Odds are that everyone reading this article already knows who Pac-Man is, seeing as how Toru Iwatani’s creation — first debuted back in 1980 — quickly went on to win the hearts of people the entire world over. The game starred a yellow circle — styled after a pizza with a slice cut out — as he endlessly evaded ghosts inside a glowing blue maze, all while desperately striving to gobble up every last dot. While many believed those ghosts to be the only villains dwelling within Pac-Man’s pellet-filled halls, the time has finally come to make everyone aware of the greatest — most unconquerable — Pac-Man foe ever known!
I speak — of course — about the corrupted data that one encounters on level 256, an utterly nonsensical string of gibberish characters and symbols that has consumed the entire right half of the screen. No matter how skilled the best veteran Pac-Man players might be, all of their games have come crashing to an abrupt halt whenever they went face-to-face with this dauntless foe, whom some refer to only as ‘The Kill Screen’. Now your own chance has arrived to see if you might finally be the one to defeat this corrupted menace, whom has already claimed so many others, in the all new Pac-Man 256 (out now, free)!
The first thing I should probably point out is that Pac-Man 256 was developed by the very same Hipster Whale whom previously released Crossy Road (our review), and the shared pedigree is certainly noticeable. Whereas Crossy Road unofficially addressed how an endlessly randomized version of Konami’s Frogger might appear, Pac-Man 256 officially tackles the core design tenants of Iwatani’s Pac-Man in much the same manner. The end result is an endless runner esque version of Pac-Man that still manages to feel true to the original’s heart and soul, rather than merely being a generic runner game with Pac-Man’s likeness hastily bolted on (already putting it above the earlier Pac-Man Dash).
Your primary goal in Pac-Man 256 — above all else — is to keep Pac-Man one step ahead of the corrupted data slowly encroaching upon his world from the bottom of your screen, a feat that he must accomplish by forever fleeing into the depths of a never-ending maze. Similar to the original arcade game, your primary — and more or less only — means of controlling the hungry yellow dot-muncher is by instructing him to move in any of the four cardinal directions. This can be executed by simply swiping your finger across the screen in the desired direction, after which — much the same as in the arcade original — Pac-Man will shift gears towards that direction as soon as he reaches the next viable fork.
Now clearly the game’s going to be quite a bit harder than merely having you steer Pac-Man around the maze’s walls for all eternity, as that wouldn’t really be all that interesting for very long. No — much the same as always — there’s going to be ghosts getting in Pac-Man’s way, and they don’t exactly seem all that phased by the fact that all of creation is about to collapse around them. This time — however — there’s far more than just four different ghost types for Pac-Man to deal with, and you’d do well to learn each of their unique behavioral quirks if you’re planning to stay alive.
Whereas your standard Red Ghosts will still chase Pac-Man — much the same as they always have — by endlessly hounding him across every single turn, your other foes have all become a lot more involved. The Blue Ghosts will now mindlessly take every left hand turn they find (unless the maze forces them otherwise); the Pink Ghosts will barrel down a hallway every time they make eye contact (only stopping when they hit a wall); the Orange Ghosts will always chose a path leading towards the apocalypse; and so forth. The end result of all these rules is that — with the exception of the Glitchy-Data Ghosts, who may freely teleport around whenever they see fit — you’ll only ever have yourself to blame when you suddenly find Pac-Man trapped inside of a deadly ghost-pincer.
Of course — much the same as with the classic arcade original — Pac-Man isn’t actually defenseless in the face of these maniacal ghosts, as he can always temporarily turn the tides by munching on a handy Power Pellet! These will — as before — begin a count down during which Pac-Man may gobble up every last ghost he successfully chases down, however — unlike before — successfully eating ghosts here actually adds time to the pellet. Furthermore, the consumption of additional pellets will actually extend the length of Pac-Man’s pellet time — allowing for even more ghost munching mayhem — all without resetting Pac-Man’s ghost combo in the process (assuming one was already active).
However — taking a page from the oft forgotten Pac & Pal — Power Pellets aren’t the only useful items Pac-Man will find in this apocalyptic wasteland, leading to even more means with which the yellow hero may enact an ethereal beat-down on those blocking his way. With Laser Pac-Man players may cut a swath of destruction where ever they go — whereas Fire Pac-Man will leave a trail of burning death in his wake — and Giant Pac-Man will simply flatten any foolish enough to cross his path, all amongst many other possibilities. The only catch is, you’ll have to both first unlock — as well as level-up — each of these various ghost-obliterating power-ups in order to truly make the most of their immense potential.
In order to initially unlock these power-ups you’ll first have to do what Pac-Man does best, and that means gobbling up as many of those yummy dots littering Pac-Man 256’s mazes as you possibly can. After a specific dot milestone has been successfully munched — which thankfully carries over across multiple runs — the next Power-Up in line will be unlocked, and you may freely choose to equip any three of the already unlocked powers. Your equipped options will then have the chance to randomly appear in-game as power-ups in place of the generic Power Pellets (but they’ll still be there too), allowing you to freely choose your own personal flavor of Pac-Carnage.
By the way, successfully collecting an unbroken chain of over 256 dots will cause a massive burst of ghost-annihilating energy to be unleashed (which is actually easier said than done, seeing as how there are naturally occurring dot-gaps in the playing field).
Anyways — getting back to topic — you might initially notice that these special Power-Ups last a woefully short time when grabbed, and that’s because you haven’t yet upgraded their capabilities. These upgrades can purchased with coins, which — much the same as Crossy Road before it — can either be found lying around the maze, earned by completing your assigned objectives, or by clicking to electively watch an ad whenever prompted. Finally, each successive upgrade to the same Power-Up will cost more coins than the one before it; during which the Power-Up will be rendered unusable until the upgrade process has completed (and — before you ask — there are no IAP options for rushing this process).
I can’t — however — say that Pac-Man 256 is entirely devoid of IAPs, for that would be where the game’s “Credits” system comes into play (which shouldn’t be confused with the aforementioned coins). In order to enable Power-Ups during a session — other than the default Power Pellets — a player will need to spend a single Credit at the beginning of a game, and they may additionally continue a failed game precisely once for a credit also. Players will initially begin the game with six of these Credits absolutely for free, and will furthermore receive a new free Credit once every ten minutes (but they’ll never be able to stockpile up more than six of these at once).
Now while I personally found it hard to deliberately run out of Credits — and this would be doubly hard if someone only had a limited amount of time in which to play — people can buy a bundle of 12 whole Credits for just $0.99, should they be impatient to continue. Far more reasonable, however, is an option where those seeking extra long sessions of Pac-Man 256 can simply buy access to infinite Credits for just $7.99 (although you may still only continue once per game). Another option for the requisite Coin Doubler also exists, but I’d posit that you’ll get far more coins from simply completing your objectives — or even watching ads — such that the Coin Doubler isn’t necessarily all that useful.
The end result of all this is a game which does both an exemplary job of feeling true to the original Pac-Man, while simultaneously being both fresh and engagingly original. There’s a lot of fun to be had endlessly cruising down the randomly generated mazes, all while making snap decisions on how best to avoid the ghosts placed ahead of you (which is where you’ll be greatly rewarded for learning all of their specific behavior patterns). Although the various Power-Ups do spice up the experience by allowing for multiple ways to wreak ghost destroying havoc, they sadly don’t provide quite the same endless replayability that came from Crossy Road’s vast selection of unique playable characters.
Now while I had some — admittedly mild — complaints regarding Pac-Man 256’s potential longevity, I have only flying praise to give when discussing the game’s stellar visuals. While the pictures across this article will probably explain the game’s 2D-meets-3D blend far better than I ever could ever hope to accomplish via the written word, one particularly nice part of the game’s visuals won’t really be apparent from any screenshot. Pac-Man 256’s world will — whenever you allow the corrupted data to come too close — begin to go out of focus; yet this happens in a way that makes it feel as though you’re suddenly on ancient jittery TV screen, rather than merely have the picture go fuzzy.
If you loved how Hipster Whale previously created a endlessly randomized Frogger esque game, then odds are you’re going to positively adore their officially licensed Pac-Man spin-off done in a similar vein. In Pac-Man 256 you’re tasked with navigating an endless randomized maze while you fight to keep one step ahead of a wall of corrupted death, all while dealing with a variety of annoying ghosts. Each of these foes feature radically different — yet totally predictable — behavioral rules that you’ll have to memorize, otherwise you’ll only have yourself to blame when you find yourself inside a ghostly-pincer of doom. Between engaging game play that manages to be both fresh — yet still pay homage to the tenants of classical Pac-Man — plus extremely player-friendly IAPs, there’s not much for you to go wrong.