Last month, while grinding out weapon trophies in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, I’d play Pac-Man Championship Edition DX as a palette cleanser. Much in the same way Ms. Pac-Man expanded upon the formula introduced by Pac-Man in the early 1980s, this 2010 release expands upon Bandai Namco’s 2007 original. That’s to say the changes, new maps and features, are minor but solid improvements on an otherwise fantastic game. When I focused solely on improving my score, I was able to lose myself to the mesmerizing flow of continually changing mazes and satisfying sounds of points racking up. These positive feelings were mired only by my desire to obtain the game’s trophies and subject myself to repetitious challenges.
Playing as Pac-Man, the basic objective and concept were the same as they’ve always been: set a high score by eating as much as possible. Instead of simply munching all the pellets to progress to the next stage however the mazes in this entry, like its predecessor, continually cycled. When one half of a stage’s pellets had been cleared, a bonus fruit would appear on the opposite half, resetting the empty side with a new layout when eaten. There were a half-dozen stages to play on and the main focus were five and ten minute score attack modes. The pace of the game increased the longer I survived, ultimately reaching a fever pitch of lights, sounds, and instinctual reactions. To excel, I needed to plan my path a second or two in advance, which wasn’t always easy with ghosts surrounding me.
Sleeping ghosts lined the routes and when passed, awoke and chased Pac-Man, forming a chain. They were arranged in such a way that if I wanted to maximize my score, I’d follow a deliberate route. It was important to chain many ghosts because after eating a power pellet, they’d become susceptible to Pac-Man’s chomping and yielded loads of points when eaten in quick succession. Besides sleeping ghosts, the familiar, more active ones unpredictably roamed the mazes. They proved to be the true threat and when Pac-Man got too close, the game would slow down and slightly zoom in on the possible collision. When things got too hairy and I couldn’t find an escape route I could fall back on a limited supply of bombs.
Navigating through the preferred routes amid the continually changing layouts resulted in an entrancing rhythm, although I was working towards a goal. Similar to Uncharted, I was attempting to unlock the game’s remaining trophies. My first foray with this game dates back to May 2015 when I played a fair amount and unlocked all but two trophies. These final two required I complete multiple variations of each stage and frankly, I was not looking forward to that commitment. Now more than two years beyond those sessions, I was able to revisit it with a renewed determination, one that ultimately saw me through dozens of tedious bite-sized challenges. The conditions for success were always the same: collect a set amount of fruit within the allotted time. They weren’t difficult either; I was able to clear most of them on my first attempt. Nonetheless, getting through them all was a slog.
Designed around five and ten minute time limits and predictable patterns, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX rewarded forethought and practice. It retained a rigid score-chasing ethos true to its lineage but somewhat in contrast with revivalist games that inspired it like Geometry Wars, which also reward improvisation and spontaneity. Regardless, as the pace increased, my prior practice resulted in sessions of instinctual play. Transfixed by the changing mazes and techno soundtrack, I was able to navigate in a Zenlike state, planning actions in advance and devouring scores of ghosts when the time came. While those longer sessions were extraordinary, the truncated challenges were exhaustingly repetitious and an unfortunate conclusion to my playthrough. Still, the highs I had more than compensate for the lows and now free from my trophy hunting obligations, I can devote my energy on setting that high score!