I’m not a stranger to mobile games; however, I’m also not their biggest fan. I like the idea of small, cheap games that can provide a few hours of mindless, arcade-style entertainment for a couple of bucks, but that’s not the way it usually goes. Instead, games are offered for “free” and will provide a few minutes of solid gameplay before you reach your first pay-wall: Dish out some cash or wait an arbitrary amount of time. Nick Ballantyne recently wrote about this very thing and, despite having been sucked into Boom Beach by work colleagues, it’s an insidious business model I generally frown upon. This is why I was disappointed to find this kind of chicanery in an otherwise fun and enjoyable spin on the original Pac-Man arcade title in the form of Pac-Man 256.
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Pac-Man 256’s design is very reminiscent of the arcade original, taking the classic maze level and stretching it into a forever runner. For those not familiar with the term, it means that there is no beginning or end – the track simply loops in a pattern, forever. There are a few different ghosts that run around the maze and, just like the original, they each have particular “personalities” that are easily identified. Fruit provides a score multiplier, there are missions that you can complete during a run (“collect x many fruits,” and the like), and you’ll earn various power ups over time. Power pellets are still around, of course, and by reaching an unbroken combo of 256 pellets you can instagib all ghosts on the screen for a big score boost. You’re also chased by a “glitch wave” throughout each run, which is exactly what it sounds like: a flowing wave of glitched graphics that kills you if it catches up.
The game is incredibly easy to pick up and will feel immediately familiar for anyone who’s played a Pac-Man game. Enemies are easy to predict once you learn the patterns associated with each one, but they will spawn unexpectedly and without any particular pattern. There are also coins that can be collected, usually in places to tempt you out of a combo you might have going at the time, to upgrade your power-ups. Power-ups are selected before you start each run, and you can only have three appear in any one run, which adds an extra, fun layer of strategy for players interested in chasing a high-score. The touch controls are basic but still worth mentioning, since this is one of the few mobile games I’ve played whose touch controls haven’t made me want to jab my finger through my screen. It’s an “easy to learn, sort of difficult to master” situation and is a nice little homage to the original arcade title.
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Pac-Man 256’s appearance is an isometric, voxelised version of the original Pac-Man; it’s a small though effective change and doesn’t try to crazily reinvent Pac-Man’s classic appearance. The sound design is also pretty tight in this game, which is something that normally escapes my attention while playing games. There’s no music while you play beyond the remixed intro track at the beginning – an intentional decision by the sound designer as an homage to the original. Some things like having the pellet-eating sound effect gradually speed up as my combo crept higher I found actually helped to maintain my focus during gameplay. The rest of the sound effects carry a great choppy, retro sound and otherwise remain very close to the arcade version for things like eating pellets or hitting ghosts.
When I said that Pac-Man 256’s design was reminiscent of the arcade original, however, I also refer to the way you pay for the game. The game runs on “credits,” each run costs one, and you have a maximum of six without having paid anything. The game recharges one credit every ten minutes, and you can earn extra credits by watching ads, which is actually one of the better methods of free to play going at the moment. The option to watch an ad for extra credits lasts so many times, however, before that too goes into an arbitrary “reload” time. Eventually, you have to wait for a credit to reload or pay some cash to keep going, and that is just so damn annoying. You can, of course, pay $1.18 for a “temporary 12 credit boost,” or ten sodding dollars for “unlimited credits.”
Normally price wouldn’t be a big factor, or even a factor at all in my reviews but when the game forces a decision of time versus money it suddenly becomes one. As far as IAP’s go the temporary credit boost is quite reasonable, but that full-unlock price tag is absurd for a game of this kind. Go have a look on Steam for what you can buy for ten dollars and tell me if you think this is worth that much. You can play for free as many times as you want without the power-ups but at that point you’re removing one of the few original aspects of this title. It’s a frustrating and unnecessary aspect of this game. There are even wait times on power-up upgrades and there doesn’t seem to be an option to pay in any way to skip them, waiting just seems to be core design 101 for this team. I would have honestly rather paid a few dollars (a few) up front to enjoy the whole game without any caveats. It’s a major weak point of this, and any mobile title.
Pac-Man 256 is a solid game, a decent forever runner and an excellent homage to the original arcade version with some tight sound design. There’s not a huge amount more to say about it; it’s a fairly simple arcade-style mobile game, which is why their asking price for a full unlock is completely ridiculous. It really soured my perception of the game, which is disappointing because it’s otherwise a great effort by the developers. All I’m saying is that you can get Pac-Man Championship DX+ on Steam for the same price as Pac-Man 256, and I know which I’d rather be playing for that price. Of course, you can always wait ten minutes per play.