Although I’m fully of it happening I’ve let Microsoft siphon money out of my bank account and turn it into “points” that can only be used to buy things sold at the company store in the company town that is the Xbox 360.

We’ll talk more about this intentionally baffling funny money in a future post, but today’s topic is “Pac Man CE”, a ten dollar game (800 points) that I have been describing to anyone who bothers to listen as “as close to the platonic ideal of a video game I have ever seen.”

From what I understand the game is the design swan song of Toru Iwatani, the man who created the original game back in the eighties. But with this title it’s clear that the success of the original was no fluke. Considering how many titles from that period were just accidental successes it’s impressive to realize just how crafted experience the original was.

Even so, I’ve never been all that big a fan of the original game since I discovered that the true way to victory was through uncovering “patterns” that let you consistently min/max the game until it becomes nothing more than a test of the limits of human endurance, which isn’t my cup of tea.

In that sense CE is a totally different beast, even though it uses the basic elements of the original title; a maze, dots, power pills, four ghosts, and fruit. And it’s it is definitely Pac man on some level, although it’s tempting to say that it isn’t the same game at all. It’s about as close as Puzzle Quest is to Bejeweled; built on the same skeleton, but no the same monster.

For those of you who can’t (or won’t) pony up the $410 that it would cost to buy the platform and the game here’s a YouTube Video of someone getting a really good score. Watching it should be most of what you need to know to understand the game and what I’m yammering on about.

Seen it? Good. Now doesn’t that seem cool?

There are still a few things that don’t come through in what you just watched: First the longer you survive the more the individual pellets are worth. Starting at 10 they quickly go up to 50 as you munch along, and the drop back again when you get eaten, so there’s a cost to getting gnarfled by a ghost that goes beyond losing a life (which are fairly easy to come by). Second the game ramps up to such a high speed that you’ll probably find yourself preferring to use the analog controller. It just gives you the feel you need to cut the corners fast enough as you start ripping around. Lastly the ghosts move so fast that you end up using the power pellets defensively as much as offensively. Once the ghosts are “edible” they move much more slowly, but they’re also the highest scoring element of the game. Eat them up though and they’ll quickly reconstitute back in their deadly high-speed form.

There’s a touch of genius about it, and the truly wonderful thing about this design is just how simple the rules are, and yet there’s so much in your head while you’re playing it. Driving home that point is the “help” screen. It just shows a bracket around the analog stick and control pad with the words “Control Pac Man” next to them.

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