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Pac-Man 256 (iOS/Android) game review

Pac-Man 256 is a new spin on the classic yellow disk’s formula that lends itself perfectly to the mobile platform. Here’s our review.

Australian developer Hipster Whale – the name behind the incredibly successful endless runner Crossy Road, was approached by Bandai Namco to bring that same addictive experience to one of gaming’s most well known names, Pac-Man.

The result is Pac-Man 256; it’s one part arcade classic, one part addictive mobile gem. As you might be able to guess it fuses elements of Hipster Whale’s biggest hit, Crossy Road to the Pac-Man formula to surprisingly great effect and the ‘256’ in its name comes from the well-documented glitch that featured in the original arcade game when players reached level 256.

In this new spin on the Pac-Man franchise the 256 glitch is the equivalent of Crossy Road’s eagle, taking you out of the game should you lag too far behind as the screen and the maze scroll on. The wave of random letters and numbers is an ever-present threat, pushing you forward, ramping up the tension and forcing you into the path of the game’s other main enemies – the ghosts.

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There are eight colourful different ghost types in all, ranging from the classics such and Blinky and Clyde, to newbies such as the mysterious Glitchy, all with their own traits and tactics necessary to stay alive.

Here are their behaviours and patterns in a nutshell:

Blinky (the red ghost): This ghost travels solo, but locks onto Pac-Man from anywhere in the maze and makes a beeline to take him out. Try to put as many twists, turns and obstacles between you and him as you can.

Pinky (the pink ghost): She stands floats, like a security guard. Should you pass through her eye line she’ll head straight for you and that’s bad because she’s faster than you are too. Try to deviate until she loses sight of you, only then will she give up the chase.

Spunky (the grey ghost): Pac-Man 256’s resident narcoleptic. When he first comes into view Spunky will be napping; it’s only when Pac-Man gets close will he wake up and begin chasing you. Luckily avoiding him is a simple waiting game and provided you can stay out of reach for a few seconds during the pursuit, he’ll soon fall back asleep, letting you escape the area before he wakes up again.

Clyde (the orange ghost): Another classic Pac-Man spectre, Clyde has a lot in common with Blinky and Inky, behaviour wise. He has a preference for the vertical and will seldom deviate from the straight paths he’s set on, even in the presence of Pac-Man; that said he might occasionally turn off to follow. If you’re headed straight for him, make a couple of turns and you’ll likely be out of his way.

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Inky (the blue ghost): In a turn of events Inky is the antithesis of Clyde, at least in that he loves turns, so much so in fact that you’ll usually find him travelling clockwise or anti-clockwise around a piece of the maze’s geometry. His path might change should you get too close, but if you time it right, you can simply slip by unnoticed.

Sue (the purple ghost): Sue is actually three purple ghosts travelling in single file. When Pac-Man is in the area, she’ll make her way to you, just like Blinky does. Luckily she moves at a fraction of the speed of most of the other ghosts so her biggest threat to you is acting as a roadblock, pushing you into the path of another ghost.

Funky (the green ghost): Funky is much the same as Sue, but appears as four lime green ghosts that travel along a single path from one end and back to the other ad infinitum. Funky is a big obstacle, but also the most predictable so should be easy enough to avoid provided his comrades don’t corner you.

Glitchy (the glitch ghost): The most unpredictable and ultimately dangerous of the ghosts is Glitchy. Warping in at any point within the maze in a mass of scrambled numbers and letters, Glitchy can adopt the behaviour of any of the other ghosts and until he’s fully materialised there’s no way of knowing which ghost he’s aping. Stand your ground and watch his movements to judge how to best proceed.

Now you know about the game’s enemies, it’s comforting to learn that there are also new ways to combat them as well. Naturally dot-munching is still very much the name of the game and power pellets still serve up a welcome dose of payback by turning the ghosts blue so you can chomp through them and gain a few extra points just like old times, but with Pac-Man 256 you also have power-ups.

You unlock new abilities by munching a few thousand dots at a time, with the laser being the first tool players will likely come across. The beam shooting out of Pac-Man’s mouth for a brief time obliterates anything in its path and as with all the power-ups you can upgrade its performance by spending coins, which like Crossy Road, you’ll find during each journey through the maze.

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Coins serve as the main method of improving power-ups whilst tokens are the other in-game currency on offer. By default you can amass up to six tokens for free and they replenish over time, but you can double that to 12 or accumulate an unlimited stash of tokens if you’re willing to pay your way through. You can also gain more tokens by watching sponsored video adverts.

It makes for a more extensive and pervasive pay-to-play setup than Crossy Road ever was, but if you want lasers, twisters, bombs and other goodies at your disposal, it’ll cost a token each time you play. Tokens also serve as a continue should you get taken out by a ghost or the glitch, but irrespective of how many tokens you hold, you can only continue once per round.

Thankfully the extra complexity added by the freemium elements of the game aren’t a necessity and if you prefer you can tackle the ghosts for free of the power-ups and tokens altogether.

The other big constant that makes Pac-Man, Pac-Man is the fruit and depending on which sweet treat you chow down on will affect your score multiplier to a different power. If you’re playing with power-ups, challenges are also set in place such as ‘get four strawberries’ which will result in a token added to the bank. As a little bonus, consuming 256 in a row is also will grant you a bonus, but it isn’t as simple as it first sounds. Reversing direction will break the chain and there are intentional breaks in the dots within the maze, pushing you down specific routes.

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It’s nice to know that Bandai Namco weren’t too precious when handing the reins over to Hipster Whale to tweak and change the original gameplay mechanics of Pac-Man to better suit the isometric endless runner formula that the company has made its name with.

Pac-Man 256 is a perfect mobile title for those who want a quick dip in the pool of retro gaming nostalgia and works to the same formula that make both the original and Crossy Road titles you keep coming back to play. You can pick it up for free on iOS and Android today.

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