by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
I wasn't around for Pac-Man's original foray into the game world back in 1980. Well, I was around, but far too young to appreciate it. But of course, with a classic such as Pacman, I have played numerous adaptations and clones since on practically every game machine I've owned. The latest game with the Pac-Man moniker is Pac-Man 256, a game co-developed by indie developer Hipster Whale, the team behind Crossy Road, and 3Sprockets of Cubemen fame.
Pac-Man 256 is a fairly straightforward game - guide the titular hero around a maze and collect as many pellets as you can before the ghosts can catch you. Along the way, Pac-Man can pick up fruit (he always was healthy) that can act as multipliers, and grab the occasional power-up to give him a short burst of protection or improved attacking ability. As with the original, power pellets can be found and consumed after which Pac-Man becomes the hunter rather than the hunted for a short period of time.
The game takes place on a 2D isometric plane which scrolls upward as you progress. Stay near the bottom too long, and you will be devoured by the 256 glitch that gives this game its name. Also ready to devour our circular hero are the ghosts that we all know from the original Pac-Man. Each of the brightly coloured ghost creatures acts in different ways. The Blue ghost, for instance, patrols a specified route whilst the Black ghost is like a sentry, moving to catch Pacman only when he comes within a certain range. The Pink ghost is similar in that he is stationary only until he has a direct line of sight to Pac-Man. He is the toughest of the ghosts, as he is quicker than our hero. Unlike the original Pac-Man where there were only four ghosts chasing Pac-Man, in Pac-Man 256, there are multiples of each ghost that appear as you progress.
Trying to score as much as possible before dying - you get only get one shot at it, no such thing as three lives here - you are given challenges which provide special benefits when completed. A challenge can be destroying a certain amount of ghosts in a particular fashion, or collecting a random number of fruit. Once completed, you receive special crates filled with gold coins.
These gold coins can then be used to upgrade Pac-Man's special abilities, for example by extending their duration or increasing scores for destroying ghosts. To unlock the abilities themselves, you collect pellets and each new ability requires an exponentially greater number of pellets in order to unlock. Special abilities include slowing down the ghosts, becoming stealthy and being able to move undetected past ghosts, or a giant mode that lets Pac-Man squash any ghosts in his path. Each of the abilities has a different feel, and I quickly acquired a couple of favourites that I stuck to for most sessions unless I was prompted to change in order to complete a challenge. Once all unlocked, you will have some twenty to choose from and Pac-Man can take any three of them into a game, but can only activate them once he gobbles up the abilities icon in the maze.
The developers have gone with the full retro feel, though there are a number of different themes in the mazes. For fans of the mobile game Crossy Road, there is even a mode that lets you play as that game`s hero against a series of vehicles. Each of the themes has its own charm but in the end, the differences are aesthetic and do not adjust the gameplay at all. The sound effects too, contain the beeps and bops from the original classic arcade title.
When all is said and done, Pac-Man 256 is a basic game; If you enjoy Pac-Man, then you'll enjoy this. The challenges and the quick-play nature of the games give it a 'one more turn' feel as you try and beat your high score, though you can safely play if you've only got a few minutes to kill. Unfortunately, replayability is an issue due to the lack of any variation in game modes. Yes, there are some visual variations, but these alone are not enough to keep players interested for an extended period of time. The local multiplayer can be fun but that too only has a reasonably short shelf life before the boredom kicks in. If the game had come with more variation it might have made things a little different but in its current form, Pac-Man 256 just doesn't have enough new material to keep it entertaining for very long. Then again, for five bucks, you probably can't expect much more.
Simple to play - like the original
Not much variation in gameplay