At its core, Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 is still Pac-Man. You still run around a maze eating dots, and when you eat a power pellet, it’s time to go to town on some ghosts. But the Championship series tinkers with everything else core to the experience, modernizing the game to fit current standards of arcade fun. Championship Edition 2 further messes with the Pac-Man formula, modernizing the series yet again while proving its timelessness.
The biggest difference this time is speed. In Championship Edition 2, Pac-Man is less the happy-go-lucky puck you remember and more a bullet train of dot and ghost destruction. The game speed on each of the 10 courses starts slow, but ramps up to the point where just making a turn on time is a challenge as the course changes every time you eat a fruit. The best path might literally be laid out in front of you, since early portions of the map have only one string of dots to eat, but making sure you follow it (or find your own, better path) is the fun part.
Championship Edition 2 builds on its predecessor in a number of smart ways. In DX, sleeping ghosts are strewn around the course, and when you wake them up, they follow you until you eat a power pellet, at which you point turn around and eat several of them at once. It’s an incredible feeling, but Championship Edition 2 doesn’t hand it to you on a silver platter. Instead, those enormous ghost trains scatter when you eat a power pellet, and you have to outmaneuver them.
As a reward for your hard work, when you eat the first ghost in a train, the view switches to an isometric perspective, giving you a more dramatic look at your ghost buffet. When you eat the last one left on a portion of the map, Pac-Man flies off the level as he eats the spiral of ghosts in the sky. It’s a ridiculous, amazing moment you have to see for yourself.
Championship Edition 2 makes lots of other minor changes, almost all of them for the better. Bombs are no longer a get-out-of-jail free card, the slow-mo close-up that happens when you got near a ghost in DX has been replaced by the ability to brake whenever you like. You can run into ghosts twice before they turn angry and go after you; to compensate, sleeping ghosts attach themselves to active ones instead of following behind you, making them larger obstacles. The overall speed is faster, too. All these changes make it harder and more intense. In my best moments with Championship Edition 2, I feel like I’m just barely in control of the world’s fastest ground vehicle, and its name is Pac-Man.
The game also gives you a few different ways to play with these changes. You can go for high scores in the main Score Attack mode, or you can practice on a course whenever you like for fun. Even without the external motivation to accomplish a task, running around these mazes is still a fun, frantic experience.
You can also test your skill the Adventure mode, which tests your skill by having you complete challenges under a strict time limit. Adventure also adds boss levels, which have an enormous ghost made up of dozens of other ghosts floating behind the course at all times. These ghosts collide with the course as you play, angering every ghost and making things more difficult for you. When you finally get to the single power pellet at the end of the stage, Pac-Man becomes an army of Pac-Men, which then devours the dozens of ghosts that comprise the big one.
Each trial has three difficulties, and depending on which you choose, you’ll get between one and three stars. In order to unlock each boss level and proceed to the next set of trials, you have to get a certain number of stars to unlock more trials. This isn’t really a problem until you have to unlock the final boss level, which requires you to be finish every trial in the game on Pro difficulty. This turns the game into a chore, since at the point you’re playing to accomplish a set goal that might be out of your reach instead of aiming for a high score. If running trials over and over again doesn’t sound like fun, you can always hop back into the score-based mode.
Pac-Man Championship 2 is an outstanding example of a franchise reinventing itself. Bandai Namco adds just enough twists on Pac-Man to make it fresh for modern audiences while making sure the game is still Pac-Man, making for one of the best arcade-style games in recent years. When we talk about how so many franchises mine our nostalgia instead of trying something new, it’s because games like Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 prove that with some revamping, our old favorites can be timeless.
This review pertains to the PC version. It also appears on PlayStation 4 and PC.