Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures
Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Genre: 3D Platformer
Release Date: 10/29/2013
I’ve never been a big fan of 3D platformers. In fact, the last three I can remember liking in reverse chronological order are Psychonauts, The Haunted Mansion and Muppet Monster Adventure. That’s three in thirteen years. Well, I like Pac-Man. Whether it’s running around a maze in the original classic, exploring Pac-Land on my TurboGrafx (I can’t believe that’s not on Nintendo’s Virtual Console!), engaging in hilarious multiplayer action with Pac-Man Versus on my Game Cube or one of the many other games I have featuring him, Pac-Man games are generally fun. Still, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is not just a game in a genre I dislike (Platformers), but it’s also a licensed platformer, which is generally the biggest red flag for a bad game there is.
Wait, how can a Pac-Man game be a licensed platformer, you ask? After all, Pac-Man is owned by Namco Bandai! Well, THIS Pac-Man game is a video game based off the new cartoon airing on Disney XD. So it’s a game based on a cartoon based on a game. Crazy, huh? Well, it’s not the first time. I have fond memories of Pac-Man, and especially the old cartoon from the 80s by Hanna-Barbara, so I was going into this game hoping that it was worth playing and that the cartoon was worth watching. Well, one of the two things turned out to be true, at least for me. Let’s see which one it was.
So, if you’re an old geezer like me who thinks of Pac-Man as an adult with a family who sounds an awful lot like Marty Ingels, prepare for some culture shock, as this will completely blow your mind. Here, Pac-Man is a loud-mouthed teenager fighting an army of ghosts commanded by some guy (a big ghost actually) named Betrayus. As for Pac-Man’s long time rivals Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde? Well they’re now Pac-Man’s friends! DOGS AND CATS, LIVING TOGETHER! MASS HYSTERIA! Also, Pinky is now a girl and Sue is nowhere to be seen. That was a bit of a disappointment. Anyway, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures has nothing to do with any Pac-Man product before or since, so you need to wipe out those preconceived notions we all have about this iconic character before playing the game or watching the cartoon, lest you get grumpy old man syndrome. I think, because of the huge changes, adults will have a hard time getting into the cartoon (Which I admittedly haven’t seen) but kids will probably really like it, because they won’t understand why their parents are saying “Pac-Man and ghosts can’t be FRIENDS!” They’ll just like the CGI and stories being told.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a story to the video game version of Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures. The game assumes you have seen the entire first season of the cartoon, which is strange, as it hasn’t fully aired yet. There are references to things and events that obviously happened in the cartoon, but they are vaguely glossed over, leaving you to wonder what is going on. Apparently, in the cartoon, the classic ghosts start off as bad guys but do a face turn at some point. There’re also references to a “Temple of Slime,” and you even get a trophy for getting enough pellets to go there, even though you don’t actually go there when it triggers. Instead you go there almost a chapter and a half LATER. Strange, no? There’s just no real attempt at expository plot. You’re given the premise that Pac-Land is under attack, and then you play through thirty plus platforming levels without any real impetus other than that. There’s an opening cut scene, but that’s really about it. You get next to no story to start the game, as it assumes you know everything about a cartoon series that hasn’t been fully released yet, AND when you do get a cut scene in the game, it’s vague and nonsensical. For example, I was told about these balls I can charge that will take me to various temples. Okay, that’s straightforward. I needed to collect enough slime energy to charge these balls. However, you are never told how much slime you need to do this! You’ll just be playing a level and then a trophy will ding saying you gathered enough to go to “Temple X, Y or Z.” However, you won’t actually go there. You’ll just get a trophy. Bizarre. It’s also worth noting that you can easily and accidentally skip through the core cut scenes by touching a button on your controller, but you can’t skip the long in-level cut scenes where Pac-Man travels from one section to another. Such strange decisions storywise here. So yes, nothing about Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures will make you want to watch the cartoon, and at no point does it ever try to explain anything about that Pac-Man universe or give you anything close to a plot, other than “Go kill these ghosts as they are bad.” A real disappointment in this regard. Thankfully (and surprisingly) it is one of the few aspects of the game where I wasn’t pleasantly surprised.
Visually, Ghostly Adventures is… okay. It’s not going to blow you away with its graphics, and aside from the 720p high definition, the game could probably have been made last generation. There isn’t a lot of detail to backgrounds or character models, enemy ghosts are repeated constantly and it’s hard to judge depth on several platforming segments due to some design issues. Aside from that though, the game does look a lot like the cartoon, or at least what I’ve seen from clips and still shots. Kids and Pac-Man fans will be happy with the graphics, as they are serviceable, but don’t go into this thinking that the game is some project that blew all of its budget on the visuals. It’s okay looking, and I wouldn’t really expect more from a licensed platformer and you probably shouldn’t either.
In the audio department, the game has some fun background tracks to listen to. They go nicely with the levels and are fun to listen to while you jump around and eat ghosts, but they are not memorable or anything particularly impressive. I did love the sound effects though. The game combines modern noises and video game effects with a lot of the classic Pac-Man sounds of yore. You’ll hear familiar sounds, ranging from the original arcade cabinet down to the much maligned Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man. This is simply brilliant and a lot of fun. The game really pays tribute to the old Pac-Man products in subtle and wonderful ways. Then there is the voice acting. Now don’t get me wrong, the majority of voice actors do a good job. They aren’t phoning their lines in and they are the same actors from the cartoon itself, which is always a plus. I just really HATE the new Pac-Man voice. I keep expecting him to say “Radical!” and “Totally Tubular!”. He also sounds like Professor Farnworth’s clone from Futurama, which makes it all the weirder for me. Yes, I know I can’t have the 80s Pac-Man voice back (although he is still alive…) and he wouldn’t be a proper fit for the new cartoon AT ALL, but I just don’t like the new guy. It’s a personal preference though, so consider this last bit to be highly subjective.
Then we have the game play. As I mentioned at the beginning, I tend to hate 3D Platformers. The jumping bits make no sense to me, levels tend to be repetitive and boring, the camera angles are the worst in all of video gaming and more often than not, they suck pretty badly. So guess what – Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is actually a lot of fun and well designed. I KNOW, RIGHT? I was shocked. There are six chapters, each with their own set of levels. Sure, some of the levels within each chapter have some similar elements, but in truth, each level was noticeably different from the last and a lot of fun to play through. Sure there were some camera issues, and the only time I died was from the aforementioned problem or when the depth aspect of the game didn’t come off right and I messed up my jump, falling to my death instead of landing on a platform, but for the most part the game was exceptionally solid in terms of mechanics, level design and gameplay. I had a blast exploring each level, killing ghosts and collecting various items. In fact, at the end of each level, you get a one of four fruits. Collect enough of one fruit and an optional vehicle based mini-game opens up. Replay the level and you get an arcade token for… some reason.
Collecting is a big part of the game. You collection dots, aka slime energy, to open up temples. You earn trophies for these, but you don’t actually go to the temples when you have enough energy and there’s never a mention of how much you need. You collect coins for… some reason that is never explained and for a goal that is equally nebulous. You collect multi-colored globes as well. Get enough of these and your health raises. Again, the game never tells you how many you need. You just get a line of text after beating a level saying that your health has gone up. Okay, I guess, whatever. Thanks for the extra heart. Oddly enough, I never died from taking damage, only from jumps. Again, the game really is terrible at explaining things, not only from a story point of view, but also from a “Get X number of Y to do Z” which is something every platformer is supposed to (and should) do. I’m surprised this lack of explanation made it through quality control, and I never knew how much of something I needed and was always caught off guard when a trophy dinged, letting me know I achieved some goal I wasn’t aware I should be striving for.
Playing Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is simply enough. You go through the levels trying to get to the end of the course. You move via the analog stick, and you use three buttons – one for jumping, one for chomping ghosts and one for your special ability. The special ability changes based on what version of Pac-Man you are. The default is scaring ghosts so that they turn blue and run away ala the old power pellets of previous games. If you collect a berry (the power pellets of this game) you can take one of several forms. Fire Pac lets you throw fireballs. Ice Pac lets you throw ice balls. Metal Pac has a magnet ghost attractor for easier chomping. You can also turn into a chameleon with a tongue for swinging, a giant ball of rock for crushing and playing Marble Madness type levels, a bouncy ball and so on. There are a lot of variations, and levels are generally designed for one or two specific Pac-Man forms, which is what helps keep the levels so diversified. I really enjoyed my time with the game, in spite of the minor design flaws, and there’s a good chance that I will 100% this game from the amount of time I’m spending with it.
At the end of each chapter is a boss fight, but not much of one. The first boss in “Hedge Maze” died in a single hit. The key is to figure out the boss’ weak spot, then chomp it via button mashing. At least there’s something awaiting you at the end of each chapter though in terms of a climax.
In terms of replay value, you can go back through each level as often as you want, especially if you are trying to get everything unlocked and your Pac-Man’s health maxed out. You also have the unlockable vehicle based mini games that you can play in the game’s hub. There is also a four player competitive maze chase game, where you play as one of the four ghosts. There are eight different levels to choose, from and all options involve local splitscreen gaming rather than online. Unfortunately, the ghosts based multiplayer option is the weakest part of Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures. It’s too hard to see where you are, the camera angles are atrocious and it just isn’t very fun. There are too many power-ups, and oddly, Pac-Man is a lot faster than the ghosts, making it hard to catch him even when you’re right next to him. Still, it’s nice to see the game has packed in a lot of replay value to keep fans of the game coming back for more.
In terms of balance, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is top notch. The levels are challenging, but not frustrating, and really the biggest impediment to your progressing through the game comes from the weird depth perception issues the game suffers from. You’ll think you jumped far enough, but you haven’t. You think you’ll hit the button, but due to the depth issue, you’ll have just missed it somehow. Things like this will slow your progress or even kill you, but it’s not that big of a deal, as the game has checkpoints galore and extra lives are super easy to come by. You can find them randomly, by eating five scared ghosts in a row, or even trigger an unlimited lives trick in the school Hub. Levels are well designed for both the young new gamer who picks this up because they love the cartoon and for the hardened platformer fan who likes to explore and find hidden items or locations. Younger gamers can get through the game with lots of opportunities to make up for their lack of skill thanks to those copious amounts of extra lives and checkpoints, while veterans can challenge themselves by exploring or trying to 100% the game. I honestly think this is one of the more inviting platformers released in some time, especially in the 3D variety.
Originally is one of the weaker areas of Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventurers. It’s a pretty paint by numbers affair. There is some nice level design here, but honestly, you could swap out Pac-Man for Spyro, Crash Bandicoot, Blinx the Time Cat, James Pond, Boogerman or one of any other character, and it wouldn’t really change the game experience at all. You can definitely tell Ghostly Adventurers was heavily influenced by the PSX era of platformers. Again, I’m a big fan of the level design, but the game is painfully generic. That doesn’t make it bad. It just doesn’t make the game stand out from the pack (no I’m not going to do a pun there) unless you really were waiting for a Pac-Man based platformer.
So while the game isn’t perfect, I have had a hard time putting down Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures. I have both versions of Batman: Origins to play, but I’m playing this. That Destiny of Spirits closed beta? I’m playing this instead. My hope is to be completely done with this before WWE ’14 arrives, but even then, I may still be playing this instead. It’s simple, stupid fun without any stress or frustration. I’m surprised I’m enjoying a platformer this much, and doubly so that 2013 has given me TWO platformers I really like (this and Rayman Legends), but there it is. Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is surprisingly long too, especially if you’re replaying each level twice and trying to beat the mini-games, but you won’t notice how long you are at the controls. Instead it’ll just be a blur of fun.
So who will have fun with this game? Well, the weird use of Pac-Man might have purists refusing to touch it, but honestly, it’s a well made game and I enjoyed my time with it. Again, I usually hate platformers and I thought this was well worth experiencing. If you are a gamer that loved the old 32 bit era platformers, you’ll probably really get a kick out of this. If you’re a fan of the cartoon, you’ll probably like this too. Sure, most gamers will pass this by, especially since titles like WWE ’14, Assassin’s Creed IV and other games hit on the same day, but Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures may surprise you with how fun it is, and that MSRP of only $39.99 (Most new releases are twenty dollars more these days) makes it all the better.
So yeah, if you’re looking for something to play and you like platformers, you might really want to consider Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures. It’s light on story and originality, but it’s solidly built, fun to play and you’ll easily get your money’s worth out of this. It’s definitely going to be an under the radar release, which is a shame as it deserves to be noticed. Hopefully you’ll have as much fun with this game as I did.
Short Attention Span Summary
You probably aren’t expect a platformer based off a cartoon and/or featuring Pac-Man to be any good, but Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures will surprise you. Sure, there is little to no story and the game is very reminiscent of 90s 3D platformers, but it’s in the same vein as the really good ones from that era. The game is pretty inviting to players of all skill levels and experiences, and while the graphics are nothing to write home about, the level design is top notch. While the game won’t be considered THE BEST PLATFORMER EVER by anyone, this under the radar budget release will pleasantly surprise most of you who pick it up. It’s also twenty dollars less than most new releases, so you’ll get a fun game and for a third less to boot!