Pac-Man 256 Review — Pac is Back
We all remember that rush the first time we played Pac-Man. While not all of us are Pac-pros, some people were skilled enough to reach level 256, a Pac-Man level that will forever go down in infamy. Due to programming limitations, the game could not run properly once it hit level 256, causing the game to glitch out and end the player’s adventure. That final level of the original Pac-Man was the inspiration for Hipster Whale and 3 Sprockets’ endless runner, Pac-Man 256.
Originally released on iOS and Android last August, Pac-Man 256 recently came to consoles and PC. While Pac-Man 256 is a great mobile game, it struggles to break out of that mold and feels a little underwhelming on consoles.
Nonetheless, some good can still be said about Pac-Man 256: The endless runner iteration is a natural continuation of Pac-Man‘s arcade roots. As the iconic yellow orb, you are constantly running away from “The Glitch,” an evil entity eating up the bottom of the screen. If Pac-Man gets caught, the game ends. The player also have to run away from ghosts, which include the classic ones (Blinky, Inky, Pinky and Clyde), Spunky who sleeps and blocks Pac-Man’s path until it is woken up, and Glitchy, a ghost infected by the glitch that constantly changes its color. It is an interesting premise for an endless runner, and it sets itself apart from the competition.
The inclusion of power-ups creates new opportunities when fighting ghosts. Power-ups like the laser or bomb can attack enemies directly, while using fire or traps provide a more tactical edge in taking them down. Between each game, you have the option to create a loadout of three power-ups. Only these chosen items will appear in your game, along with the classic power pellet and the power-up to be unlocked next.
Coins collected while playing can be used to level up all your different powers. Sadly, the effects of these upgrades are minimal at best, and some of the later power-ups require far too many pellets to unlock. This definitely shows off the mobile roots of the game, where such a progression system works a lot better. As a console game, though, it just makes the pacing of the game drag. Lowering the number of pellets required to unlock these power-ups or allowing more power-ups to be used from the start would have fixed this problem.
Visually, the game is always a pleasure to look at. While it does not exactly push graphical boundaries, the particle effects, maze layout, and character models are quite nice. There is also a welcomed variety of game themes that you can set.
There is a certain charm to playing with the original Pac-Man or Pac-Mania theme. In the mobile version of Pac-Man 256, you have to purchase these themes separately, so it is a nice bonus to have them all unlocked from the start.
The most significant addition to the console versions is easily the multiplayer mode, which supports up to four players locally. This pits players against each other in friendly competition, working together to defeat enemies while also competing for the highest score. Surprisingly, there is no online multiplayer (excluding Share-Play). An online mode would have been a cool addition to give the game more staying power. Leaderboards exist, shared with friends, but a full-fledged online multiplayer mode would have provided even more replay value.
That being said, couch co-op is still insanely fun. Each player only has one life to rack up as many points as possible. If both players die, the game is over. As long as one of them remains, players can resurrect each other through a special power-up that drops after someone dies. This mechanic usually works out in your favor, although there is the occasional bad respawn that traps you in between two ghosts. There is a short invincibility frame when for a newly resurrected player, but it doesn’t last very long. It can prove quite entertaining when you have four Pac-men zipping across the screen.
Pac-Man 256 is fun in short bursts, but has little staying power. You can blast through most of the game’s content in about an hour of playing. The arcade style adds some replayability to the game, but simply does not work as well on consoles as it does on mobile. It seems a better fit for other portable devices like the Playstation Vita and 3DS.
While I would recommend the console versions Pac-Man 256 to avid fans of the series. The lack of microtransactions and wait times make it a more fluent experience for those who purely want to play the game. Endless runner fans might also find something new and interesting here. The free mobile version is a better choice for those looking to try out the game first — if you like it or want to try out the multiplayer, this is a sound investment.
Pac-Man 256 is a fun little excursion for the series that innovates and changes up the formula. Sadly, some of the title’s mechanics don’t work as well on home consoles as they did on mobile platforms. The multiplayer mode is a fun new addition, but the lack of an online component is surprising. Fans of the series will eat up this new entry, but it offers little substance and staying power for a console game.