Although the franchise has seen better years in terms of popularity, there are very few people who can hear the words 'Pac-Man' and not instantly call up a memory or two of seeing the classic arcade game in action. The very definition of 'money-gobbler,' Namco's unofficial mascot exploded onto the scene in 1980 and stole the hearts and wallets of the masses, spawning a vast array of merchandise and sequels. Over time, the pellet eater's popularity waned, and even his first jump into 3D with a spherical character redesign did little to reinvigorate the series. On the wake of Pac's 30th anniversary in 2010, Namco commissioned a whole new computer-animated television show that aimed to capture the attention of younger minds with tales of Pac-Man's battles against the sinister ghost Betrayus. As such, a game adaptation was also commissioned, and in late 2013, it arrived on the Wii U scene. Is Pac's latest maze a labyrinth of deceit, or a network of beauty?
Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures closely follows the events of the television show, as players guide the Yellow One through multiple worlds to stop the threat of the rogue ghost Betrayus, and regain the stolen Frigigitator invention. The game is visually close to the show, with equally sufficient voice acting, and child-friendly gags and one-liners. There are a vast array of tributes to the Pac's legacy, with level layouts, ghost enemies and abilities - not to mention sound effects and tunes straight out of the original - making Ghostly Adventures a nifty nostalgia trip for long-time fans, and a delightful visit for the adolescent audience of the show.
The game itself is a 3D platformer, with a level-by-level progression system. With the choice of essentially any control method the Wii U can support sans the solo Wii Remote, but including full off-screen play, players bring Pac through six worlds of varying types and difficulties, taking on obstacles and bosses along the way. Levels map a trail of pellets to collect and follow, leaving enough room for exploration, but ensuring players don't get lost easily. Along the way, Coins and Health Bar Boosters can be found, that reward going off the beaten track a bit. Powers also make an appearance through Power Pellets that bestow Pac-Man with an array of abilities, including Fire and Ice, Bouncing Ball, and even a Rolling Boulder skill that will bring to mind the DS game Pac 'n Roll, making for some good level variety.
Whichever control option is opted for, the layout is always fairly simple; the left analogue stick for movement, A to jump, and the remaining B, X and Y dependent on the current power ability, but usually for scaring and eating ghosts. The right analogue stick, or D-pad on the Wii Remote, takes care of the camera, but here is where the game falters, in that the in-game perspective is difficult to handle. Ghostly Adventures lacks an auto-centre function, so the camera usually needs to be positioned manually, and this can get slightly aggravating with off-screen foes that need to be adjusted to be able to see at times. This isn't a deal breaker for the game, but when compared to other notable 3D platformers, it is a standout issue.
Ghostly Adventures' adaptation nature also presents another slight issue, in that it is focused on its target audience a little too intently, giving the younger players a good starting point in the roaming platformer genre, but leaving long-time fans and experienced players with a game that can be too straightforward and easy, even with a considerable amount of collectables. Extra lives are very generous, and there are no difficulty levels to speak of - said hardship being mostly with the camera and the resulting cheap deaths.
The multiplayer mode is one to mention, however. Taking a new spin on the classic Pac-Man formula, one to four players can each take control of a ghost and hunt down the Pellet Chomper, making use of the map and items along the way. With the right player setup, this mode has potential for groups, but its offline status bars it from wider appeal.
Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures doesn't seek to break new ground or convert Pac-rejecters to the ways of pellet eating, but it does a commendable job of providing fans of the show with fun new material, and many older references for the veteran crowd. More difficult stages and a much better camera would have put the Pac in a better position to challenge Mario, but his resulting venture is a considerable option for new gamers.