“Pac is back,” touts the back of the box, despite Pac-Man not actually having gone anywhere. It’s cool, though; I get the sentiment. Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is a new cartoon for a new generation of Pac-Man fans, and this is the logical video game tie-in. It’s pretty inoffensive as far as platformers aimed squarely at children go, and has a bit of charm that ensures the game a full-page ad in this year’s GameStop Holiday Guide. As cynical a cash grab this may be, it isn’t without merit.
The big draw here, the toy seller, the sort-of-but-not-really defining-mechanic is Pac-Man taking a page from the book of Kirby and getting a bunch of new powers to play with based on what he eats. You spend most of the game collecting yellow pellets like any respectable Pac-Man, but occasionally you get one of a funny color. Instead of getting sick, you change into a new form that can shoot a beam of ice, throw fireballs, do, um, magnet stuff or even turn into a giant, rolling boulder with a retractable nose.
Puzzles are sometimes involved here, especially in boulder levels, but usually powers are for dealing with special types of ghosts. Normally you can just eat the spooks, but on occasion you need to stun one with the appropriate power. It sounds cumbersome, and sometimes it is, but the needed pellets respawn in their fixed locations and are always close when you need them so getting knocked out of your trademark Ice Pac getup (available in action figure form on Amazon.com for only 11.99!) isn’t as big of a deal as it maybe should be. It’s okay though, because combat in general is surprisingly interesting.
The cool part is enemy variety. Ghosts are all over the place as per the plot of the show (which the game assumes you are familiar with by the way), and as the game progresses, it introduces more and more enemy types. For a game generally on the easy side, it does an okay job of keeping you on your toes. Pac-Man chomps down on ghosts in a way that’s sort of a mix between the homing attack of Sonic the Hedgehog and the context-reliant chains of Batman. It’s nowhere near as complex as the latter, but distance is an important factor, and if you just hammer on the button you won’t get the satisfying visage of Pac-Man flying all over the screen, zipping from one victim to the next. Pac-Man can also build up meter to, well, scare the ghosts into that familiar blue state. Yeah, the ghosts are afraid of Pac this time around. It’s kind of complicated; you’ll just have to watch the show. Weekdays at 11 (10 central) on Disney XD!
Ghostly Adventures sports a neat aesthetic that plays an obvious joke (haha, everything in Pac-Man world is round! Also mazes!) but it comes in the form of a sleek, bright futuristic world of whimsy, carrying the idea that the Pac-Man of old could have been part of the same universe a long time ago. It also pays a fair amount of tribute to Tezuka, specifically some of the more modern interpretations of Astro Boy. There’s even a central character that is the spitting image of Professor Ochanomizu, if he were green and Pac-Man-esque. A lot of both the show and the game are definitely channeling old Japanese cartoons, and it’s a pretty cool bonus if you pick up on it.
You can unlock various minigames designed to sort of resemble arcade games but within the game’s engine, and while the idea is neat, the games are goofy and really offputting when you consider the history of the character and how logical unlocks of classic Pac-Man games would be. Alas, you’ll have to settle with Pac-Man in a helicopter dropping cherry bombs on puddles of ghost goo.
Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is a cute little game that serves its intended purpose. It has no shame in its status as a tie-in product and even dares the be a little creative, silly and even insular in the process of selling toys and advertising a TV show. Older fans of Pac-Man will find little of interest here, but hey: this isn’t for you. Let the kids have their fun.
Pros: Competent design and mechanics, fun powers, neat style
Cons: Not a ton of meat to the game, disappointing unlockables