For this first time since the last time, everyone’s favourite spherical pill-muncher is back, apparently. Only this time he has an American “surfer dude” voice. But that isn’t the only change, oh no. He’s friends with some of the ghosts that he was looking to gobble up in the iconic original title for starters and on top of that, no longer does Pac munch pills. Instead, he chomps down on family-friendly “energy globes” and scares ghosts by waving his arms about (rather than taking a pill to jack his scariness level up.)
Indeed, Pac-man and The Ghostly Adventures features Pac-man with the edges rounded off so that he can’t possibly offend even the most delicate of sensibilities. Unless you dislike surfer dudes of course, or distinctly average platform games featuring more unfair deaths than you could shake a stick at.
Pac-man and The Ghostly Adventures sees Pac-man navigating his way through various worlds, battling enemies from the animated series of the same name. Each level generally has a requirement for Pac to change his properties via the intake of a special property-changing-sphere. We’d call it a pill but, y’know, kids might be reading. The ever-loving Pac’s abilities change along with his abilities, so to climb up a steep wall for example, he needs to change into a rubber ball as this allows him to stick to walls briefly during a wall jump. Rocky maze courses are traversed by turning into a granite ball, ice is negated by becoming Flame Pac, flames are negated by becoming Ice Pac (ha!) and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, you never really get to choose which would be the best way of going about your business, as there’s only usually ever one type of sphere available and it’s usually right next to the thing that you need it for. If an enemy strikes Pac, he loses his properties and is relegated to being the regular old yellow ball that we know and that Namco Bandai repeatedly tell us that we have to love. This could be annoying given that some sections absolutely require you to have a power of some sort, but the second you lose your power-up, it appears again in the place where you obtained it, meaning that you’re never generally more than a second or two from getting it back.
This thought for the player’s sanity isn’t pushed to other areas of the game, though. A 3D platformer needs a good camera, and this one doesn’t have that. You’ll lose life after life because you weren’t able to see where you were jumping or whether or not you’ve managed to navigate the ludicrously annoying Hot Air Pac through the clouds and over a safe place to land. You have a manual camera control on the right stick of course but the amount of times that the game steadfastly prevents you from using it is beyond a joke. One minute, you’ll be able to position the camera so that you can get the best view of the upcoming sequence of jumps and the next, you won’t be able to move it at all, as the game has decided that you simply must see the next part of the game from a certain angle. There were multiple times during our playthrough when we lost lives after beating the level, as we were heading to collect the piece of fruit that reveals itself as the prize at the end of each stage, and fell off the world due to a locked camera stopping us from seeing a treacherous gap. Some levels feature icy surfaces of indeterminate slipperiness too, and when you add that to a camera that stops you from seeing if you’re about to plunge to your death, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Pac-man and The Ghostly Adventures isn’t all bad, though. As much as nobody really gives two hoots about Pac-man as a character (they’re in love with the original game, not the yellow ball that starred in it) his anthropomorphosis isn’t all that jarring or annoying this time around. Use of slightly polished-up sounds for certain functions from the original arcade game – such as the “wakka” that played out when Pac-man ate a dot now being used as the sound for a chomp attack here - is a nice touch. Also, there’s a fair amount to do in Pac-man’s new world. Aside from the main story, there are four arcade machines to unlock, each allowing players to take part in a Pac-themed take on an arcade classic. The games aren’t massive time-sinks, but they’re functional and a relatively fun addition to proceedings. Atop that, four-player competitive classic Pac-man is on offer, albeit with each player being forced to view proceedings from a third-person camera. Again, this is functional and fun enough, without being something that you’d necessarily write home about.
Ultimately though, what causes Pac-man and The Ghostly Adventures the most damage is the sheer number of inconsistencies that rear their heads. The mid-level boss in a world will be ten times tougher to beat than the one in the next. One of the bosses in the second world can be an absolute nightmare to defeat, especially when you compare it to the game’s final boss, which we beat in less than a minute and without even being hit once, let alone losing any lives. Pac-man will swing gracefully from one set of poles to traverse a gap, then refuse to acknowledge that he can do the same thing on another set of poles just two seconds later, falling to his death as a result. Attacking a large ghost just before he attacks you works once, then causes you to lose a chunk of health the next time you do it. A moving platform (that you have to wait for) nips back and forward at a decent pace and allows relatively quick progress through a section of a level. The next one has you literally standing doing nothing for an entire 30 seconds as you wait for it to complete its route and get back to the point where you can step on to it.
Pac-man and The Ghostly Adventures isn’t a surprising game, by any means. Being a 3D platform game based on a cartoon – which is the case here – you should probably know what to expect of it. We’d wager that most of the game’s target audience will become infuriated with the clumsy camera, unfair punishments, and difficulty level that jumps about like a rubber ball. Even at a budget price, that isn’t a good thing