I remember those old days at the arcade when Pac-Man first came out. Me and the boys would file out of the Gary Numan concert with only a dozen quarters between the four of us. Man, those were the days… that I just totally made up. I wasn’t even a fetus in 1980. Hell, I don’t think my parents even knew each other.
Even by the relatively early age in which I was able to understand the concept of video games, Pac-Man was considered antiquated. By the time I actually played it, it felt ancient. It was just about impossible to put myself in the time and place where chomping ghosts for a high score was seen as the height of interactive entertainment. I liken it to my feelings on The Beatles. They’re iconic, but when I’m looking for a tune to listen to, they don’t really resonate. Games seem to suffer from this feeling more than most other mediums due to their relatively short history and constant advances in technology. On the flip side, games are capable of iterating in ways that music and film can’t, meaning that trite gameplay concepts can feel brand new with just a little bit of tweaking. Pac-Man Championship Edition isn’t a cover song or a remake. It’s a new game entirely.
While Championship Edition works as a subversion of those familiar ideas, the real magic is in the fact that it would have worked independent of that framing. While the old Pac-Man was about pattern recognition and avoidance, this new game is about being a sort of bull fighter with ADD, leading huge queues of ghosts for that eventual turnaround. Eating an entire line of enemies has this sort of addictive quality to it that makes you want to do it over and over again, but bigger and faster every time. Part of me feels like it shouldn’t function as well as it does, but at the end of the day, that old school concept of repeating the same actions for a higher score can still play. It’s really just a matter of presentation. As eyeball-melting as Championship Edition can often get, that presentation works.