Iconic characters from the earliest days of gaming – as epitomised by Pac-Man – have an uncomfortable amount in common with the pop stars from their era. Most notably, they rarely manage to translate convincingly to the 21st century. At least Namco Bandai has a legitimate reason for making Pac-Man And The Ghostly Adventures: it’s a spin-off from the cartoon series of the same name.
The resulting game eschews the far-too-20th-century classic top-down maze action in favour of much more conventional 3D platform gameplay. Pac-Man has now been equipped with some pretty cool special abilities, acquired by eating energy globes in different colours than the standard yellow – green, for example, turns him into a chameleon, with a tongue that can suck in ghosts or swing on special poles, while the brown ones turn him into a giant stone ball. Plus, his standard ghost-swallowing attack is pretty satisfying. By the general standards of platform games, Ghostly Adventures definitely impresses: the action varies pleasantly, the difficulty curve builds nicely and there are countless nods to the more recent 3D Mario games, such as shooting stone-ball-Pac-Man from cannons, squidgy square blocks that disappear if you linger on them and so on.
But all is not entirely rosy. For starters, Pac-Man has the voice of an annoying American kid. Which is just wrong – his voice must have broken by now (the clue is in the second half of his name). In fact, there’s a relentlessly kid-centric feel to the whole game, which makes sense given its relationship to the cartoon, but makes it less tempting for those who remember the original (although there are nods to Pac-Man’s roots, such as a level where our hungry hero is given a bouncy rubber power-up and wall-jumps through a maze to the sound of authentically retro sound effects).
Pac-Man And The Ghostly Adventures, while better than you might fear – it will certainly enthral youngsters for considerable periods – ultimately disappoints simply because never achieves the groundbreaking illustriousness of its original incarnations. But at least it should have a good crack at introducing the old chomper to a new generation.