Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Pac-Man 256, which was published by Bandai Namco and co-developed by Hipster Whale and 3 Sprockets, garnered a fair deal of praise when it was originally released for both iOS and Android mobile devices back in August of 2015, so much so that it was even nominated in the “Best Mobile/Handheld Game” category during The Game Awards 2015 ceremony (joining other hit mobile games such as Fallout Shelter and Lara Croft Go). Given the game’s success, it’s not surprising that Bandai Namco later decided to port Pac-Man 256 over to PC and consoles, replicating the same addicting formula as the mobile version and even adding in local multiplayer.
Escape The Glitch
For all you non-Pac-Man-experts out there, the “256” in Pac-Man 256 references the infamous glitch which affected the original 1980 Pac-Man game’s 256th level, making it impossible to beat and thus making the game’s 256th level the “final” level (even though the developers originally intended for the game to go on forever).
Hipster Whale and 3 Sprockets have modified that concept, dropping Pac-Man 256 players into an endless maze which they must race through while avoiding Ghosts, collecting dots and power-ups, and staying ahead of the encroaching glitch which devours the maze behind them.
As players work their way further into the maze, its borders change color, paying homage to the separate stages of more traditional Pac-Man games while also giving the player a visual indicator of how far they’ve progressed. Just as in any other Pac-Man game, the player must collect dots and fruit to attain a high score, and they can also collect Power Pellets to gain the temporary ability to chomp down on nearby Ghosts.
A well-timed Power Pellet grab can definitely help later on in the maze, when the game starts throwing curveballs at the player, such as groups of Ghosts which patrol parts of the map in single file, and sleeping grey Ghosts which, if awakened by straying too close to them, will pursue the player for several seconds.
Mixing It Up
Attaining a high score is all well and good, but Pac-Man 256 makes sure to also appease gamers with more modern tastes. Collecting enough dots allows the player to unlock new power-ups such as a laser which destroys any Ghosts in its path or a freeze cube which makes all Ghosts move slower while it’s active.
As players progress through the maze, they can also pick up coins which are in turn used to level up each power-up, increasing its duration with each level gained. There’s a sizeable list of power-ups to unlock, but the player can only equip a “loadout” of three power-ups at a time, allowing the player to try out different power-up strategies while still keeping the on-screen chaos to a minimum.
In addition to this pseudo-progression system, Pac-Man 256 also allows the player to switch between a number of different “themes” which alter the appearance of Pac-Man, the maze, and the Ghosts. Some of these themes are simply more retro riffs harkening back to the classic Pac-Man days, while others drastically alter the game’s landscape, such as the “Crossy Road” theme which features an outdoor layout and replaces Pac-Man with a chicken and the Ghosts with cars, or the “Robotz” theme which, as you might guess from the name, replaces Pac-Man and the Ghosts with robots and features a circuit board-style layout. There’s even a “Shuffle” theme which combines elements from all of the other themes into one.
The only noticeable difference between the mobile versions and the console/PC versions of Pac-Man 256 is the inclusion of four-player local multiplayer in the latter. Each player can pick their own playable avatar, choosing from different versions of Pac-Man as well as the robot and chicken avatars mentioned earlier, and cooperatively work through the maze.
If one player is eliminated, the others can bring them back in by finding a specific power-up, which means that skilled teams can go on for quite a while. Best of all, the main player’s profile still earns progress towards their next power-up even while playing co-op. Sadly, aside from PlayStation 4 Share Play, there’s no way to play online multiplayer.
A Worthy Distraction
While Pac-Man 256 may not have a lot of content for players to engross themselves in, it can still be a worthwhile experience for solo players who are looking for a game which they can approach casually but which can also provide incentives for long-term investment. However, if you’ve got a few spare controllers and some willing friends, it can also provide a surprisingly thrilling co-op adventure which will undoubtedly have you and your dot-munching compatriots shouting and cheering at your television.