Pac-Man has been around for over 35 years and this new take on the classic pokes fun at the infamous kill screen from the original arcade version but now it requires far fewer quarters to reach.
Pac-Man 256 is played almost identically to the original. You navigate through a maze while eating dots and avoiding ghosts, but this iteration has some welcome twists. The most notable one is that you're constantly being chased by a wall of glitches as you progress through an endless maze. You'll acquire many power-ups along the way, too, that are capable of incapacitating the ghosts in various ways. Power Pellets return as well which leads me to my first complaint; why bother with these various power-ups if gobbling up a Power Pellet then chasing down scared ghosts is so much more satisfying? Shooting laser beams, creating walls of fire, and setting traps aren't nearly as fun. Although I don't care much for the power-up system, I must admit that the new dynamic of outrunning the glitch wall in a randomly generated endless maze sure makes for a good time.
Besides the fresh gameplay setup, my favourite aspect of Pac-Man 256 is the visuals. The isometric design reminds me of Pac-Mania which is a fantastic game in its own right. There are many included optional themes that you can apply between sessions to mix things up. They don't do anything besides change the graphics but they're so varied and adorable that playing around with them is quite fun. On the other end of the spectrum, the audio is very bare-bones. Most of the time you only hear Pac-Man eating dots with the odd loud effect whenever you do something cool. This is a departure from the original as that at least had a siren-like noise repeat as you play.
As you play Pac-Man 256, you earn coins, complete quests, and unlock additional power-ups. You use the coins to upgrade these power-ups which I've already established come across as tacked-on. Besides that, you can compare scores with your online friends and play multiplayer simultaneously with up to four local players. Even though playing by yourself gets repetitive quickly due to the fact that you basically play the same thing over and over again, having a pal join you adds a great deal of enjoyment.
If you're not aware by now, I'm a huge Pac-Man fan. Therefore, there are two major issues that I have with this that make the original 1980 arcade game a far superior experience. First, the artificial intelligence implemented in the classic game was way ahead of its time with seemingly unpredictable ghost movement patterns. However, the ghosts in this game move in obvious ways according to their colour. For example, some move down whenever they can while others always circle a structure. Knowing how each ghost will behave makes it so easy to outsmart them and it's not even half as enjoyable as the decades-old formula.
My second issue is that the randomly generated maze can be both too unfair and way too generous. On occasion, you'll have ghosts spawn that force you to wait for them to move out of the way which means that it can be game over if the glitch wall is on your tail. However, there are times when you'll play long stretches of pure easiness as you beg for something challenging to happen.
Pac-Man 256 is a solid attempt at modernizing one of the most iconic arcade experiences in gaming history. It's definitely a fun game, but I can't help but want to play the original every second I spend in its colourful new world.
- + New endless run dynamic freshens up the classic arcade formula
- + Cute visuals with cool optional themes
- + Simultaneous multiplayer is nifty
- - Easily predictable ghost patterns take a lot of fun out of the equation
- - Bare audio makes gameplay feel empty
- - Difficulty is far too random