Top Ten of 2010 - Pac-Man Championship Edition DX
The original Pac-Man Championship Edition featured in my all-time top 100, and a little over three years later the follow-up has arrived to take its place, refining, expanding and improving the modern classic in every way (Pac-Man CE is even included wholesale as a mode in this version).
It retains the neon look of the original - already firmly established as a perfect visual choice for such an update - and once again focuses on timed score attacks rather than the more endurance-run nature of the Pac-Man of old. The new key factor is the 'Ghost Train'. Most ghosts now sleep in positions on the maze, and only wake when Pac-Man moves past them. When that happens they follow him determinedly, building to a line of up to 30 in the train. By eating a power pill Pac-Man can turn on the train and munch through it in a spectacularly satisfying fashion, speeding up as he goes while the sound effects increase in pitch. So, the core of the gameplay is to figure the most efficient path through each dot pattern, making sure to pick up all the ghosts on the maze as you go.
When pulled off successfully this becomes a beautifully flowing sequence, and the dot patterns and ghost layouts have obviously been painstakingly designed to that end. A perfectly executed set of patterns will always see a power pill appear, the resultant chomp through the ghost train giving a massive points boost before the maze resets for the next run. The flies in the ointment for the player are the handful of free ghosts that move about the maze, and the fact that the speed of the game increases as the points increase. At high levels Pac-Man becomes incredibly fast, requiring lightning reflexes and forward-planning if the patterns are to be maintained.
When things become a little too much - an error in movement or a bit of bad luck with the free ghosts - the player has a limited number of bombs they can use. A bomb blows away any ghosts directly next to Pac-Man, and sends the current train to the ghost box in the centre. The game also features a nifty 'bullet time' moment when a ghost gets too close, giving the player an essential extra moment to act. Lives aren't really a factor (unless you're incredibly incompetent you'll never run out before the timer does). It's all about chasing the score.
The original Pac-Man template is a piece of game design perfection. A few clever and well-considered tweaks to the formula were all that was needed to keep it not only relevant after thirty years, but absolutely essential for anyone with a true love of videogames in their purest form.