Top critical review
26 people found this helpful
on November 5, 2013
Platformers have never quite been the same since the end of the PS2 era. It's a genre that has mainly fallen into the hands of various indie developers, who seem to try and reinvent the wheel several times with each passing year. Sure, we'll get our Marios and Donkey Kongs, but for the most part, platformers have become an increasingly less marketable genre. Heck, even the latest Banjo game had the formerly lovable mascot driving Lego-esque vehicles. As a whole, the market has become incredibly cynical, and not open to games that, well, feel like games, and most of the AAA platformers we do get are stale or outright bad, with the exception of most Nintendo products.
Which brings me to Namco, who has had a very similar struggle to reinvent Pac-Man, its flagship character for over 30 years. You name the genre, there's been a game with his bright, rounded face on the cover. Yet, with the exception of a string of great 3D platformers about a decade ago, and some wonderfully trippy Championship Edition entries, the old dog has relied mainly on ports and retreads to survive, while his wife has been a permanent fixture in bowling alleys, laundromats, and bars the world over (along with Galaga, of course.)
So it's fitting then, that these two struggles collide headfirst in "Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures", an attempt to reboot the character inside of a 3D platformer. The result is a refreshingly uncynical romp that hearkens back to the early 2000's, when a game didn't have to do anything more than be a game. Surprisingly, in today's cutthroat world of people criticizing games for not having enough "emotion", this carefree formula delivers in spades.
There's not much here in the way of narrative, but for formality's sake, here's the basic set-up. Pac-Man is a student in a futuristic city, which is suddenly set upon by ghosts led by the evil Betrayus. After surviving the initial onslaught of them, however, he discovers that his two best friends have been kidnapped, and that the villain has also taken a volatile device known as the Fridgidigitator. That's pretty much it, but honestly, you're not left wanting for much more than that. The dialogue is cute and even charmingly clever at times, like some of the better Saturday morning cartoons out there. But then again, nobody's necessarily playing a Pac-Man game for the plot.
So that leaves us with what really drives a game in this series, and that is the gameplay itself. And even though I can't believe the words being typed right now, it must be stated that this game is absolutely wonderful on that front. This is one of the rare modern, 3D platformers that succeeds on almost every conceivable level at being a fun, engaging, and progressively challenging little adventure. The controls are smooth throughout, ensuring that every life lost feels like the fault of the player, and not of faulty development. Movement is incredibly fluid, with Pac-Man himself having jumps that have a satisfying weight yet forgiving float to them, and a brisk running pace that finds that nice balance between a sprint and a jog. Whether they're outrunning a dragon's deadly fire blasts in a cavern, or jumping between disappearing platforms above a city, players can count on the tight controls to carry them through their adventures. Impressively, that carries over to the combat, which can be a messy affair in most platformers. Here, though, it's kept pretty simple, and plays out like a pared-down version of the "Batman" Arkham series' system of melee combat; Pac-Man's basic attack is a chomp, which can be chained between each enemy and lead to combos that allow him to activate a special "scare" move. Everything here is simple, but it works exactly how it should, which is more than can be said for a lot of games these days, regardless of the genre.
Namco-Bandai went the extra mile, though, and added in an element that could have either made the game or broken it, and it's pleasing to say that the former occurred. The power-ups in "Ghostly Adventures" are a sheer delight, and elevate the game to a level that's head and shoulders above the competition. None of them feel gimmicky or tacky in the slightest, each of them contributing something to the wide variety of worlds. Obstructed by a lava geyser? Freeze it as Ice-Pac, then use it to hop to the next area. Want to bounce between a maze of vertical walls? Turn into Rubber-Pac and bounce away. The other power-ups are just as fun, and allow to do everything from shoot elemental blasts, magnetize yourself to metal surfaces, or turn into the Pac-Man equivalent of a Katamari ball, except with more destruction and less collecting stuff. These are all very charming little abilities, and add an extra layer of depth to the game overall, making it one with more variety than others out there.
Altogether, the game really plays like a dream. Levels are not too long or too short, for the most part, and considering you'll occasionally need to replay one or two to progress, which is one of my only gripes, that's a godsend. The boss fights are all very creative and fun to battle, and never feel like something to dread. And to top it all off, there are things to break up the platforming, like lava-surfing and sliding down icy passages. To be quite honest, this game comes at a funny time, because almost every single complaint I had about the recent "Sonic Lost World" is completely inverted in "Ghostly Adventures." Things I hated in that game are things I love about this one, due to the fact that they are done right here, and it never feels like the game is trying to be something it's not, which is an unlikely occurrence into today's marketplace.
Now, it seems that the developer did not necessarily have a huge vote of confidence in this game, which is probably why the graphics are a bit on the lower budgeted side. It's certainly not an ugly game, but some textures are kind of jagged and flat, and don't really pop out like other games today. Some levels certainly look better than others, though, and so it's kind of a mixed bag in the end. What's not mixed, though, is the creativity present in each level, which makes up for the lack of graphical prowess. Environments are widely varied, even within worlds that have specific designations like fire or ice. Even the more dark, murky levels are alive with colors and clever visuals which lend a fun, snappy vibe to the entire experience. So while these are certainly not the best graphics you're going to see in a game this year, they may very well be some of the more colorful, which definitely works for what kind of the developers were trying to make.
The music and voice acting in this game might be pretty divisive for some. True, the tracks are somewhat endearing, and certainly fit the mood of each level. However, they're not necessarily the most memorable pieces, and it's a real pity that most of the incredibly fun boss and mini-boss encounters don't have tracks of their own. As far as the voice acting goes, I personally find it to be rather adorable and endearing, with each character having a defined attitude and snap. Pac-Man himself is a fun little guy, constantly making puns which are so terrible that you may wince, but are ultimately going to make you laugh out loud. Some may be put off by it sounding exactly like a kids' cartoon, right down to how simplistic the story-telling and cutscenes are, but it didn't damage my experience at all. In fact, it lent a little something to the overall tone that struck a chord.
That tone is one found in many platformers of yesteryear, from "Crash Bandicoot" to "Tak and the Power of Juju" to, more obviously, "Pac-Man World 2." This game shows a remarkable amount of restraint, like those games, and never tries to be something it's not. There are no gimmicks or marketing ploys here, only gameplay and funny, pithy little story that simply serves the purpose of pulling you from one level to the next. Furthermore, there are no attempts here to reinvent platformers, or some pretentious drivel like that. Instead of buying a new car, Namco-Bandai refurbished the parts and gave it a new paint job. That is to say, they took an established, classic formula, and managed to do in a way that feels truly sincere.
Sure, there are some trivial little bits, like arcade games in which Pac-Man pilots little vehicles, or a miniscule hub world that allows players to interact with the denizens of the game. Putting those insignificant things aside, however, players are given a solid core game that is fun and fresh enough to stand on its own, to the point where I found myself playing bonus levels simply for the sake of experiencing more of what it had to offer.
"Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures" is precisely what the doctor ordered for the troubled 3D platformer genre, having solid gameplay enhanced by fun power-ups, varied levels, and an environment of innocent fun that feels alien in today's cutthroat world of competing military shooters, sandbox games and the like. Sometimes, it doesn't hurt for a game to try nothing more than being a game, and that is precisely what Namco Bandai has done here.