Developer: Monkey Bar Games
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
# of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: E10+ (Everyone 10+)
Score: B (80%)
If you’re one of those gamers who demands innovation in your sequels, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 isn’t going to be that game you’ll reach for in your library when you want to play something drastically different from the original. On the other hand, if you’re a kid (or have a kid) who’s a fan of the show or like me, someone who appreciates a solid entry in what could be a yearly or so series that’s fun where it needs to be, then this sequel gets the job done as it should. Of course, there’s room for improvement if this would-be franchise want to have a wider appeal outside the ages 5-8 set (don’t let that E10+ rating fool you one bit), but I’ll touch on what I think is required below…
While you don’t need to watch the show at all to jump right in and play, it might help those looking for some sort of context or smarter kids who may come to you with questions as to why and how some things are happening. Basically, Pac is back to yet again put a stop to Lord Betrayus’ wacky plans using his familiar chomp everything that’s not moving skills and a nice set of special Pac-powers he’ll acquire during play. The game also has you hopping into or onto a few vehicles s Pac-Man or two of his pals for a quick level full of 3D shooting and flying action sequences. It’s pretty much the same deal as the first fun game, so those who liked what it had to offer will feel equally comfortable here.
Developer Monkey Bar Games has done a solid enough job with the controls and game camera to keep things (wait for it) rolling along, although younger kids and some adults with twitchy jump button fingers will need to spend a tiny bit of time mastering the finer arts of wall jumping and laying off the analog stick when trying to nail precise jumps. As noted, Pac has some nifty special powers he can acquire such as an ice form, magnetic form and others you’ll need to master during the game. Each has a short practice level as well as some hidden times stages that will show you the ropes and give you a little ten-finger workout respectively. More seasoned gamers will blow through this in about 7 hours or so, but you know kids will take longer especially if they’re having a good time.
However, for all the fun to be had here saving Pacopolis (again), a few things minor to major things miss the mark. I’d say most kids won’t miss this stuff at all as the game is made to keep them busy collecting dots and such that can lead to a huge stock of extra lives before all is said and done. There’s a hub area, but other than Pac’s friends appearing in a few different locations when you return to it, some mini-games that unlock later and a tree eventually opening up to dink around with for more dots, there’s not much to do. Visuals are clean and look great, but for a city under siege by a giant robot, Pacopolis needed more frantic citizens and perhaps some more damage or even the occasional shot of that big metal creep raising havoc in the background.
The Cylindria (Cyli) and Spiral sections are often more fun than some of Pac’s levels, but you’ll need to listen carefully for context, as they seem to pop up randomly but actually don’t. Before Cyli’s first map, for example, you’ll hear an automatic and speedy exchange with Pac about her taking care of some enemies to help him out and as soon as Pac is done with that level a few minutes later, you’re suddenly controlling Cyli on her hover board shooting down ghosts in map that draws its gameplay inspiration from rail shooters such as Panzer Dragoon or a slower-moving Space Harrier. I’m gathering making full-on cutscenes for these transitions was out of the question, but the blink and you’ll miss them notes to these switches can be slightly confusing if you’re busy avoiding getting ghosted yourself. Oddly enough, in the hub world and main game, stopping to talk to someone on purpose leads to dialog that’s always generic “You can do it!” stuff that can’t be skipped no matter how hard you jam on the buttons.
Music and sounds are fine, although if you don’t like chatty cartoon voices, you’ll cringe when you have to sit through a cut scene or talk to someone about something. For the most part, the game is VERY straightforward save for areas where paths split into a few forks and it’s possible to miss a bonus item or a few extra lives. However, levels can be replayed once completed for higher medal rankings and yes, more lives. The game is so generous with them that I ended my initial playthrough with well over 300 lives. Hey, I liked running through some of the more challenging maps trying to get every secret in a decent enough time and trying not to take any hits. As noted above, the controls make the game incredibly fun to play and although no new ground is being broken, it’s good to see and play a game that works out of the package without any need for patching, super glitches spoiling the fun or anything else modern games seem to suffer from at launch.
Overall, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 is a lot of fun where it counts and worth a buy if you’re a fan of the original or just love well-made platform games. Granted, it’s not in the same galaxy as the 3D mascot game classics at all, so don’t go in expecting a Naughty Dog-like or Miyamoto-style “perfect” game experience and you’ll have a blast while it lasts.
As for the future of this potential franchise, my suggestion is as follows: it’s time to step things up a bit in terms of plot and characterizations while beefing up the nice and shiny visuals a bit more. Whomever makes the next game should take a look at something like Super Mario RPG, the Mario Party series, combine that with an open world and work up a more linked and coherent version of Pacopolis to explore and play in. Give players the ability to switch out characters on the fly, play co-op on the same screen (like the LEGO games), add a bunch of varying mini-games based off Namco’s classic arcade games (or heck, even cobble ideas from the old Pac-Man World series from the PSOne and PS2 plus some racing action from a la Pac-Man World Rally), shake well and see what happens. I predict better things for a deeper yet still easy to hop into game experience.