PAC-MAN 256 Review
For a game that's over 30 years old, PAC-MAN sure has some staying power. A lot of that is due to the simple elegance of the original game's design, and the fact that it lends itself to variations that add both novelty and fun to the core concept without breaking it. The newest of these variants is PAC-MAN 256, a game that takes original PAC-MAN gameplay and infuses it with the elements of an infinite runner. The result is a fun little arcade style game - great for short burst gaming sessions that always seem to go for a little more time than at first intended.
The '256' in the game's title is a reference to the infamous glitch in the original arcade game. In the days of 8-bit computing, the largest number a register could store was 255, and adding one to that number could result in undefined behavior. In the case of PAC-MAN this glitch would occur once you reached level 256 in the game, at which point the game's screen would become littered with random characters and numbers making the game impossible to play. In PAC-MAN 256, that 'glitch' is what endless drives you forward through its infinite and randomly generated maze. Pause or move horizontally for too long and you'll see the glitch approaching from the bottom of the maze, chewing everything up into a cloud of numbers and letters. If the glitch reaches you it's game over, so even though the game doesn't force scroll the maze as in a typical infinite runner you'll still need to keep pressing forward.
As in all PAC-MAN games gobbling dots and the occasional fruit is the goal, but here chaining your dot-chomps is even better. As you gobble dots they will turn into numbers signifying the number of consecutive dots you've eaten. Pass over a gap in the dots or double-back over a cleared path and the number is reset to zero. Chaining dots will result in an increasing score multiplier, and if you can reach the magic number of 256 you'll send out a pulse that will destroy every ghost on the screen.
As if glitches and maintaining dot chains weren't enough to worry about, you've also got to contend with those pesky ghosts. The usual gang of pursuers is here, each with their own particular pursuit style and attributes - don't even think about trying to outrun Pinky down a straightaway. There are also some new ghost types to content with as well, like a sleeping ghost that doesn't move until you enter the pathway that it is on or a gaggle of ghosts that travel in a pack back and forth across long horizontal paths.
Power pellets are scattered at random throughout the maze, and eating one these turns the ghosts blue and lets you turn the tables on them and chomp them out of existence yourself. PAC-MAN 256 gives you more ways to deal with these ghosts than the traditional power pellet, though. You can select up to three different power-ups before a round, such as a laser beam that fires from PAC-MAN's mouth that will fry all ghosts in its path, a stealth mode that makes PAC-MAN both invisible and invulnerable to ghosts, and traps that will snare any ghosts that cross them. These power-ups are enabled in the same was as power pellets - chomp the icon for the corresponding power-up and it activates. Glitches sometimes appear that will change a power pellet or power-up icon into a different icon, so it might not be the same thing you first spied by the time that you get to it. Sometimes these pick-ups will change into coins as well, the currency used to purchase upgrades for the power-ups.
Games of PAC-MAN 256 are very quick affairs. The need to keep pressing forward combined with the randomness of the maze layout and the abundance of ghosts make the game pretty challenging. The frustrating moments in which you find yourself boxed in by the maze with nowhere to go are tempered by the thrill of nailing a 256 dot chain or blowing past your previous high score. There's also the need to make quick decisions - do you risk getting past a ghost in time to keep your pellet streak going or do you play it safe and break the chain? The game isn't for the easily frustrated, but those that like a good arcade style challenge will be more than happy with it.
For added variety, the game comes with a number of different themes that will allow you to change the look of the maze. There are a few PAC-MAN oriented themes that recall the look of prior PAC-MAN games including the original, as well as a few that are kind of out there. Developer Hipster Whale includes a nod to one of their other games with a Crossy Road theme, and you'll also find others that can change the game's maze to a garden with insects or even an office with the maze wrapping around cubicles and the ghosts replaced by office chairs. You can also invite up to three of your friends to join in the game in a couch co-op mode. All players play the maze simultaneously, which as you can imagine leads to a lot of mayhem. This last mode is something that will be an occasional distraction when you have friends over, but you'll get most of your play out of the game in its single player mode.
Final Rating: 84% - PAC-MAN becomes an infinite runner and the result is both challenging and fun.