When you think of Pac-Man, your mind probably doesn't jump to multiplayer right away. Our yellow, chomping friend has been an icon in video games for decades, but mostly for the arcade fun that comes from standing at a machine on your own trying to beat someone else's high score, but with Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 Plus on the Switch, we'll get to take the classic Pac-Man action and play it alongside a friend as part of the Switch version's exclusive co-op mode, something we got to try for ourselves during a recent preview trip to Paris.
Despite having a contender for the longest title of 2018, the premise is actually quite simple, as the classic Pac-Man formula is for the most part untampered with. You and a friend are two different coloured Pac-Men (Mans?) and you're both munching on Pac-Dots just as you would be doing solo, but there are certain co-op features as well. For instance, once you've both collectively consumed everything in the maze, a piece of fruit shows up which you need to press together for a powerup, one of you either side of it, so some sort of coordination is needed. You then take the pain train to the ghosts, as you'd expect, and certain trains of ghosts also need you to chomp at them from either side as well.
The bosses at the end of levels are a bit more challenging though. Here you're transported to a new arena (still with a top-down view), except in these you can jump around and onto walls to collect the powerups and items needed to take down the biggest and baddest of ghosts. While this added a new element to the action, something that was very welcome, we actually found this to be the most difficult as this was towards the business end of the level timer, and we didn't once defeat the boss before we ran out of time. Frustrating, admittedly, but a surefire way to get us to go "we'll give it just one more try".
When we were playing this co-op mode we grew to realise that there was very little communication required at all. It's the kind of game two players can play extensively without saying so much as a word to each other, since everything you need to do comes almost instinctively - you need only to have played Pac-Man once before to get to grips with the concept.
As you can see from the screenshots we've peppered about, everything is bathed in a bright neon glow, as many arcade games have done when transferring to the modern era. This is nothing new, as we've seen this in the standard Pac-Man Championship Edition, and here we get the same crazy mazes and spectacular effects, all underpinned by a progressively more aggressive techno soundtrack that really makes you sweat by the end of the level, upping the tempo of the game alongside the music. It sucks you into a trance and makes time fly by as you dart and interweave in pursuit of the high score.
What's more is that, just like with the single-player modes we've already seen, the mazes really test your skills, especially considering the number of pathways that lead into the other side of the screen to disorientate you. It's clear that each time a new series of Pac-Dots shows up, an optimal line has been created for each player to get all of them in one go, so if you take a wrong route and double back on yourself, you'll waste precious team and might bump into some troublesome ghosts. Learning the right paths to take and making sure each player pulls it off to perfection is vital for the best scores, and practice, of course, makes perfect.
In all honesty, we walked into Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 Plus thinking this would just be Pac-Man gameplay with two players - nothing more, nothing less - but we were greeted with a fun and chaotic co-op experience that we tried again and again to get the high score at. It hooks you in with its thumping beats and frantic gameplay, and spits you out as if you've just woken up from a trance, and we can't wait to dive back in.