Pac-Manâ€™s ability to sprout limbs seemingly at will has always disturbed us. For every Pac-Man platformer that has been released over the years, thereâ€™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 Betrayusâ€™ 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 â€˜Game Overâ€™ 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 thatâ€™s not entirely as bad as it sounds.
See, from start to finish thereâ€™s an air of confidence surrounding Pac-Manâ€™s adventure. Or an air of competence, if you prefer – this is simple, honest, stuff that doesnâ€™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 â€˜chip tunesâ€™ 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.
Itâ€™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 â€˜nâ€™ 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 doesnâ€™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 itâ€™s possible to pick a power-up of your choosing depending on what Power Berries – as theyâ€™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 thereâ€™s often a vending machine nearby waiting to top Pac-Manâ€™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, itâ€™s pretty simple stuff. Even the bosses go down without any real hassle.
The levels may be short but theyâ€™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-Manâ€™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. Itâ€™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.