Pac-Man turns to multiplayer as the franchise seeks reinvention

A trio of Pac-Man games are in the works at Namco Bandai, each of which hope to cater to a different audience — from the old diehards to the newcomers, whose age might have kept them from knowing the franchise as intimately as the first group.

Those three titles have unique ways of achieving those goals: Pac-Man Championship Edition DX+ — which will be delivered as a free update to the current version of Championship Edition DX — pulls at the heartstrings of classic Pac-Man players, giving them a more challenging, competition-based version of the classic game. Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, with its 3D platforming, colorful graphics and animated TV show tie-in, is clearly an attempt to rope in younger players. Pac-Man Museum, a compilation stretching three decades, hopes to bridge the gap between those two groups, giving anyone interested in brushing up on the franchise an interactive means to do so.

What's fascinating is how all three games incorporate a multiplayer element to help penetrate those different audiences.

Championship Edition DX+ adds a challenge mode to the game, allowing you to issue score targets to friends on Xbox Live, PlayStation Network and Steam. It's not simultaneous multiplayer, but it's a wise acknowledgement of the competitive nature of the original game — score chases are a lot more fun when the player in front can show off to the player behind them.

Most exciting is Pac-Man Museum's inclusion of Pac-Man Battle Royale

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures includes a four-player competitive mode that actually casts players in the roles of ghosts, rather than spherical eating machines. The mode tasks each player with collecting power-ups, evading obstacles and grabbing pellets, all in the pursuit of catching Pac-Man; whoever can find him and grab him (without getting eaten in the process) wins the round. It didn't look like an especially deep multiplayer experience — producer Kunito Komori told Polygon that it was envisioned more as a mini-game — but it's relatively untread ground for the series.

Most exciting is Pac-Man Museum's inclusion of Pac-Man Battle Royale, the previously arcade-only four-player game that served as an arena of sorts, letting individual Pac-Man chase down power pellets to consume their foes. Pac-Man Museum represents the first time that the game will be released outside of arcades — that's great news for those without one of the top-down, single-unit Pac-Man Battle Royale machines in their hometown.

Komori, who also made Battle Royale, explained that the game's console port actually took a long time to develop. It was difficult, he explained, to maintain the franticness of the arcade experience on a home console; some games are suited for large groups of players and spectators. Still, with the potential for new audiences in the U.S., Komori said he's thinking about the future for the Battle Royale sub-series.

"This is the first time we've ported from the arcade side to the console side," Komori said. "The big difference is the number of the audience. In the states, in the arcades, is a very limited number. Personally, I love Dave and Busters, however. When we release it on the console side, many people will be able to enjoy it. After that, of course we need to think about something.

"So, at this moment, I can say this product will be available with this timing — however, I try to think about the future extension," Komori added.

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