Walls have always been an important part of Pac-Man. Your little yellow guy (or lady) is stuck in a maze with some deadly ghosts. The walls of the maze frame the action and give it structure. So… what if one of those walls didn’t exist, and the maze became endless?
That’s the idea fuelling Pac-Man 256, a new mobile Pac-Man game from developer Hipster Whale. That studio found great success by remixing Frogger into the popular mobile game Crossy Road, and they’ve taken a similar approach in Pac-Man 256.
The game, which is new this week for iOS and Android, is “inspired by the famous Level 256 glitch,” a bug in the original Pac-Man that broke the walls of the level and replaced them with glitchy alphanumeric soup. In the new game, that glitch catastrophe chases you from the bottom of the screen. You swipe up, down, left and right to keep Pac-Man moving upward and out of harm’s way, dodging ghosts and grabbing pellets as quickly as you can while the map unfolds in front of you.
Pac-Man 256 is fun. It’s fun in a different sort of way from more traditional Pac-Man games like 2010’s fabulous Championship Edition DX, because you can’t actually master or “win” the game. 256 is an endless, randomly generated sort of thing, and you can’t achieve the same sort of mastery that you can in a traditional Pac-Man game. It’s a leaderboard chase, where you try to beat your own high score and the high scores of others, deriving satisfaction from advancement, not completion. It’s fine, it’s just a bit different.
256 works as well as it does mostly because Pac-Man is fun, and those enjoyable fundamentals remain the same in 256, despite some new and reimagined mechanics. You still have to look ahead and carefully plan your next route; you’re still making constant risk/reward decisions on whether to try to hook around a bend and grab a few more pellets. You’ll still have miraculous near-misses where you just beat a ghost around a corner and make your escape. The swipe-focused touch controls take a bit of getting used-to, and Pac-Man pros will likely miss the precision of an actual joystick or D-pad. Once I got used to it, I found myself making tight turns and dodging ghosts without much trouble.
Hipster Whale has dreamed up a bunch of new abilities for the hungry yellow guy, most of which serve to make Pac-Man more powerful and keep things interesting. As you eat more and more pellets, you’ll unlock new abilities that you can equip before setting out, meaning that they’ll appear on the board on your next time through.
For example, there’s a laser that temporarily blasts a beam in front of Pac-Man as he moves, obliterating ghosts in his path; there’s a freeze-bomb that slows ghosts down; there’s a bomb that triggers an explosion when you touch a Ghost. I’ve only unlocked three of the 16 possible abilities, and I’d imagine things get wilder as you go.
The ghosts exhibit some interesting behaviour, as well—Pinky sits and waits for you to wander into its (her?) sightline, then makes a beeline straight for you, and a new ghost called “Glitchy” turns up with a Pigpen-like cloud of glitch-noise surrounding it. You’ll have to carefully read the board, take in the various ghost locations, and plan your manoeuvres accordingly.
As you play, the all-consuming glitch-salad chases you from the bottom-left corner, and the more pellets Pac-Man eats in a row, the faster he moves. Eventually you’ll be tearing around the map while dodging hordes of ghosts, and if you can eat 256 pellets in a row without stopping, you’ll trigger an explosion that destroys nearby ghosts.
Pac-Man 256 is a free-to-play game, and its F2P mechanics have been cleverly implemented. It’s easy to download the game and start playing for free, but each game costs one “credit,” and when you die, you’ll have a one-time chance to spend a second credit to continue. You can hold up to 6 credits at a time, and if you run out you can earn more by either watching an ad, waiting for them to recharge (which they do at the rate of one every ten minutes), paying $0.99/£0.63 for 12. OR, you can just pay $7.99/£5 for unlimited credits. It’s a nice variety of options—if you just want to play casually from time to time, it’s easy to play without paying a cent. And if you’re a hardcore leaderboard chaser, £5 isn’t all that much to pay for a game that’s this fun.
Pac-Man 256 is an easy one to recommend, whether you’re looking for a short-term time-waster for your commute or a new leaderboard-chase over which to obsess. It’s clever, addictive, maddening, and exciting, and the most fun I’ve had with a Pac-Man game since Championship Edition DX. Which, yep, is just about the highest Pac-praise I can give.