"I've ~played~ Pac-Man," I thought upon a friend's recommendation, "and I've seen what it has to offer." That was then.
'Pac-Man Championship Edition DX+' (it's a good thing you play as a giant mouth) is one of the strongest and most ridiculously well crafted revivals of a classic I've ever seen, never mind that the older versions really aren't my cup of tea. Even though the series predates much of the gaming industry, this entry feels like it belongs in the modern era, and the improvements it makes to the time-honored formula are an absolute delight.
The rules are the same as they were--navigate a maze, eat dots and fruit for points, avoid the ghosts chasing you, and snag giant pills so you can turn your enemies into an all-you-can-eat buffet. Then come the more interesting decisions--the mazes don't completely fill up with dots, and the lines the game feeds you like an ever-tantalizing carrot often take on the shape of patterns designed to lead you a certain way. Remember how the original game had only a few ghosts? Here, part of the point is to run by ghosts sleeping in nooks and crannies, which gets more and more of them chasing you until your legion pursuers stretch themselves in a string so long that there becomes a real danger of you being trapped in an area where the string's head chases you while the tail won't let you escape. Think of the old game Snake, except you're the prey.
Pac-Man has a new trick up his proverbial sleeve as well--he has a limited supply of bombs that essentially send the ghosts back to their starting point, leaving him unscathed. If you're a purist and you don't want to use these, that's perfectly understandable, and the game will make special note of your bravery (especially if you still don't die). This ties into the game's commendable approach to difficulty: while "beginner" and harder difficulties exist, much of their distinction lies in the speed of the game, which goes up or down depending on the player's performance. If a bomb is used or if Pac-Man dies, the game smartly assumes the player is having trouble and scales its speed slightly down. This way, newcomers and inexperienced players can enjoy this title without it being as inaccessible as the Garden of Eden, while experts and thrill-seekers can satisfy their little hearts with challenges that really are their own reward. Likewise, the power pills that allow Pac-Man to eat ghosts (don't type "power pill" into a search engine, which I learned the hard way) now have a visible time meter at the top of the screen, so you don't have to guess how long they'll last. This leads to incredibly polished sections where the game will basically hand you a free pill and lead you down a prescribed path such that the power pill wears off a fraction of a second before you careen into an otherwise hapless ghost who receives the grace of God at the last possible moment, forcing you as the player to either change direction quickly, use a bomb, or die.
Maybe I have Pac-Man Fever™ from saying "just one more level" five too many times when it's 1:30 in the morning and I really should be getting some sleep, but even though this game never tries to shoehorn in a needless story or out-of-place powerups, it still shows itself to be provocative in its own way, whether Pac-Man is frantically leading the increasingly irritable rainbow hordes on the way to the Promised Pill (Numbers 14:1-25) or finally reaching said pill, turning back around, and mowing down his powerless aggressors one by two by ten, with Sam Fisher's steely determination, a fervor that would make Call of Duty cry, and enough bonus points to keep the leaderboard lovers and achievement hounds coming back again and again.
Even if the game only contained the one map, mode, and visual skin I've tried (along with the time trials), it would still be a compelling and amazing package well worthy of attention, but I find it both fascinating and disturbing that this already remarkable game has plenty of content I haven't even touched. I have no idea whether this excellent tribute to everyone's favorite pizza-shaped scourge of the undying takes place in some weird, multicolored extraplanar labyrinth where you're really Cthulhu alternately fleeing and devouring the vengeful souls of the slain, but either way, a series I couldn't recommend has given me an installment I can't recommend enough (cf. Tomb Raider), and that is as much praise as I could imagine a game deserving. This addictive and bounteous wonder comes across like Pac-Man with F-Zero GX's pacing, and the music does an admirable job of playing the part, especially when the epic crescendo at the end of a high-speed Score Attack round makes me feel like I've just gotten off a roller coaster.
Once you go Pac, you don't go back.