As far back as I can remember, even in the original championship series spin-off, Pac-Man has always been about collecting the dots, traversing the mazes masterfully, avoiding the four infamous ghosts, and only attacking when Pac-Man was powered up by the power pellets he consumed. To me this flagship formula in it's simplest, and early championship edition form was what Pac-Man was meant to be. It's what it was from the start. An arcade style experience centered around high scores, and only complicated by the mazes themselves as well as the ghosts that inhabited said mazes. In this latest installment of the championship series this flagship formula was turned upside-down. Topsy-turvy, if you will. By that I mean Pac-Man, the protagonist of the game, is no longer really all that troubled by the presence of the ghostly inhabitants of the mazes he takes on, but is instead challenged by the mechanics that add several extra options for capitalizing on the ghost chains which were the main scoring features within the original championship edition. At base level the game looks, and reacts as it did in it's former championship glory, but over-complicates things at the same time. The biggest of differences in regards to this change, the ones causing the fuss, being the change with the effect of the bombs, the ghosts' behavior in general, the addition of a boss inclusive adventure mode, and the ability to basically bully the ghosts and their trains out of your way with little repercussion.
Visually, "Pac-Man Championship Edition 2" is a highly upgraded experience. There's no denying that. There are new 3D special effects added in the form of ghost train consumption animations, background imagery, and boss battle effects that are completely new to the series. It's definitely got a lot of flash to it, and substance if you add in the complex array of mechanics. It's only downfall with said flash though is that it can be rather difficult on the eyes. Even for someone not prone to seizures. I think in some regards the visuals are a bit too busy as the onscreen action is still as fast paced as it was. Thus causing the slow background animations to mix rather poorly with what's happening in the current maze situation. That along with the bumpy grind through of maze gameplay kind of overdoes what was good about the franchise's simplistic nature. Thankfully there is a saving grace in at least some portions of the game though, and those offerings play out in the game's two base modes ...
From the title screen forward it is apparent that things have been streamlined, and scaled down from the first championship edition, and the DX+ edition thereafter. It lacks the detailed, and visually pleasing presentation from before, and keeps menu navigation very simple. Speaking of menus you have three options (outside of the actual OPTIONS) menu with which to hone your skills, and learn the ropes of the game. First off is the "Tutorial" which contains all the basic mechanics from before as well as the newer mechanics such as braking (braking), sparking (speeding up against walls), things tied to ghost dealings, and fruit/power pellet functions. The hands-on tutorial itself is good up until you reach the "Sparking" explanation in which things become unnecessarily frustrating. The problems being the extreme layout of the maze (namely the steps), and the time limit with which you have to use the sparking mechanic to chase down the escaping fruit. I personally believe that making a tutorial frustrating is counter productive in that it turns the player away from tutorial completion, and in this case it's exactly what it did for me. I stopped playing the tutorial at 72% completion.
Beyond the tutorial there are two different modes of play to engage in. The first one known as, "Time Attack" is as the first championship edition was. In it you'll be playing through, and unlocking various difficulties of core maze types (Championship, Hexagon, Jump, Dungeon ...). These difficulties include a Practice, Extreme, Regular, and Single Train listing. The Practice, Extreme, and Regular difficulties all incorporate the new and base mechanics, but do so with multiple trains of ghosts trailing you as you try to level up a meter to a point that a fruit appears. A fruit which once collected will take you to a new maze layout in 3D transition fashion where you rinse, and repeat the same objective until time runs out. In the Single Train difficulties it's as it sounds. You will be trailed by a single ghost train as you go about collecting pellets, and fruits until your time limit has come to a close. In all difficulty levels (Outside of Practice which is Unlimited) you will be given a set amount of lives with which to complete the objectives as well as a set amount of "Jump Bombs". As I said in the intro paragraph the bombs in this game take on a completely different role than in the first game. By using a bomb you will basically be warped back to the starting point of the maze out of harm's way. This way it doesn't really screw up the ghost trains like the bombs in the original game used to.
Speaking of ghosts, and their trains you'll find that the ghosts' role in the game is a little less aggressive in a sort of timid till provoked sort of way. By that I mean if you keep ramming your Pac-Man into a ghost they will eventually become angered. While this angered effect is immediate the ghost will briefly pop off screen, and reset it's position on the maze giving you a proper chance to get out of the path of it's wrath. You can actually anger multiple ghost in the stages/levels that aren't single train focused, so do be careful. Doing so would make escape, and objective pursuit all the more difficult. That having been said you can get away with spacing out physical contact with the ghosts, but you have to properly space out said bumping lest you invoke their wrath. Apart from these main ghosts of the game the minions, or sleeping ghosts also return to effectively add to the length of the train trailing behind the ghost. By passing close to them or bumping into these minions they will awake, and become a part of the ghost's train. Once you get to a part in the stage where the fruits are replaced by a power pellet you can collect the power pellet, and devour the entire train of ghosts within the given effect time limit. A time limit which is displayed in depleting pie graph form at the center of the maze.
As with the original championship edition you can also tweak the individual graphic settings before you start your stage/level playthrough. These options include the former maze graphics, character graphics, and BGM. New to the mix is the BG, or background image that is done up on a 3D presentation. You can set these options to auto, and let the variables be randomly selected by the computer, or you can choose individually which setting you'd like for each option. The graphic styles include, but are not limited to 2D retro, stone-like, and even pixels. I think you can even choose the color palette for it all, if I'm not mistaken.
Once you've played through enough of "Time Attack" to unlock "Arcade Mode" you will be able to enjoy the mission based levels of arcade along with the boss battles that were hinted at early on in the game's tutorial. In each given level of arcade you'll find ten sub-levels that each have three associated stars. These stars represent the three difficulties (Regular, Extreme, Pro?), and will each award you a single golden star for completion. The mission objectives in each do vary, but in most cases you'll be collecting fruit in the same manner as before within a set time limit. The catch is to get the fruit you MUST complete the requirements. These requirements range from simply collecting dots to build up the fruit meter to chomping down all ghost trains after collecting a power pellet. To get to the locked boss at the end you must complete all ten sub-levels in at least the Regular difficulty. The boss stage like the rest of the sub-levels/stages varies according to chosen difficulty though, and in completing all difficulties for each sub-level it will grant you access to a more difficult version of the boss.
To defeat a boss in arcade you will have to dodge the gigantic ghostly monstrosity as it hovers about angering all the ghosts that come in contact with it. While dodging this madness, and virtual insanity you will have to collect dots, and fruits in order to get to the power pellet which will trigger an animation that delivers the fatal hit to the boss in question. Once you obtain the power pellet a 3D/2D animation plays out outside of the maze environment sealing the deal on your victory.
Thus is "Pac-Man Championship Edition 2" in a nutshell ...
The Verdict ...
Even with all these new mechanics additions, new visuals, and different focuses I can't help but feel the fans of the original championship edition were short changed. Sure, Bandai Namco added in some extra flash, and substance, but the mode, and stage offerings seem less in number than what I recall from championship edition version one. In some ways I also feel as if the new mechanics overly complicated things. In the "Jump" levels in particular, where portals connected detached areas of the maze, and acted as a warp for Pac-Man things got sort of crazy. I ended up losing track of my Pac-Man on numerous occasions as the increasing speed made the jump navigation more difficult to deal with. It definitely messes with the old eyes. Other than that the game isn't a total bust. It just isn't what I expected as a fan of the original though. I'm honestly kind of disappointed with Pac-Man being able to bully his way through ghosts, and the ghosts themselves taking on a different role in gameplay. It's game changer for certain, and one that may or may not appeal to you.