Back in December at a preview event in Paris, Bandai Namco showed us a little Switch title by the name of Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 Plus, which we didn't particularly think would stand out among the big names there like Code Vein and Soul Calibur VI, but how wrong we were, as we gave it a glowing preview once we had tried it, as we were instantly hooked on its thumping techno and two-player chaos, coming away from it itching to play more. We weren't itching for long though, as this month we got to dive into the full game for more Pac-madness both alone and with a fellow chomping enthusiast.
So by now you may well know that Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 Plus is an extended version of the Championship Edition 2, except this time for Switch and supporting two Pac-People at a time. So for those who like their Pac-Man lone wolf style, you can either play the base game on your own, featuring Score Attack and Adventure modes, or you can play the 'Plus' portion, except instead of a friend you'll get a Pac-AI to help you out on your crusade to gobble dots and defeat ghosts.
The gameplay here is made all the more frantic by pumping music and pulsating neon colours, but it's not all classic Pac-Man. Surviving is important, but it's not just about that, as in each maze you'll need to eat a certain amount of Pac-Dots to make an item appear on the map, which then allows you to progress. If this is fruit, for instance, you'll bounce into the next maze in the sequence, but if it's an orange dot you then activate the power-up to eat the ghosts.
When you throw two players into the mix things are slightly different. Whereas in single-player these items would just appear on the map when you need to collect them, here when you eat enough Pac-Dots they appear in front of each of your characters and you need to pincer yourselves together to activate them, the same going for the ghosts as well (which is by far the hardest part, since they can slip out of your grasp easily).
This makes precision key to getting the highest scores when playing with two, as you need to make sure you collect the dots in the quickest time before killing the ghosties and getting the fruit in order to get the highest score. As if all this wasn't stressful enough, there's also a really stringent time limit on all the levels, so you'll have no chance of getting the really high scores if you don't nail every single part of the maze. One wrong turn will mean missed dots, which will throw you out of your groove, and ultimately lead to disaster.
But that's kind of the fun of it though - the frantic action that sees you scrambling to find your buddy in the maze when you need to work together, leaving you breathless by the time the time limit runs out. Often you'll both be actually not saying anything to each other, instead angrily tapping the analog sticks to make your way around before instinctively moving to where you need to be when power-ups activate. It's tense, it's exhilarating, and totally sucks you into every level.
The bosses make things even more difficult, as instead of moving around a labyrinth you instead have to jump from wall to wall to collect the dots to then activate a powerup which lets you batter the big bad ghost. Considering this comes at the backend of every level at the business end of the timer, we found ourselves mashing the jump button in an attempt to try and finally kill the bosses, but it's rare that we ever got even close to sending them on their way.
Like with a lot of arcade games, the appeal here lies in the 'we can do better' attitude, as when you and your friend start learning the courses you work out the optimum lines to take, the best ways to approach it, and then you know you can get a better score than the one before. While we were kind of disappointed at the few levels included for two players, this hook of beating your previous score gives them far more longevity than we expected, especially since you notice the improvement with every run you make.
In contrast, there are far more levels in the base Championship Edition 2 for one player, and it's offering the perfect kind of short experiences that suit your train rides - gripping arcade action that doesn't demand too much of you. Add to that the fact that you can customise the colours, characters, and music of each level you play, and it's like the perfect modern-day adaptation of the classic yellow arcade mascot.
It's always been tough getting gaming icons of the past to become modern and engaging to the 21st century gamer, but with Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 Plus Bandai Namco has cranked the speed up to 100 miles an hour, turned up the music, and really upped the ante, producing a fast and furious version of Pac-Man that's not only ideal for quick bursts but is suited incredibly well to the Switch. Two players can easily get involved with the simple controls, but there's enough depth to keep those leaderboard chasers hungry for more.