By: Matthew Striplen
How does one keep a classic franchise relevant in today’s gaming landscape? PAC-MAN 256 provides the perfect answer to this question: distill the gameplay to its core, throw in a few new goodies and, most importantly, create a twist that nobody is going to see coming.
256‘s name pays tribute to the infamous glitch in the original arcade game, which would cause the game to crash upon reaching level 256. Don’t feel bad for not knowing that; it’s not exactly an easy task to make it that far.
As mentioned, the first step in updating an old franchise is to decide what makes a PAC-MAN game a PAC-MAN game. I think most would agree that PAC-MAN‘s essential elements are eating dots on a grid and fighting ghosts. 256 perfectly preserves these qualities, but it also adds exciting new abilities, such as lasers, bombs and much more.
Additional power-ups are unlocked by eating enough Pac-dots. These abilities can be leveled up by spending coins that are awarded for meeting specific criteria — such as eating 10 strawberries or destroying 20 ghosts with a laser. Individual coins can also be found on the grid. There are tons of abilities and PAC-MAN can take three of them into the game.
Now comes the twist. Instead of navigating a confined maze, 256 instead has PAC-MAN moving across an endless grid to flee the encroaching glitch waves. If you take too long, you’ll be swallowed by the corrupted code and destroyed, all while evading the hostile ghosts.
Ghosts behave a little differently than their original counterparts. Red and blue ghosts still aggressively pursue PAC-MAN, but the pink ones only move when they have a direct line of sight. Plus, there are sleeping ghosts that wake only when the player comes too close. Be careful of the glitched ghosts, as their behavior can be unpredictable. Other glitches cause power ups to appear on the board, but sometimes a ghost will appear instead.
Although the changes are numerous, the one aspect that remains constant is 256‘s replayability. Each run inches the player closer to another ability or upgrade, keeping what otherwise might be a repetitive experience undeniably fresh. Plus, there are tons of different graphical styles to re-skin the entire game, from the retro PAC-MAN look all the way to Crossy Road.
PAC-MAN 256 is a fantastic example of how to make a sequel. The feel is distinctly PAC-MAN, but there are enough new features to keep even the most seasoned veterans coming back for more. Plus, seeing an entire game designed around a 26-year-old unintended glitch is an absolutely original concept. If you love arcade style games, PAC-MAN 256 is a must buy.