Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is in a bit of an odd spot - it's a licensed game, which usually means trouble, but the show it's based on is itself based on an established gaming icon. Does it overcome the stigma of licensed games to earn a spot in the collection of every Pac-Maniac, or is this ghostly adventure haunted by its status as a tie-in product? Read on to find out!
Developer: Bandai Namco Games, Monkey Bar Games
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Platform(s): Wii U, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo 3DS, PC via Steam
Release Date: October 25, 2013
Review is based on the PC/Steam version
Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is a 3D platformer based on the DisneyXD television show of the same name. In the game, Betrayus, whose name pretty much tells you everything you need to know, is up to his old tricks and aims to take over Pac-World and turn all its residents into ghosts! Only Pac-Man and his friends can stop him, but you already knew that. This time around, Pac-Man must traverse various dangerous worlds looking for stone tablets that, once deciphered, may hold the key to stopping Betrayus' villainy once and for all!
Of course, if you're like me and have never seen an episode of the show, none of that will really matter. The characters (besides Pac-Man, Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde) were all new to me, and some references to events from the show went over my head. If you are a fan of the show, you'll certainly get a kick out of these, but if not, then you'll be left wondering what they're talking about - thankfully, other than the winks and nods, the story is self-contained enough that anyone could follow it regardless of prior knowledge. Story cutscenes are also generally few and far between and really only serve to fill in the gaps between levels, so the real focus will be on the hopping and chomping you'll be doing.
Ghostly Adventures takes you through different worlds as you run, jump, chomp enemies, and gather collectibles as well as the ever-present pellets and fruit the series is known for. You'll also come across various power-ups ranging from the ability to throw fireballs to puffing up Pac-Man like a balloon to float through windy areas and reach new heights. The power-ups play into the levels by requiring you to use them to traverse certain areas or defeat certain enemies, and you'll often use more than one powerup in a single level (or even in a single area of a level) which keeps the gameplay from getting too stale over the rather short course of the campaign. You'll also need them for the majority of the boss fights, which pop up in different levels rather than always at the end of a world, so they'll keep you on your toes. When not partaking in perilous platforming and performing powered-up poundings on poltergeists (try saying that five times fast) there's a hub world to play around in the form of Pac-Man's school, where you can converse with characters and play a few arcade-style games that you'll unlock over time, none of which, for some reason, are the original Pac-Man.
While the game works fine as a 3D platformer - which makes sense because it's not even new ground for Pac-Man - it also falls prey to some of the pitfalls of the genre, notably a finicky camera that sometimes struggles to show you where you're going. Thankfully, the controls work well enough that you can often recover before plummeting to your doom, and if not, the game is generous with extra lives, which can be picked up in the levels or obtained after defeating enough enemies. You won't really need them that much, though, because most of your deaths will come by accident rather than from the enemies, since, as a game based on a children's show, it doesn't offer up a whole lot of challenge. Some of the later levels can get a little hectic, but you'll never see anything on the same scale as, say, a late-game level in one of the 3D Super Mario games. Also, in comparison to Super Mario, the game's physics, level layouts, and general gameplay all have their own feel to set Ghostly Adventures apart from the competition, so fortunately you're not likely to suffer from dÃ©jÃ vu during your playtime. Aside from the campaign, there's also a multiplayer mode, but it's local-only so I was unable to try it out.
From a visual standpoint, the game is generally bright and colorful, which is typical of 3D platformers but welcome nonetheless in today's gaming climate. Each area also has its own distinct look, and there's a good bit of set dressing to really give each world its own personality. While the game isn't a graphical powerhouse - and indeed, barely looks the part of a seventh-generation console game - it doesn't really need to be one, either, so it's not likely to bother even older players. SInce the show is done in CGI, the game is able to simply emulate the same three-dimensional look, which helps tie the game to its source material. On the audio side of things, the game features a fun, bouncy soundtrack that incorporates some tunes from Pac-Man's past as well as the show itself, a nice touch for fans of both. The sound effects in the game are mostly pulled from the arcade game as well, though there are a few new ones that work just fine too. The game also features full voice acting, though soundalikes were used in place of the show's original cast.
Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is a fun and colorful platformer with a laid-back attitude, with all the key elements of the genre coming together to form an enjoyable romp through Pac-World. However, a couple of things hold it back from true greatness - foremost is the game's length, which clocks in around 5 hours. The other is that, while the game is certainly distinct from other 3D platformers and stands on its own, it still doesn't do anything new or particularly interesting with the genre. Add to the fact that this game is mostly aimed at the younger crowd, and you've got a recipe for a good rental, but not necessarily a good purchase. There's certainly a lot of fun to be had, but there's just not enough to the game to really chomp into, leaving a ghostly trace that will haunt players with a hunger for more.
TL;DR version - Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is a fun platformer that manages to stand apart from the likes of Mario, and also manages to escape from the general awfulness of licensed games. There's a lot to like for fans of the show and even those who haven't watched it may still find the game enjoyable, however, the game's short length and lack of true challenge for hardcore gamers keeps it from being a truly significant experience. It might be worth a rental if you're hankering for a 3D platformer that doesn't star a portly plumber, but I honestly can't recommend a purchase.