Pac-Man 256

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Release Date: June 21, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PS4 Review - 'Pac-Man 256'

by Brian Dumlao on Aug. 5, 2016 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Pac-Man 256 tasks players with guiding Pac-Man through hordes of colorful ghosts, collectible fruit, in an inescapable endless maze chased by the infamous 256 Glitch.

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The golden era of the arcades featured games that concentrated on score. While many titles had a premise, none had an actual ending except for the "game over" screen. Pac-Man was the exception, and it was more of an accident since the game would lock up if the player were lucky and skilled enough to make it past the 256th stage. That glitch became a good backdrop for the mobile title Pac-Man 256, which was successful enough to merit a port to home consoles and the PC. If you can get over the decision to not put this on the more portable 3DS and Vita, then you'll find a good game that's both familiar and calming.

If you're familiar with Hipster Whale's breakout hit Crossy Road, then you have a very good idea of what to expect in Pac-Man 256. The title is presented in an isometric perspective, and you move forward while trying to avoid being touched by ghosts. Though it isn't quite an endless runner, you have endless forward progression, and the goal is to see how far you can go and how many points you can rack up before you die. Most of the time, death comes from simply running into a ghost when you have no powers at your side, and while you are afforded some leeway for backward movement, the ever-encroaching glitch wall ensures you don't dawdle for too long.

While the game is Crossy Road in nature, it has a great many things that make it Pac-Man. The maze feels overly familiar even though the layout is a little randomized, and the inclusion of exits on the sides doesn't hurt at all. Dots and fruit are littered among each pathway, and fruit is used as a temporary point multiplier instead of as bonus points. Power pellets remain present, and the ghosts still turn blue when you have it. You still flash white to let you know that you're about to run out of power. For fans of the classic arcade game, the developers got every signature piece right.

Even with the familiar elements of both games showing up prominently, there are plenty of other things that are distinct about the title. Ghosts now have different behavior patterns, so some patrol a simple square area, others home in on you, and a few stay asleep but immediately dart after you once you're in their line of sight. There's even a patrolling train of four ghosts that will either go on a routine across one horizontal line or move slowly but follow your movements in an effort to block you.

To fight back, you now have a bevy of power-ups. You might start with a power pellet but you'll quickly get bombs, lasers, magnets to scoop up dots, and the ability to freeze others. Those powers can be unlocked via the dots you eat up, and they're powered up with coins to make them last longer and be more potent. By that token, other power-ups on the field extend the length of a power-up if you can reach them before your meter runs out. Finally, execute a chain of 256 dots eaten, and you'll perform a screen-clearing move to eliminate the ghosts in the vicinity.

Pac-Man has remained fun throughout its lifespan, and this new take on it retains the original's sense of challenge and joy. The challenges you're given during each match push you toward one more round since you're always given coins for your trouble. The dynamic nature of the mazes makes things feel fresh, as does the multitude of skins you can access from the get-go. You will run into situations where you're going to be ambushed with no way out, but it takes no time to get into another round, and you can always get a good way into a level unless you purposefully get yourself killed.

It helps that the developers have made several tweaks to make the game much better than the free mobile version. The free coins are doled out every few games, and the values are substantial enough that you feel you've made significant progress even if you're aiming for the highest level. The timers for powering up an ability are gone, so leveling them up is instantaneous, and there's also no limit to how many times you can make a run.

Interestingly, the experience is calmer than the original and the much-loved Pac-Man Championship Edition. Enemies may be numerous, but except for those that rush you, the ghosts move at a very predictable pace. The lack of a timer puts less pressure on you, and the space between you and the glitch wall is generous enough that you'll rarely die because of it. You can leave and jump back into a game rather quickly, so you simply want to keep playing, proving that the title has the same addictive quality that places it in the same league as some of the most popular puzzle games out there.

One of the newer additions over the mobile version is multiplayer. Unlike the series' previous attempts at this, the multiplayer here is a co-op experience, so you try to make it as far as you can in the maze together. Should one person fall, there are plenty of opportunities to bring them back into the fold. You can make it much further into a maze if everyone keeps trading off kills and resurrecting each other at every opportunity. Multiplayer is local-only, but at least the progress counts toward unlocking new power-ups.

To be honest, there's only one complaint that can be levied against Pac-Man 256, and that's the placement of the scoreboard. It makes some sense when you remember the game's mobile roots, as it was mostly played with the screen oriented vertically. With so much wide real estate now, its placement only obscures some maze elements — including ghosts. It gets worse when you get a fruit multiplier, since it has a larger font than the score and covers more of the screen. It isn't so bad that it makes the game unplayable, but a shift to the left or right side of the screen would've been more ideal.

Though the presentation is faithful to the source material, there are some nice little touches here that enhance things. Though the game is nice and clean most of the time, getting closer to the glitch wall makes things fuzzier, so scanlines become more prevalent, and the sound crackles the closer you get. Each environment looks great, and the eternally scrolling background underneath the mazes provides a nice visual touch. Though it lacks music in all places save for death and the title screen, the one sound that you'll notice is that of you eating the dots. It starts off softly at first, but the rise in volume and cadence as you eat more dots gets the adrenaline pumping.

There's a very good chance that Pac-Man 256 will become your new guilty pleasure when you want a break from the bigger titles. The premise is as simple as can be, but there are enough changes here to make things intriguing. There are plenty of things to unlock and challenges to conquer, and the grind to get them all and power them up doesn't feel as daunting thanks to the generosity of coins and points being given to you. Most importantly, the sessions are short enough that you can spend a few minutes with it and be done, but that call of "one more round" is enough to keep you glued for hours. Cheap but ultimately satisfying, Pac-Man 256 comes highly recommended.

Score: 9.0/10

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