(Xbox 360 Review) Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures

Developer: Namco Bandai Games
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Genre: Platformer
Players: 1-4
ESRB: Everyone
Reviewer: Marcus Way

Overall: 5.5 = Average

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is a 3D platformer based off an animated series of the same name currently airing on Disney XD. Unlike Pac-Man titles of the past, the yellow chomper is now a young protector of a city, Pacopolis, who spends his free time palling around with ghosts Blinky, Clyde, Inky, and Pinky—enemies in a former life—and other Pac-like characters in the halls of Maze High School. From his homeroom, Pac-Man will venture out to other realms in order to collect a set of mysterious tablets before their possibly powerful secrets fall into the hands of the nefarious Betrayus and his army of evil ghosts.

After fending off an attack on Pacopolis, players are sent on a far-flung adventure that will take them to four other themed areas, including a lava level and a Mayan-like temple. Along the way, Pac-Man will pick up an assortment of power-ups that will grant him a variety of powers, such as the ability to freeze and burn ghosts, roll around as a giant granite ball, float around in balloon form and zip around by exhaling, bounce around and between walls as a ball, grab ghosts and turn invisible as a chameleon, and walk around on metal beams while magnetized. He will also discover arcade tokens among the many power pellets, life-giving pies, and health-replenishing foods that allow him to play a handful of arcade games. The arcade games become accessible once there are enough fruit to unlock them, and these fruit are awarded at the end of most levels; both the fruit and tokens act as incentives to complete all levels, including the few optional ones, within an area. The cabinets are found within Maze High and allow players to take part in mini-games that have Pac-Man controlling fruit-themed vehicles to battle enemies while piloting a ship in a 2D shooter, rescue citizens in a blaster-armed helicopter, track down and shoot ghosts throughout a maze while in a tank, and race in a tunnel, shooting ghosts that get in the way.

For a young audience, all of this should be very exciting and provide plenty to do in a kid-friendly world that’s colorful, inviting, and friendly. Somewhere along the way, though, that audience is forgotten, and what’s left is a game that can’t make up its mind about who it’s intended for.

The initial conversations between Pac-Man and his friends, as well as the level of difficulty for the first few areas, set Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures firmly within an age bracket of up to around eight. The first levels, along with spots throughout the remainder of the game, are incredibly easy, with the first handful of playable areas so simple that they are little more than straight paths with a few ghosts for Pac-Man to munch on (and, for the ever-important gross factor, whose eyes he exhales at the end of each area). Just as the game settles into a groove of simplicity, it then suddenly takes a hard turn to a level far beyond a younger player’s capabilities. One of the first side levels takes the straightforward navigation of the preceding levels to having to traverse a path made up of over a dozen alternating vanishing panes. That is a massive shift on the game’s part of its expectations of the player. The difficulty frequently spikes whenever a new power is unlocked as well. For example, the granite ball power starts off with Granite Ball Pac-Man sitting in-between a half-pike, from where he then rolls down few descending ramps before coming up to a narrow pathway that not only takes very sharp turns but also begins to crumble under the ball’s weight. The idea of a younger player going from having to essentially move forward down ramps to suddenly having to take hard lefts and rights, compensating for weight and speed—as in Super Monkey Ball—as the ground beneath them gradually gives way to likely death just doesn’t mesh.

As if that weren’t enough, the game’s overall difficulty gradually increases with each cleared area. The levels not only become more elaborate, surprisingly so in some cases, but the game has a few unfortunate combat and navigation eccentricities. Strangely, the game lacks many of the visual cues that other games use to indicate incoming danger, such as icons on the ground whenever dangerous projectiles are dropping from the sky; and if they are used, they are typically very short and do little to make evading more an object of luck. As a point of reference, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance has such cues. Also, unlike many platformers, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures allows players to fall off all ledges, including some incredibly narrow sections that can be hard to see, such as those near background objects or backdrops. These omissions and quirks are especially jarring in a game made for a younger crowd.

It might be that this is a rare case in which a game based off of a cartoon is meant for more experienced gamers. If that’s the case, then there is a serious mismatch, considering the kid-friendly, incredibly chipper dialog, goofy storyline, hokey ‘attitude’ (Pac-Man’s one-liners could’ve been taken straight from mid-90’s magazine ads), and mind-numbingly simple early levels. This sense is reiterated between missions as Pac-Man chats with his teachers, friends, and Sir Cumference, a wacky scientist who guides him in his quest. Older players will find themselves out of place in the world, and the beginning far too easy. The rest of the game, however, does have somewhat interesting level design from time to time as well as clever uses for Pac-Man’s powers. There are definitely some stumbling blocks, especially when the powers have to be used just to escape certain platforming doom, but more experienced players will eventually find themselves in familiar territory. The game doesn’t reach anywhere near Mario or Rayman levels of excellence, but it does offer a decent dose of traditional platforming. Older gamers should also appreciate the many retro sound effects and graphics dotted around Maze High and the rest of the areas.

The arcade mini-games are too simple to add much to the game’s longevity, but they are neat nonetheless. What’s more disappointing is the local four-player multiplayer mode. Instead of controlling Pac-Man, players take on the role of a ghost that must stop Pac-Man and two of his friends from gobbling up all of the maze’s fruit and power pellets. A close-up third-person view is used to follow the player’s ghost as they track down the intruders, using a map in the form of the classic Pac-Man board to track them down. There are too few attacks and power-ups to offer enough variety to hold the player’s interest for an extended period. It’s unfortunate that such a novel concept wasn’t better realized.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is a run-of-the-mill platformer that starts off perfect for its intended audience but eventually ends up being for a far more experienced crowd. The early difficulty spikes and eventually increased challenge will result in younger players handing off control to gamers who will find the early portions too easy and the story cutesy to warrant their attention. Lost in this confusion are some decent levels and power-ups, but even at its best, it fails to match any of the far better platformers on the market.

(This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.)

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