Pac-Man 256 – Review

Title   Pac-Man 256
Developer  Hipster Whale
Publisher  Hipster Whale
Platform  iOS (reviewed), Android
Genre  Arcade
Release Date  August 19, 2015

One of the better iOS releases of last year was Crossy Road, an extremely slick, isometric take on the classic arcade game Frogger. With its beautiful presentation and slick gameplay, it was one of the more enduring titles on my iPad, getting some serious play, and I still return to it every now and again. Well, Hipster Whale have returned with another re-envisioning of a coin-cop classic, namely Pac-Man, with Pac-Man 256. Another isometric, endless runner, Pac-Man 256 sees you advancing upwards through a procedurally-generated maze until you inevitably get spazzed in the face by a spectral prick.

Despite not really enjoying the Pac-Man games, I’m a huge geek when it comes to the idea of the ‘perfect game’ of Pac-Man. First achieved by the bearded baddie of gaming, one Billy Mitchell, the perfect game involves clearing each of the 256 levels of the game, picking up every bit of fruit and, most insanely, killing every possible ghost. Oh, and of course you can’t afford to lose any lives doing it.

In Pac-Man, screen 256 is the kill screen. The game effectively runs out of memory at this point and corrupts the screen. You can’t pass this level and Pac-Man 256 references this both in the title and by having you being endlessly pursued by colourful, corrupted graphics as you advance. This appeals to the Pac-Man geek in me more than you know, and is a great touch.

As you advance, ghosts do their best to get in your way. The original cast of four ghosts (each of whom had their own levels of aggression) have now been added to by several more who all move in unique ways, and you need to learn their behaviour if you want to progress. For example, a grey ghost will only activate when you get near it but will then chase you relentlessly whereas a pink ghost will move towards you if you cross its path, but only in straight lines.

Power-pills show up now and again and allow you to eat ghosts, so the more you eat with one pill, the more you’ll score each time as there is a multiplier attached. Also, if you can keep a chain of regular pellets going without running into any gaps, you’ll get greater scores, and a chain of 256 will clear the whole screen and bank you a bunch of points. While survival is the key, risking it all to keep chains going is definitely the way to the big scores and Pac-Man 256 is ultimately all about scores and bragging rights.

It does have a free-to-play model attached but it’s not too obnoxious. The game itself is free and you can play as much as you like if you choose not to use power-ups. These power-ups offer handy abilities such as giving you a laser, slowing down enemies, turning you into a bomb, and a whole host more. You unlock them through repeated play and you can spend in-game coins on upgrading them (which makes them unavailable for a while, and that process can’t be sped up, which is good as it makes you experiment with other power-ups).

To play with power-ups will cost you one credit. You start with six and these refill over time. Also, when you die you can continue just once but that also will cost you a credit. This does get in the way of the fun a little, but you can just bypass the whole thing for a one-off payment of six quid, which almost seems fair enough given how good the game is. Six quid is like sixty in iOS money to me though, so for now I’m happy to stick to the free method.

As much as Pac-Man 256 is a bit of a one-trick pony, it’s such a good title. The gameplay is addictive with slick touchscreen controls which, for once, don’t get in the way of the retro-gaming fun and the isometric graphics look even nicer than they did in Crossy Road. Admittedly, sometimes you can just get a bit unlucky with how the ghosts are randomly placed but it’s not too much of an issue and, for the most part, your deaths are usually you’re own stupid fault. And with this much fun available for free, you can’t really go wrong.

  • Excellent presentation
  • Addictive gameplay that's actually a fair bit more fun than the original Pac-Man
  • Responsive touch/swipe controls
  • Shows great respect for the original
  • Free-to-play aspects can get in the way a little
  • You can sometimes fall victim to bad luck

A respectful, tasteful update of Pac-Man which, in many ways, improves on the original and offers mobile gamers a lot of fun with just a little in the way of F2P wankery. Pac-Man 256 is the best mobile title I've played this year.

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