Pac-Man celebrates his 30th in amazing style!
I may be bold in saying that 2010 had some of the best Wii party games released yet. Even with the overcrowding of the genre, many developers took the general concept of a party game and implemented new ideas that gave new life to what many consider to be a stagnant genre. Disney's Guilty Party added a funny story and strong focus on mystery solving, Nintendo's Wii Party streamlined the Mario Party formula to focus on fun and accessibility, and Namco Bandai's Active Life Explorer continued the series tradition of injecting high energy exercise. You can add another title to that list of great party games, Namco Bandai's Pac-Man Party, a pseudo sequel to 2002's Pac-Man Fever. Despite being slightly derivative of Mario Party, the title does enough on its own that it warrants a look.
Pac-Man Party, like its inspiration, is a board game in which players participate in mini-games in order to obtain the most points and win the game. You collect cookies (designed to resemble Pac-Man's power pellets) and castles, rather than coins and stars. The first player to collect a set number of cookies and return to the starting point of the board wins. One way to gather the cookies is to build castles. When you stop on a clear space a castle will be built. These castles are the driving point behind the gameplay. If you land on your own castle you gain bonus cookies. If an opposing player lands on your castle then a battle ensues where you must defend your castle, in the form of a mini-game where up to four-players can participate. If you win, you retain your castle and the other players lose their cookies. If you lose, then they gain control of your castle.
This is a very interesting way of re-inventing the board game concept while still being very close to the design aesthetics of previous titles. Though at first gameplay can be pretty slow, once players have enough castles it becomes very hectic, active and just plain fun. Pac-Man Party focuses more on the mini-games rather than gimmicks, meaning that players will spend more time in games rather than having to browse through several pages of instructions. Board action is also quite speedy, with players all moving at the same time once they have received the number of spaces they must move through.
The only problem I encountered with this system is that even the shortest session can be extended if players are slow at getting the exact number of cookies, but this is a problem present everywhere in party games, not just Pac-Man Party.
The ease of use even extends to the mini-games themselves. Even if at times you get a sense of déjà vu when playing some of the mini-games, there is enough challenge to keep you entertained yet they remain highly accessible to even the youngest players. Motion controls are limited to just a few events, meaning that most of them you'll be using the basic controls rather than struggling to cope with complicated movements of the Wii Remote.
There are three main modes of play. The first is Story Mode, a single player mode where players experience Pac-Man's story as he tries to protect a very secret cookie recipe from the ghosts, Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde. In this mode you will play through the five game worlds and all 50 mini-games. Party Mode is the standard multiplayer mode for up to four-players. Finally there is a free-play Mini-Games mode.
There are two additional modes separate from the main game. The first is a rewards/achievements system. When you accomplish a specific task you will gain a reward in the form of a sticker that will appear on a background. The other bonus mode is the Arcade mode where you can play three original Arcade games: Galaga, Pac-Man, and Dig Dug. All three games play excellently, and their inclusion is very much appreciated.
Unlike the some of the rather dry elements of Wii Party, despite that game's charming Miis and quite detailed game worlds, Pac-Man Party is brimming with color and personality, giving it a very familiar Mario Party vibe. Both Pac-Man and the ghosts received a make over for this title. At first I wasn't so sure about it, but after many sessions I grew to love the new boost in personality. Unfortunately, aside from Pac-Man and the ghosts, no other Namco Bandai characters are featured, instead new faces to fill out the roster. They are charming enough to be enjoyable as playable characters, but the lack of Pac-Man series staples such as Ms. Pac-Man, or Pac Jr. is disappointing.
An exuberant amount of personality drips onto the game boards and the mini-games. The game boards are based on familiar game themes, like the spooky world, the ice world, and the countryside, but they are rendered with such care and attention to detail you will be drawn to them right away. All the mini-games are meticulously designed so they match the worlds and the personality of the characters. To put it bluntly, it's been a while since I've played a party game that truly runs away with its party theme. Every mini-game either takes place in a party setting or is associated to an element of a party, most especially food. Some mini-games even pay tribute to other Namco titles, such as Dig Dug and Pole Position. So if you shared my opinion that Wii Party could have used a little more depth in its presentation, Pac-Man Party certainly delivers.
Similar care was given to the music and sound presentation. These tracks are inspired and may be some of the best compositions ever presented in a party game. There are grand, lush compositions as well as lighthearted tunes that enhance the mood of each game very well. It is surprising just how creative some of these tracks are. Sound effects consist of classic Pac-Man sounds as random noises for the characters' speech.
Pac-Man Party isn't trying to be the most innovative party game on the market, and for some it might look too derivative. But its many strengths lie in how it invites players to just have fun with their favorite characters without feeling intimidated by too many modes, options and gimmicks. The personality is incredible, the mini-games very enjoyable and the bonus modes are very nice. If you are up for another party on the Wii, Pac-Man Party should be sought out right away.