Pacman 256 marks the return of the iconic game to consoles, this time with a few different twists to make the game even more interesting. We’ve seen many variations of Pacman since it was invented in 1980, and none of them travelled too far from the core formula of dodging ghosts and eating pellets. It could be said that it was a winning formula and almost every variation was a success, but time calls for evolution and Pacman 256 is here. The question is, does it deliver?
The first noticeable and obvious change is the level design of the world itself. The top down view is still present, but one glance at the screen will tell you that there is more than meets the eye. The map travels up the screen, infinitely actually. There is no finite end point to each level because there are no individual levels, instead you play a never-ending map until you die. Every time you play the world is different too, as it is procedurally generated to be different in every way. Different paths, different power ups, different ghosts patrolling, etc.
In this iteration, your goal is not to clear the map of pellets but instead you just want to keep going to accumulate a high score. In fact, stopping to try to grab every pallet is a death wish because of the new addition of “The Glitch.” Properly named, a scrambled mess of letters and numbers makes its appearance at the bottom of the map and works its way up the map as you play. If you lag behind and the glitch catches you, game over. The Glitch worked so well that both my wife and I thought that it was indeed a legit glitch in the game until I realized it was just another hazard the game throws at you. I’ve learned through some additional research (see Wikipedia) that “The Glitch” is based off of the glitched 256th level in the original Pacman. I wouldn’t know, I never made it past level 3 or 4 in the original game so I’ll have to take their word for it!
Powerups are a new addition and a welcome one. There are 20 unlockable powerups in the game and they can all be upgraded to last longer and earn you more points when using them. Over time, you’ll learn which ones work best for your playing style. One of my favorites is the laser, which as you can assume, points a laser in the direction you are headed and kills any ghosts in its path. Flame, Freeze, Twister, and Bomb are just a few of the 20 that you can unlock and upgrade. If you find yourself in a pinch, power pellets are always an option to gobble up ghosts as well.
The game continues to give you objectives to complete, which earn you currency to upgrade the powerups. Some examples of a mission objective would be, “Eat 5 strawberries” or “Kill 20 ghosts with the laser powerup.” I found myself continually playing to meet these objectives, and then the next one would unlock and I would continue trying to find that. It became a vicious circle to when I completed one objective, I’d start on the next one right away. These objectives are also nice in that they encourage you to use different powerups.
The game does feature 4 player local co-op, but does not have any online multiplayer. This is certainly a downside to some players, but didn’t bother me one bit. In a nice touch, the game shows you when you are closing in on your friend’s top scores in the leaderboard. Although it did puzzle me that after I set a high score that crushed theirs, their scores continued to show once again as I was playing through.
The game itself is very addictive and has a real “one more time” vibe to it. It’s very easy to start the game up and have intentions to play for just a few minutes, but get pulled into it for nearly an hour. The random generation of the levels makes each playthrough unique, and it’s quite common to get lost within the game to try to top your (or your friends) high score. Pacman 256 takes the tried and true formula of Pacman and brings it into modern times, offering an addictive, refreshing, and captivating twist on a timeless classic.