If you didn’t grow up in the early ’80s you really and truly have no idea how popular Pac-Man was. The little yellow dude (along with his lady and kid) were just about everywhere…and rightly so. Their games were a blast to play, and they defined the “easy to learn but difficult to master” axiom. Pac-Man was one of the first games that had a true universal appeal. Moms, dads, kids, grandparents and even pets all seemed to have a blistering case of “Pac-Man Fever.”
There have been various re-incarnations of Pac-Man over his 35-year lifespan. Some have been downright awful (Ms. Pac-Man: Quest for the Golden Maze) and some have been rather excellent (Pac-Man Championship Edition DX). Luckily, the newest version of Pac-Man, Pac-Man 256 for Android and iOS devices, falls into the latter category.
The game itself recasts Pac-Man in the mold of an “endless runner,” which is a rather popular genre on mobile devices these days. Pac-Man 256 features a never-ending map that you can play in landscape or portrait mode. As with the original, you still have to munch on as many dots you can find while avoiding ghosts, but in this iteration you also have to stay one step ahead of the dreaded glitch.
The glitch is inspired by the infamous “kill screen” from level 256 in the first edition of Pac-Man This is the screen where the game runs out of memory and essentially shuts down. In Pac-Man 256, the glitch gnaws away at the bottom of the map and can engulf you as well…that is, if your reflexes aren’t quick enough.
This new experience also tosses in cool power-ups, such a laser to effortlessly pixelate any ghosts foolish enough to cross your path, and a bomb that basically turns our little Pac-buddy into a suicide bomber.
In terms of graphics, the game features a slick, retro-inspired look, which should be familiar to anyone who has even glimpsed a Pac-Man game in the last 35 years. The gameplay is fast-paced and addictive. You can easily lose large chunks of time while chasing high scores. The only issue I have with this game is with the touch-based controls. Being an old-school gamer, I long for the tactile feel of a joystick here, but the lack of a “real” controller isn’t a deal-breaker by any means. Pac-Man 256 is still a blast to play.
In-app purchases allow you to buy credits for more power-ups and continues, but a skilled, clever gamer can get by for quite some time without spending one thin dime.
All in all, Pac-Man 256 is everything a reboot should be: it doesn’t detract from the core experience, and it adds new and interesting wrinkles of its own. It definitely whets the appetite for some classic arcade gaming goodness…and that’s never a bad thing in my book.