Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures wasn’t exactly visually demanding on consoles, so it comes as a surprise that Namco Bandai decided to design a whole new game for the 3DS. It wouldn’t have looked as good as that version, but the portable certainly could have handled its 3D cartoony graphics without much difficulty. Perhaps it was that game’s surprising length which forbid it, but in any case, we now have two entirely different games based on the recently-debuted kids television show. While the console version is a throwback to PS1-era style platformers, the handheld version is a throwback to 2D SNES-era platformers. Can Pac-Man successfully ape two old school genres on different platforms?
There’s a trouble afoot in PacWorld, but what that is largely unknown. Not because there’s some unseen villlan pulling the strings, but because the plot doesn’t make much sense. There’s very little of it and it amounts to some guy named Betrayus throwing PacWorld into turmoil, so the president turns to Pac-Man to restore balance before he heads to Pac-It-In Burger for a Double Double Animal Style. He’s joined by Cyli and Spiral on his adventure, both with special vehicles to assist Pac. Unlike the console version, the dialogue is not voiced but instead represented by a slight yelp from the character before speaking.
The gameplay is that of a fairly traditional 2D platformer, borrowing elements from multiple games. Platforms must be jumped, ghosts must be eaten and hooks must be swung between. There are four special Pac-Man abilities that can be utilized including Fire Pac, Ice Pac, Chameleon Pac and Steel Pac. This makes it fall short of the console versions in ability variety, but a few of the others are sandwiched in special events in a few stages. The game is boring at first, simply featuring jumping between platforms and eating ghosts, but things get more interesting as it progresses and more abilities are unlocked. Later stages require all of the abilities to be used to progress, which adds an interesting dynamic. It also gets quite difficult, but a lot of the difficulty comes via instant death from falling off platforms and an unfair continue system. Each level begins with three lives and additional ones can be earned by eating a hundred pellets. While there’s multiple checkpoints strewn throughout for respawning after dying, losing every life results in an instant game over and the level must be restarted from scratch. That’s a fine system for games that either give you a slightly more reasonable amount of continues or have shorter levels, but the levels here are long. Almost every one of my game overs happened at an end boss, which felt unfair as it’s not rare to reach them with just a single remaining life.
Unfortunately, level length isn’t representative of overall length. There are eight levels in all, each taking place in a different world including City, Time Tunnel, Temple of Slime and Above the Clouds. Clearing all seven unlocks the final stage which takes place in the Netherworld. While each level can take a little while to complete, most of that comes from having to restart them from the beginning. Clearing a level on the first playthrough could probably be done in under twenty minutes, so there’s really not a lot of content here. I completed it in under five hours which included having to replay almost whole levels at least five times, so this game is way too short even for awful players. Most of the stages reuse assets from the console game, which is fine if not impressive, but the final stage recycles boss battles from the previous ones. Not only has this notion always felt lazy, but it makes the final level quite frustrating as getting a game over forces you to beat up to four bosses again. There is replay value with collectibles including Graphic Pieces and Berry Fertilizer, but it’s hard to have any desire to replay levels after being forced to do whilst trying to complete it.
The console version of Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures was one of the biggest surprises of the year, but the portable incarnation feels like what you’d expect from a tie-in of a game adaption of a TV show adaption of a game. It’s enjoyable when it fires on all cylinders, but having to replay whole sections is tedious enough that it quickly wears out its welcome. The detrimental problem here, however, is its length. It can easily be completed in under five hours (well under for naturally gifted players) and there’s little motivation to replay it once it is. There’s fun to be had here for fans of the show and old school platforming, but considering its debut price is the same as the vastly superior console version, there’s simply not much of a reason to purchase it.
Version Reviewed: 3DS