Solid gameplay with fun power-ups and good level design, $40 price tag, kid friendly without skimping on quality game design
Demands some familiarity with the show, presentation doesn't live up to the source material, could use a little more polish
Did you know that Pac-Man has been turned into a computer animated television show for children?
Well, he apparently has, and furthermore, they have gone ahead and made a game based on that show, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures for Wii U. So, what we have here is a video game based on a television show based on a video game– how wonderfully meta!
Considering how restrictive the yellow-circle-being-chased-by-ghosts-through-mazes genre is from a gameplay and storytelling perspective, it should come as little surprise that Namco Bandai chose to abandon the franchise’s arcade roots in favor of the tried and true action platformer genre. I also imagine few will be shocked by how the process of transforming Pac-Man into a cartoon mascot meant to appeal to contemporary youth has resulted in dramatically different characters and worlds. You might recognize some of the names and images, but by no means is this the Pac-Man tens of millions of gamers around the world have known for decades.
I must admit that Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures did something to me I never would have expected from a Pac-Man game; it confused me with its story. Right off the bat I’m told that Betrayus is up to his usual shenanigans and sending an army of ghosts to wreak havoc in Pac-World, and its up to Pac-Man to save the day, with a little help from his friends Spiral and Cyli. Awesome! Now, aside from Pac-Man, please tell me who these people are. And then I’m told that Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde, the ghosts that have been locked in mortal combat with Pac-Man since the original arcade game, are now the eponymous hero’s allies.
At this point I realized I was completely lost and actually took some time away from the game to watch a few episodes of the new cartoon and, I must admit, what I saw was pretty good. The show has fantastic animation and there were more than a few decent laughs; it isn’t one of those rare “kids” shows that manages to appeal to adults just as well as children, but there is much, much worse out there for children. This isn’t a review of the show, of course, but this little excursion did have a point– when making a game based on a classic franchise, you shouldn’t make familiarity with a current TV show necessary for a basic understanding of your plot and characters. Games based on existing properties should reward the die hard fans with some inside jokes and moments of fan service, but they also need to make it accessible for newcomers, especially when there are people out there who might be drawn to the game thanks to a nostalgic love of the franchise from years ago.
It might seem like I’m being really down on Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures simply because I never knew its source material existed until a few days ago, but it turns out that this early frustration doesn’t do too much to harm the overall experience because the game itself is actually surprisingly good. Pac-Man really never reaches too far in terms of sheer ambition, but at the very least it is obvious that the developers were making a concerted effort to create a good licensed game to appeal to kids who love the TV show. While old fogies like me might initially be taken aback by the sacrilege of Pac-Man partnering with the ghosts who have been trying to kill him since the eighties, kids will no doubt be able to slip into the game as though it were just another episode of the show and enjoy a game that isn’t shamelessly exploiting their fandom for profit or insulting their intelligence with poor game design.
As I mentioned earlier, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is an action platformer, a genre that has long been the go-to choice for just about every countless video game and cartoon mascot. This particular example predictably hits a lot of the regular beats: themed level based on stuff like fire and ice, gameplay altering power-ups, occasional boss battles, plenty of collectibles, simple puzzle solving, and even a little bit of combat to earn that fantastic “Cartoon Violence” warning on the ESRB rating. Thankfully, Pac-Man also happens to do all of these pretty well. The power-ups play a major role throughout the game as certain enemies can only be beaten by Pac-Man’s fire or ice abilities, and many platforming sections require mastery over powers like Pac’Man’s abilities to inflate like a balloon or turn into a giant stone ball that requires a rewarding amount of skill to roll through some very well designed sections. If there is one complaint to be made about these power-ups, it’s that some are woefully underutilized. The game’s handful of boss fights are also surprisingly well executed as they find clever ways to use both Pac-Man’s regular skill set and the aforementioned power-ups, though the quality of these fights are generally hampered by their brevity, especially the final boss, which is way too short and easy.
Before I start making Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures sound like game of the year material, there are more than few issues that hold it back, first and most obvious among them is a general lack of ambition. While the developers put in the effort to make this game noticeably better than most titles based on a childrens’ TV show, they weren’t exactly reaching for the stars; Mario Galaxy this is not. Everything in this game has been done before and it generally does it well though there are still a few problems rooted in what can be best described as a need for an extra layer of polish. Pac-Man’s primary attack is lunging bite that you can link from ghost to ghost, thus sending Pac-Man soaring across the screen as he devours his prey… before going over the edge of the platform and falling to his death. This is a product of an automatic lock-on mechanic that is occasionally overeager and, just as frequently, completely useless as it refuses to acknowledge the ghost directly in front of Pac-Man. Platforming sometimes feels a little off as well thanks to a random moment where the camera just doesn’t quite cooperate, or what appears to be a safe landing apparently doesn’t quite connect, once again sending Pac-Man in the abyss. These problems are not ever present, but they rear their ugly head from time to time and cause enough cheap deaths to detract from the experience as a whole.
And then we reach the portion of the review where we talk about the mediocrity that is this game’s presentation. Visually, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures captures the basic look of the show but doesn’t come close to matching the frenetic energy and overall quality of the show which, as I stated earlier, is absolutely gorgeous. The music, aside from the great title screen track, is barely worth noting; thus, this is the only time I will mention it. Thankfully, the voice acting is good and is very true to the show, but the story and writing are actually rather weak and don’t really take advantage of the characters and world from the show. In other words, the game doesn’t really bother to explain the concept of the show to those unfamiliar with it, but it also fails to take full advantage of the show to reward the fandom of those who love it. I’ve played some licensed games that are saved almost completely by their massive amounts of fan service, but this is the polar opposite; Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures manages to be a decent game by actually delivering pretty good gameplay with surprisingly little reliance on references to the show.
Something that is definitely worth considering before deciding to buy Pac-Man’s latest is the actual value of the game. The single-player adventure is of a fairly typical length; I got through it in about six hours, but I can see children less experienced with platformers finding a bit more challenge and thus taking a few more hours. As for other content, playing through the game unlocks four arcade style minigames– a couple of which bear more than a passing resemblance to some arcade classics– that offer significantly different gameplay experiences from the normal single-player game. These minigames probably won’t warrant a great deal of attention from most gamers, but they still remain a nice addition that adds a bit of variety. Local multiplayer is also supported in a rather clever twist on the original Pac-Man: up to four players get to play together in as ghosts to compete and/or cooperate as they attempt to take out an AI controlled Pac-Man. This is definitely an interesting idea, but it is hampered by Pac-Man’s questionable AI, which occasionally made him suicidal or had him getting stuck on a wall. However, there is one more aspect that defines this game’s value– its actual price. Namco Bandai knows that Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is not an AAA game and is actually charging gamers accordingly, $40 instead of the usual $60. Why can’t more companies do this?
Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventure manages to succeed where so many games based on kids’ TV shows fail; it actively delivers solid gameplay experiences instead of just displaying a collection of familiar sights and sounds to take advantage of children and the parents who want to keep them entertained. Of course this isn’t to say that this game is amazing, but I can’t help but appreciate a game that delivers a solid experience with no pretension of trying to be something that it isn’t or charging more than what it’s worth. Old-school Pac-Man fans won’t really recognize too much in this latest iteration of the classic character, and “hardcore” gamers won’t find a great deal of challenge or depth, but it really should be a great game for fans of the show and younger kids.
Oh, and before I forget, I don’t think the original Pac-Man is included anywhere in the game, which is kind of a weird omission.
Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.