has a few shining highlights. It’s just wrapped up in an outdated package that may or may not be acknowledged by the young’uns.
The Ghostly Adventures doesn’t exactly begin with a bang. The first few levels are about as straightforward and uninspired as one can imagine. Pac-Man just runs around, collecting those perfunctory pellets, eating food to restore any lost hearts, gobbling ghosts, and jumping easily from platform to platform. If the game had continued in this fashion, the final review score would’ve been about a 3. But thankfully, things rapidly take a turn for the better, and we’re treated to inventive levels, some decently implemented puzzle features, and Pac-Man’s appreciated ability to morph.
The yellow hero can jump, double-jump, stun ghosts with a sudden shriek, and bash vending machines and mailboxes to nab more goodies. But that’s all pedestrian. Everything gets much more interesting when he eats a certain power pill; one that apparently changes his chemical makeup in much the same way the Flower changed Mario’s. Yes, Pac-Man can become a fire-spitting adventurer, or he can toss ice, or he can become a chameleon with a very sticky – and very useful – tongue. The best part is that such transformations aren’t merely for show. They’re used in combat and you also need them to tackle particular aspects of the environment.
For instance, the icy Pac-Man must freeze fire-based ghosts before attempting to eat them. The reverse is true if ice-based ghosts attack; you must hit them with fireballs. That chameleon tongue can snag ghosts from afar, and it can also be used to swing on poles scattered throughout the levels. Then there are puzzles that depend on your elemental persuasion, and the platforming requirements become much stiffer. The developers do a good job trying to keep the game fresh; Pac-Man transforms back and forth (getting hit causes him to lose his power-up), and each new level forces you to think differently. Of course, the basic control always remains the same.
That control is functional. I won’t say it’s perfect but it works. Moving and jumping is easy, but I never liked the swinging-on-poles mechanic. You have to hold down the button to keep your sticky tongue extended, but the duration of the hold, and how Pac-Man actually swings was never made clear. Then there’s the camera, which can be a serious problem. I almost would’ve preferred a fixed camera because you have to battle this free-roaming camera way too often. Unfortunately, it’s another example of an outdated production, as the flaws I see were commonly found in the PS2/Xbox generation. Still, as I say, it’s mostly functional.
The other reservation I have involves the age demographic for this title. Obviously, it’s designed for a younger age group, which is fine. It’s probably better because that group may not care as much about the lack of polish or the hammy voice acting. But I think the designers got a little too absorbed in the process of creating new and challenging levels. They’re a good deal better than the introductory levels, but I think they’re a bit too tough for most kids. And no matter your age, that problematic camera will eventually prove annoying. However, if your child is a fairly competent gamer already, he could have a great deal of fun with this production.
There is a multiplayer mode that supports up to four players, but it’s not a big draw. Even so, this is where you’ll find 3D incarnations of those classic mazes from yesteryear, so at least the kids can get a hint of what video games used to be like. Up to four buddies can explore the maze, collecting fruit and power-ups, but here’s the twist— You’re the ghosts! Running from Pac-Man is mildly entertaining but it gets boring quick, and there aren’t any other multiplayer variations. I admit that it was fun to finally play as Pac-Man’s legendary foes, but the developers didn’t do anywhere near enough with the concept. I'd like to see them give it another shot, though.
Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures has a fair amount of charm, and it’s easy to pick up and play. There’s a lot of appreciated creativity and inventiveness during the later stages, the basic control and maneuverability is solid, and it’s definitely a family-friendly game. The latter point could be significant for parents attempting to find a game that doesn’t use death and killing as a central theme. It’s just that Namco’s latest Pac-Man effort is outdated and somewhat bland. The technical elements don’t really cut the mustard, the story is too silly to even be relevant, and the camera remains an issue. But for a child who craves some wholesome, entertaining fun, this might be worth it. A decent holiday gift, perhaps?
The Good: Good creativity and design in the latter half of the game. Decent attempt to keep the adventure fresh with “morphing” Pac-Man. Basic control is functional. Accessible and generally entertaining. Truly family-friendly.
The Bad: Technically outdated. Problematic, frustrating camera. Later levels might be too hard for kids. Multiplayer idea is good, but it gets old fast.
The Ugly: “Too cute to be ‘ugly’ anywhere.”