This review is based on the iPhone and iPad versions of Pac-Man 256.
Franchises that have been around for decades have a significant challenge in remaining relevant for modern audiences, requiring a balance of modern design and gameplay elements with identifiable traits from the original to form a meaningful remake. After some misfires in the past, Namco published a truly addictive update in Pac-Man Championship Edition DX and has another interesting interpretation in Pac-Man 256.
Developed by the team behind last year’s smash hit Crossy Road, Pac-Man 256 takes an unexpected detour for the iconic franchise into the realm of free-to-play games. The team at Hipster Whale carries over the isometric perspective and swipe based motions from their debut hit to the Pac-Man universe that respects the formula of the classic games while taking advantage of the isometric perspective. The game is essentially an endless runner with an advancing barrier of degenerating code (a shout-out to the infamous level 256 glitch in the original version that is also the namesake for this game), but you can weave forward and backward with a greater degree of flexibility in comparison to Crossy Road. It’s better seen than described:
Pac-Man 256 offers a choice between Free Play and regular Play modes, the latter adding an assortment of power-ups beyond the original power pellet onto the playing field in exchange for a virtual credit. Topping out at 6 credits and regenerating a credit at set time intervals, the game is metered but with a threshold that will only affect players who crave extended sessions on power-up enabled levels. The Free Play versions largely resembles the classic arcade Pac-Man experience and provides an equally viable method of munching on dots to unlock the more advanced power-ups in your arsenal for equipping and upgrading. Your armory eventually expands to a total of 16 weapons comprised of options such as a path frying Laser, explosive Bomb that triggers upon contact and a Pyro that leaves a trail of scorching flames along Pac-Man’s movement path. I’m partial to the Pac-Men army of spawning mini allies that chomp on nearby enemies, sending out a trio of smaller but equally deadly avatars.
The game delivers a steady streams of gifts, earned by watching a 30 second trailer (mostly for other mobile games) or for accomplishing tasks such as eating fruit or destroying ghosts with specific power-ups which can usually be earned in a few plays for credit. Each one provides a random amount of coins or a pair of credits that can be used for upgrading abilities and playing games respectively, making the selection of a preferred mix of 3 power-ups depending on play style and tactical need a key factor in choosing what to upgrade.
The controls are generally responsive, but it would definitely benefit with the precision of tactile controls: the inherent imprecision of swipe based movements and accumulated sweat on the screen during longer play sessions combine to create some frustrating results.
Pac-Man 256 is an engrossing, addictive game that refreshes the classic pill munching format with a wonderfully inventive mix of power-ups and retro aesthetic look. Veterans of Namco’s iconic series will get a kick out of Hipster Whale’s interpretation and newcomers will find a fresh, revitalized take on a legendary gaming franchise.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars