Although Arcade Game Series: Pac-Man offers the best version of the original Pac-Man to date, that game is still getting on in the years. Pac-Man 256 is a modern take on Pac-Man that mixes the gameplay of the arcade classic with elements of casual hit Crossy Road. After a successful run on mobile, Pac-Man 256 has come to consoles and PC as a $5 game with new features. Read our in-depth review for all the details!
Pac-Man 256 was originally co-developed by 3 Sprockets, who made a mobile game called Cubemen, and Hipster Whale, the maker of Crossy Road. The latter connection is especially important here. Crossy Road took the basic concept of Frogger and modernized it as an endless runner/free-to-play game with a cubist art style.
The developers have essentially done the same thing with Pac-Man 256: build on the core foundations of Pac-Man, but make it look and work more like the endless games of today. The original Pac-Man was basically an "endless" game anyway, as players simply tried to complete as many mazes as possible without running out of lives. The same holds true here, but now Pac-Man just has one gigantic, limitless maze to roam.
Pac-Man 256 plays very much like the original arcade game, with the same basic mechanics. Pac-Man still moves slower while eating Pac-Dots. Ghosts can outrun him on straight-ways, but he turns corners faster than them.
Our hero can escape from one side of the screen to the other using warp tunnels as well – only now he's briefly invulnerable when coming out the other side. Power Pellets work the same as in the Pac-Man Championship Edition games, in that eating a new one before the last one expires extends the ghost combo multiplier.
The 256th time is the charm
The 256 in the title refers to the 256 bug, a glitch that serious players encountered after beating the 255th stage of the original Pac-Man. The screen would glitch out and make the level unplayable. Pac-Man 256 puts our hero in that glitch-laden 256th world that can never be beaten.
The primary manifestation of the 256 concept is the Glitch, a wave of glitchiness that continuously crawls up from the bottom of the maze. If Pac and friends linger and take too long to move up in the maze, the glitchiness will catch them and end the game. It's your basic endless runner mechanic that forces you to move forward, just adapted to fit the 256 premise.
Pac-Man faces the original ghosts in 256, along with Sue from Ms. Pac-Man (now a separate ghost from Clyde), and three new ghosts: Spunky, Funky, and Glitchy. Each ghost has a specific behavior, just as in the original game. Spunky sleeps until players cross his path, after which he gives chase. Funky travels in packs and tries to block whichever path Pac-Man chooses. Glitchy is a manifestation of the 256 bug, surrounded by a cloud of glitchiness and appearing and disappearing at random intervals.
Power-ups and Quests
Our hero can still chomp ghosts with Power Pellets in Pac-Man 256, but he also has a host of new power-ups to unlock and wield. Three power-ups can be equipped at any given time. These will appear at random throughout the maze, each represented by its own icon.
A meter at the top shows the remaining duration of the current power-up. One little quibble regarding durations is that while the ghosts flicker as a Power Pellet winds down, power-ups have no visual warning that they're about to expire (other than the meter at the top). They really should have a visual indicator on the field, just like Power Pellets.
The big-screen versions of Pac-Man 256 start with three power-ups unlocked, whereas the mobile version only begins with access to one. Power-up upgrades happen instantly too, ditching the mobile version's annoying timers.
Here you get the Laser, Freeze, and Bomb right from the get-go. The Laser fires a beam straight ahead for a fixed time, annihilating any ghosts in its path. It remains one of the best power-ups well into the game. Freeze simply makes ghosts move slower, which isn't too useful. Bomb causes Pac to unleash a (not very good looking) explosion when he touches a ghost.
As you play the game in single-player or co-op, you'll eventually unlock a total of 21 power-ups by eating various quantities of Pac Dots. Not every power-up is created equal. Some, like Stealth Regen, and Freeze are mostly useless since they don't kill ghosts. But unlocking and trying new power-ups is fun, even if you'll probably stick to a handful of them for serious score runs.
Each power-up can be leveled up all the way to 8, increasing its duration and score bonuses. Upgrades cost coins that spawn intermittently throughout the maze (Crossy Road-style). Because each level requires exponentially more coins, it would take forever to get them without a little help. You can't buy coins or coin doublers in the big-screen version, but you can still get gifts.
Pac-Man 256 has two kinds of gifts: random free ones (replacing the mobile version's gifts for watching ads) and quest completion gifts. You always have a single active quest in single-player; quests are inexplicably absent from multiplayer. Typical quest goals involve eating certain fruits or collecting enough of a particular power-up. Completing these quests encourages players to try new power-ups and gives the game some sorely needed structure.
Besides the removal of the free-to-play elements, the significant addition to Pac-Man 256 on consoles and PC is the new local multiplayer mode. Multiplayer is basically co-op for 2-4 players, with everyone trying to get as far as they can and contribute to the group's score as much as possible.
Before starting, each player can select from a handful of characters such as an average Pac-Man, Championship Edition Pac-Man, Pac-Mania Pac-Man, the Chicken from Crossy Road, and a robot. Noticeably absent is Ms. Pac-Man, who really should be a playable character.
Co-op works surprisingly well, especially thanks to the revival mechanic. After someone has died, a respawn power-up always appears somewhere on-screen. Grab it to bring back one downed player. Sitting out while dead is a bummer, but at least you'll cheer on the remaining player(s) to bring you back.
Multiplayer has only two problems. The aforementioned lack of quests means that you won't earn gifts while playing with friends, making it hard actually to unlock anything in co-op. The other issue is the player names on the left side of the screen sometimes obscure the action when players or ghosts occupy that area. The obvious fix would be for the scores to become transparent when a moving character goes behind them.
Pac-Man 256 has a scant 10 Achievements on Xbox One worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. Some Achievements can be earned in Multiplayer, and all local players can earn them. The fun and challenging ones involve eating 256 Pac-Dots in a row without missing a dot (which kills all ghosts on-screen) and eating 16 ghosts in a row without letting your Power Pellet run out.
The two grindy Achievements involve unlocking every power-up and then fully upgrading every power-up. Both will take a great many games, perhaps too many for as simple a game as this one. There is a trick involving forcing the game to close after buying an upgrade that could drastically speed up both Achievements. But that would also remove much of the game's long-term appeal.
Pac-Man 256 is an excellent take on Pac-Man that nearly rivals the Pac-Man Championship Edition games in quality. It looks and plays great, with cool power-ups, several fun visual themes to choose from, and high-quality co-op.
Only a few things hold Pac-man 256 back from greatness. The game could really use some music (like the Championship Edition games) to make the experience a little peppier. And it just needs another mode or two to instill more variety. What's here is fun and will definitely appeal to score hunters and multiplayer fans. But if you didn't care about score and didn't have friends to play with, it would get old a lot faster than Championship Edition DX.
Luckily, Pac-Man 256 sells for just five bucks on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. The low price and clever gameplay make it a must-buy for Pac fans, even if the content's a bit light compared to the last few original Pac-Man games.
- Clever but authentic new take on Pac-Man
- Local Co-op is Pac-tacular
- Several visual themes and a Shuffle option
- All of the mobile version's free to play elements and In-App Purchases removed
- Single-player gets grindy. More modes would have helped.
- No global leaderboards on consoles; just friends leaderboards
- No music except on the title screen
- Where's Ms. Pac-Man?
Xbox One review copy provided by Bandai Namco.