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Review: Pac-Man 256 is a thrilling throw-back with the original Maze Runner
Endless runner games are a dime a dozen these days. With respect to some of them, the graphical approach or design aesthetics are so nice that it’s a shame they couldn’t be adapted for a more traditional platformer or action title. One recent game that stood out was Crossy Road, a somewhat modern take on the classic Frogger format. The title was extremely successful, and the developers Yodo1 Games have now released their follow-up title, a collaboration with Namco.
To understand Pac-Man 256, we must first go back in time to the original game that started it all, Pac-Man. Due to limitations in programming, the game contained a problem, of sorts: If a player could successfully get to the 256th stage of the game, half of the screen would be “glitched” and filled with random numbers, letters, and shapes of all colors along the right hand side. It was thus impossible to actually clear the board as only half of it would appear.
Given how seemingly impossible it was to beat even a dozen stages of the game for some people, the prospect of winning a several hundred is a daunting task indeed, especially given that in later stages, the Power Pellet invincibility power-up actually doesn’t have any effect whatsoever.
Play to Win
The goal of Pac-Man 256 is a simple one: try to get as high a score as possible before getting chomped by the various Ghosts that populate the board. There are a few ways to do this:
The most basic point principal is the individual pellets that litter the board: they are cumulative and thus the more you eat, the more your score increases. Eat 256 in a row without breaking the sequence and all Ghosts on the screen will be immediately killed and the counter will reset to 1. The effect is quite nifty, though truth be told I have only able to accomplish it once, and via the Magnet power up at that. Which brings me to the next score factor:
The game makes use of 16 different power ups, each unlocked by eating a certain number of Pac-Pellets. As you gain access to more advanced ones, the game requires more pellets. There are several main types of power-ups, and then shall we say, variations on them. One of the basic ones, Fire, causes flames to trail your path, however later a superior version is unlocked where the flames radiate themselves in several different directions. Magnet, which I referred to earlier, is another, and basically sucks in all collectibles on the board within the circumference of the traction; it’s an absolute wiz for getting a big Pellet multiplier.
Always the staple of the Pac-Man world, Power Pellets grant temporary invincibility to The Yellow One. During this time, Ghosts can be eaten, with the first one providing a 10 point boost, and each additional Ghost being worth 10 additional points. Thus the second is worth 20, the third 30, and so on.
As the maze is endless and randomly generated, there are often times when you can actually manage to find a second Power Pellet before the first one’s time period has expired thus extending the duration and allowing you to wrack up some mad points.
Another Pac-Man world staple, there are various Fruit items that appear on the board including Cherries, Melons, Strawberries, and Oranges. These temporairly provide an extra score multiplier and are often used in tandem with the various Prize Goals (more on that later). Each type of Fruit has a different multiplier value.
In App Purchases
Personally, I loathe IAP, perhaps largely because I grew up in the days before DLC existed and hence gaming meant (1) purchasing a (2) finished product. These days, you have all kinds of nice looking games that are absolutely ruined by the freemium business model, at least in my honest opinion. Thankfully, Pac-Man 256 makes use of the IAP premise in a very well done, tasteful manner.
The game allocates 5 Credits (lives basically), and there are a couple of ways in which you can use them:
Power-Ups To play the game with any of the power-ups you have unlocked and selected for use, 1 Credit is required.
Continuing After you die, 1 Credit can be used to continue from that spot, with all nearby Ghosts eliminated.
Assuming you do both, this means 2 Credits per game. After the first one is spent, a timer will immediately begin to countdown, signaling when the supply will be replenished (by one). This is basically the same mechanic that exists in many of these types of games. Thankfully, you can actually play the game without using any Credits, though doing so will negate the presence of any Power-Ups, except for Power Pellets; they are always present.
Of course, for a cost, you can actually unlock Unlimited Credits. While I was tempted to do this, honestly speaking the rate at which the Credits regenerate is much faster than in other games and thus seemed rather unnecessary. Beyond that, I worried that by having the ability to play endlessly would cause me to immediately tire of the game; there is something to be said by the moderation that down time enforces.
Coins are used to Level Up your Power-Ups. Each has 8 levels, and activating a new level requires larger and larger amounts of coins to do so. For most of the improvements, only the duration improves, but with some like the Pac Men Power-Up above, the value of each Ghost chomped during the time period increases. Opting to spend coins and Level Up the Power-Up results in a down-time during which it is unusable, though you can swap it out for another.
Earning the Cheddar
Coins are normally earned by picking them up on the game board, and seemingly as a factor of your total score for each game. There is of course, another way to get them: spending real money. In the Pac Man Power-Up picture mentioned earlier, you will notice a small icon in the top right corner, which is used to bring up the IAP screen:
At the moment, you can’t actually buy coins, just a Coin Doubler which will, obviously, double the number of coins you earn. Note however, the price for the feature, along with the aforementioned Unlimited Credit. As I am located in Japan the currency unfortunately will not convert to dollars even though I set the language to English for purposes of this review. For reference, $1 is currently around 120 Yen, so we’re talking in upwards of $5 here to unlock features.
Control of the game is touch based, and simply requires you to slide your finger in the direction you want Pac-Man to travel. This can essentially be done before he even hits a corner or intersection, and thus makes the task all the more easy.
The game does let you “stand still” when faced against a wall, perfect for those times when there is a nearby Power-Up you want to get but need to wait for your current one to expire before it will reappear. Note that if you wait too long however, the “Glitch” will creep up from the bottom of the screen and kill you if the majority of it touches you.
Sound and Graphics
Given that the product we are dealing with is something from the 80’s masquerading in modern times, don’t expect much from the audio or visual department. What you see in these pictures is literally what you get: pixels. Likewise there is basically no music to be had save for the opening jingle, and the same basic sound effects that graced the original games.
Get it NOW!
While I very, very rarely play mobile games, Pac-Man 256 managed to truly impress me. It offers up a very interesting take on the series, yet doesn’t feel forced at all. This is, in a sense, exactly what Pac-Man has always been about: endless mazes. It’s just now there are no set boards, rather you have one long, eternal one that changes color and shape as you go up it.
The IAP content is well managed and never in-your-face, and the gameplay is extremely addictive and keeps you coming back for more. Any fan of the 80’s arcade gaming scene, or Pac-Man in general, owes it to themselves to at least give this a try.