Pac-man 256 Console Review
Arcade games have been all but replaced by free-to-play mobile games. Titles like Frogger and Pitfall have been replaced by Crossy Road and Temple Run. It’s an easy way to bring back the arcade mentality that died in the west, for a new generation of kids. We probably would have never gotten another truly great Frogger game without the release of Crossy Road, so while the game might not feature a green amphibian, we’re still getting a game that lives on in Frogger’s legacy. Pac-man, on the other hand, hasn’t been replaced by a sort of “off-brand” game, but has seen his own iteration and evolution keeping the series fresh, most notably with 2007’s Pac-man: Championship Edition.
The latest title to take the Pac-man name and try to improve upon the classic maze-running gameplay is Pac-man 256. Named after the infamous glitch that occurs during the 256th level of the original game, Pac-man 256 is an endless runner of sorts, taking the same Pac-man formula, Blinky, Pinky, Inky, Clyde and all, and adding the 256 kill screen as an enemy moving from the bottom of the screen onwards, only adding to the chaos. It’s a clever concept for the new age of “arcade games.”
Pac-man 256 was developed by Hipster Whale, and was first released for free on iOS and Android last year, but has been ported and expanded upon for consoles. Yes, Hipster Whale, the same developer that created the previously mentioned Crossy Road. At $4.99 you get the same game found on mobile devices, sans the time-based credit system (allowing the developer to add micro-transactions), plus 10 or so skins for the game, each worth a dollar on mobile devices, and even the addition of a multiplayer mode.
So, while the game takes the classic Pac-man formula and turns it into an endless runner with a charming art-style, it also adds over 20 power-ups to the game. Each power-up can be unlocked by collecting a certain number of pellets. Each power-up can then be upgraded eight times via coins, or credits, gathered during the game or through missions presented inbetween playthroughs. The upgrade system is fun and rewarding, if a bit too simple. Only three power-ups can be equipped per run and it creates an extra layer of strategy to trying to find the perfect trio to stay alive and maximize score.
Unfortunately, the catch with the 20 powerups is that the majority of them feel cashed in, lacking any sort of creativity. The first few are genuinely interesting and propose compelling design ideas, but as more and more power-ups are unlocked each ability becomes a more powerful version of an earlier item or one that’s purely luck based and doesn’t ask anything of the player.
Where the power-up progression system initially extends the game’s replayability, in the late game it eventually only makes the game a slog to play through. Only one power-up can be unlocked at a time and the order in which they’re unlocked is pre-determined. There’s no satisfaction in spending multiple hours, unlocking a power-up that’s no fun to use, and ultimately useless in getting a higher score. It’s a design choice that made it feel like no progression was being made. If the power-ups were faster to unlock, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but the fact that hours can go by without unlocking anything useful only hurts the game.
On the other hand though, the new multiplayer mode is a truly great addition to the game. At it’s core, the multiplayer mode is simply the same game found in the single-player, but with up to four players through local co-op. It isn’t anything genius, but I respect that Hipster Whale didn’t overdo it. There’s a certain beauty to the chaos of playing Pac-man with three of your friends, each one of you fighting over every pellet and power-up. It might not be why you buy the game in the first place, but it might just be why you keep playing it.
Keeping in line with friends, Hipster Whale understands how important leader boards are to score based games such as their own. In terms of personal leader boards, they have detailed stats for every statistic under the sky. From how many times Inky took you out to how many cherries you’ve eaten, they’ve got you covered. They also have the same friend-based leaderboard common across any game with a score, but what makes theirs so special is how when you are a 1000 points away from a friend’s high score a countdown will appear in the top left-hand corner. It’s a small addition, but one that creates a tension unparalleled across any other score system.
When it comes down to it, even despite some lackluster power-ups and a poor progression system, Pac-man 256 is still Pac-man. It doesn’t do much to add to the classic formula, but that doesn’t make it a bad game, by any stretch of the imagination. For five bucks, this game is more than a steal, if only to get rid of the micro-transactions found in the mobile version. The addition of a simple but endlessly replayable multiplayer mode and a fun leaderboard system only add to the game’s value. Do yourself a favor, buy this game, download it and keep it on your console, it’s perfect for out of the blue sessions with friends or even when there’s nothing else to play. Pac-man isn’t going out of style any time soon.
Pac-man 256 receives a 7 out of 10.
This game was reviewed on a retail PS4 with a copy of the game bought by myself.
Caleb Cajthaml is a 15 year old who set dreams so large he needed to get started on them now. Passionate about making people happy, Caleb loves to write about all things entertainment. You can find him on twitter @Caleb_Talks tweeting about the latest happenings in the Star Wars cannon and why the Vikings are the best team in football.