So young, yet so old.
Y’know, I spent a lot of my childhood trying to convince people I knew that video games weren’t just for kids, or “just for (insert group here),” and now the biggest icon of the industry—the character that caused a fever—Pac-Man has been reverted to a series of kids platformers. They’re not bad platformers, but even still, he’s a chompy shell of his maze-manipulating history. Good thing we got Pac-Man Championship Edition in recent years as well; otherwise, I’d be crazy-pants right now.
In Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2, along with his friends, Pac-Man and company are out to find Pac’s parents who have been kidnapped by the do-badders Apex and Betrayus. (He’s Mr. President’s brother… get it? Betray-us? Yeah, you get it.) Through the flood of ever-present ghosts—save the four he originally had problems with, but now apparently attends the same high school with (and one has a crush on him)—he’ll fight to get his family back together. An arrangement of unique Power Pellets that change him into things like Ball Pac and Metal Pac helps him to maneuver around tough spaces, and change up the play on the fly, both in how to parkour through environments and fight ghosts across the various worlds.
What’s brought over from the first game is still my biggest complaint: the under-whelming way in which every level seems to end. Rarely does anything end with a bang… with only a few bosses (or boss-like characters beaten in one attack) makes every level completion feel like a hollow victory. There’s little satisfaction with eating one somewhat-larger-than-normal ghost in a two-attack sequence. Occasionally that would be fine—reach the next space, get closer to the end goal—but almost every level feels less like an accomplishment and more like a minor step forward. In that fashion, it’s actually more like two difficulty steps backward.
When the bosses do appear, they’re by and large fun encounters. Simple and easy to figure out, sure, but satisfying when they’re either blown or slurped up. Like the Pacoctopus, a carnival ride brought to life to attack the yellow chomper. It’s a tricky bit of timing jumps just right (with floaty underwater jumps) and once it’s figured out, it’s fun to put into practice. With everything looking great, with small details and faces that pop on everything that moves, those battles are even more satisfying.
Speaking of steps backward, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of reasons for the appearance of invisible walls, or lack thereof, throughout each space. If there was a more uniform set, I would probably be somewhat annoyed by that, but here I never really know when I might get caught between a bush and a wall, or if I'll just fall to my doom, especially when it appears as though I can hop back to a previous space to grab a dot I may have missed, only to be blocked from what appears to be an achievable distance. It feels overly restrictive, as if a player can’t be trusted to explore “properly” to max out a level they’re in.
As Pac-Man’s friends Cyli and Spiral are in on the fighting as well, there are a few stages where players take control of a flying ship navigating between worlds or around the city, shooting at ghosts and blowing up in-the-way debris. Even with the 3D function on, it’s difficult to get used to where the ship is in relation to the rest of what’s happening onscreen, making it less “a change of pace” and more a bad Star Fox ripoff. Another is shooting down a tube, a la Sonic 2's halfpipe bonus stage, which is faster than a spaceship (somehow) but just as awkward in terms of depth and playability. It's a minor mandatory detraction to the meat and potatoes gameplay that brings all the speed of a mud-covered Slip 'N Slide.
All of the powers from the previous game are here, like Lizard Pac’s tongue for swinging from pole to pole across infinite pits and Metal Pac’s magnetic boots to do some upside-down platforming, and seem to be better utilized this time. They’re necessary, yes, but they actually feel more useful than tacked on. It’s nice to see every level is designed for rudimentary exploring… may not be particularly deep, but it’s definitely a start, even if it is interrupted sometimes by those damn invisible walls.
I know it’s designed for kids, hence the lack of difficulty, but it does come across better this time than it previously had. There are still a million or so ghosts to be eaten—and without the need of Power Pellets at all—so it’s still an odd take on the Pac-Man franchise, but for a kid’s platformer it’s definitely playable. And on the 3DS, it’s actually a better experience due to the short length of the levels, so it’s a great “pick up and go” game for the little ones while keeping the high level of visual quality and smooth animation. I hope Pac hasn’t forgotten about his little one, all conceived out of wedlock like it was. At least try to set a good example for the young, because you’re already a massive jaundiced head with a bad case of pica.
Review based on and applicable for 3DS version. Also available on PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U.