Pac-Man’s ability to sprout limbs seemingly at will has always disturbed us. For every Pac-Man platformer that has been released over the years, there’s a Pac-Man game where the yellow fellow is forced to devolve and roll around inside mazes like a primitive beast. This CGI cartoon tie-in sees Pac-Man in his arguably most evolved state yet – a headstrong, wise-cracking hero out to save Pac-World from the gothic evildoer Betrayus.
The only foreseeable hindrance is the thousand (or thereabouts) moving platforms precariously placed between the opening Pacopolis city level and Betrayus’ netherworld lair. Make no mistake – this is a very traditional platformer. It has breadcrumb trails of spinning collectables. It has both fire and ice worlds. It has lives; ergo a ‘Game Over’ screen. It has platforms that vanish almost as soon as you stand on them. It made us wonder if the last ten years of gaming ever happened, but that’s not entirely as bad as it sounds.
See, from start to finish there’s an air of confidence surrounding Pac-Man’s adventure. Or an air of competence, if you prefer – this is simple, honest, stuff that doesn’t do anything fatally wrong apart from feeling like a throwback from the PlayStation 2 era.
For a tie-in the amount of polish on show is notable too. Pac-World is as curvy, for want of better word, as Pac-Man himself while the music varies from ‘chip tunes’ to remixes of music from recent Pac-Man titles. Pleasingly, a lot of the sound-effects have been taken from Pac-Man games of yore too including that sound-effect when dying. Indeed, nostalgia forms part of the appeal here.
It’s variety that it excels at though. Over the course of the game Pac-Man comes across several different power-ups that bestow new abilities. The second world pays homage to the underrated DS gem Pac ‘n’ Roll, entailing Pac-Man turning into a huge granite ball and rolling down narrow passageways. To illustrate how sparing some power-ups feature, this ability doesn’t reappear again until the penultimate level. Likewise, the magnetic ability – which is used to walk upside down along metal platforms – features only in a handful of levels.
Usually power-ups have to be used according to progress – having to freeze lava-covered platforms with the ice ability is one of the more overused ideas – but there are also a few combat-focus sections where it’s possible to pick a power-up of your choosing depending on what Power Berries – as they’re known – are scattered around.
Combat is far from fancy, but neither is it brainless as some ghosts can only be defeated with certain power-ups. Each different coloured ghost has their own attack pattern and although they can be hard to avoid there’s often a vending machine nearby waiting to top Pac-Man’s health up.
Later levels see Pac take to the skies with a balloon power-up, while the chameleon ability lets him turn invisible to sneak past security cameras. Guiding a comically inflated Pac-Man requires some careful and precise movement, and this was about the only time The Ghostly Adventures can be considered challenging. As we said, it’s pretty simple stuff. Even the bosses go down without any real hassle.
The levels may be short but they’re bountiful in number with each world also offering one or two bonus stages. Tokens to play the four mini-games accessible from the hub – Pac-Man’s school, no less – are the reward for beating these bonus levels, with the first mini-game unlocking around halfway through. One is a blatant tribute to Defender, while another takes the form of a reasonably comprehensive horizontally scrolling shooter. Although the mini-games are well designed, overall shortness robs them of any potential replay value.
Still, they do help to round the package off. And this certainly is a nice little package – all it wants to do is gently hold your hand and take you on a mildly entertaining platform-packed adventure. It’s about as inoffensive as gaming gets.
Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is due out 14th March in the UK. Region-free Xbox 360 version reviewed.