DX is Pac-Man’s unruly grandkid, all hopped up on thumping techno beats, lurid neon widescreen mazes, and mobile-friendly short-burst gaming. It takes the basis of the original 1980s coin-op classic, straps it to a rocket and lets rip.
Instead of eating dots within a single maze and avoiding four ghosts ambling about, Pac-Man now has to contend with a widescreen maze that continually shifts. Eat all the dots from one half and a bonus item appears on the other. Grab that and a new pattern of dots appears in the previously cleared area.
All the while, sleeping ghosts lurk. Brush past them and they wake up; suitably annoyed, they give chase. With careful footwork (does Pac-Man have feet?), you end up with a bizarre and vaguely Tron-like shimmering rainbow-coloured chain of ghouls following your every move. It’s like Snake snuck into Pac-Man while no-one was looking, and the combination is marvellous.
The blue ghost diet
The more you manage to not die, the faster the game gets, eventually maxing out at breakneck pace. As you zoom about, making split-second decisions regarding whether it’s a really bad idea to squeeze between a couple of especially irate spectres, you hope the swipe controls won’t let you down; they almost never do, but the same can’t be said of your reactions.
Naturally, power pellets still exist in this Pac-Man universe; when consumed, they faithfully temporarily turn the ghosts blue. If you’ve built up a chain, you can perform a speedy U-turn and ronch dozens of the blighters in seconds, racking up huge bonus scores. If there’s no nearby pellet to chow down on and you’re in a tight spot, a pinch gesture unleashes a bomb, sending the ghosts to the centre of the maze, but simultaneously depleting your speed multiplier.
As you work through the many challenges — typically time-attack and ghost chaining runs — and the varied mazes, it becomes clear how finely tuned this game is. Some mazes are devious, sending you the wrong way with an unexpected dot pattern and scuppering perfect runs because you took your eye off the screen for a fraction of a second. ‘Dungeon’ in particular requires dedication to pull off perfect runs, with walls and corridors that keep reconfiguring as you play.
It’s testament to the quality of DX that its tardy appearance on iOS and Android (it debuted on XBLA several years ago) hasn’t resulted in a dated game. It still feels fresh, essential and utterly compelling on mobile — the kind of update to classic arcade IP that you wish every company would develop, rather than stuffing IAP down the throats of much-loved characters. For this — and everything else to do with DX — Namco should be congratulated. In short, buy this one now.