Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios Vancouver & Hipster Whale
Genre: Endless Runner
Release Dates: June 21, 2016 (EU & NA)
Price: 4,99€ (Steam)
Named after the famous level 256 glitch, Pac-Man 256 brings back the best things from the game that changed an entire generation back in the 80s and combines them with new ideas that make this game just as addictive as it was in the arcades decades ago. Played from a 2.5D perspective, the biggest feature of this installment is the 256 bit glitch that will constantly follow you from the bottom of the screen, making time an important element of the game, as you can no longer dance around the same spot for too long and must constantly be on the move to avoid the glitch catching up with you. Unfortunately there are only 2 game modes, a single player mode, and a multiplayer mode for up to 4 players via local play, but even with that in mind, Pac-Man's addictive nature will make the hours pass without even realizing, especially when playing with friends.
As much as I loved playing alone and collect more coins to upgrade my power-ups, the real fun begins when up to 3 other friends join you for a local multiplayer session, something that few games in this age even consider, and Pac-Man 256 does that so well. As the glitch will constantly follow you, sticking around for too long is not an option, which means that players cannot be too far apart, making multiplayer on a single screen feel natural and the movement fluid. There is no split-screen needed and all you need to do is pass another controller to a friend and you're playing together on one single large screen; fast forward one hour later and you will still be there trying to beat the high score.
This is still Pac-Man in every possible way, but the new features, power-ups and tweaks to the formula make it feel like a fresh experience, and thanks to 21 different power-ups there is a lot to play around with. Each power-up can be upgraded with coins in order to increase duration and finding the best combination to suit your play style is the key to success, as you can only equip 3 power-ups at a time, which means that once inside the match only the selected power-ups will spawn, in addition to the famous Power Pellet.
Even if at its core multiplayer mode is still the same thing, the fact that you can respawn other downed players makes matches much longer, and once you and your friends get that perfect combination of momentum and power-ups, you will constantly push for a bigger high score, which is pretty much all you have going on since there are no additional modes, but do not underestimate the power of leaderboards, as the desire to make it to the top feels just as genuine now as it did back in the 80s.
In terms of enemies you will still have to face Blinky, Inky, Pinky, and Clyde, in addition to their new friend Glitchy, each one of them having a unique AI pattern that you must learn first in order to succeed. Even though there is no tutorial to teach you which ghost follows which pattern if you aren't familiar with Pac-Man already, just playing a few matches should teach you that in a matter of minutes. Same thing applies to power-ups and trying them all before deciding on the three that best fit your play style is just as important, as players who prefer avoiding the ghosts might find the Freeze power-up more useful than the Laser for example, which is aimed towards the players that aim to eliminate every single ghosts in their path.
Even if the resolution and design quality are obviously better than they were back in the arcades, Pac-Man 256 still has an 8 bit style, but with a large number of skins inspired by previous installments in the Pac-Man franchise, you can choose the one that catches your eye and just go with that. However, skins don't change the overall layout of the map or the play style in any way, and are made purely for aspect purposes.
Sound is just as your remember it, with a better quality of course, but all the death sounds and pac munches are still the same, which definitely helps with the nostalgia element this game wants to pass along to the player. There are obviously new sounds made for the power-ups, and they fit nicely with the rest of the sounds that probably any kid who grew up playing Pac-Man could recognize in an instant.
Sadly, whether you choose to play alone or with friends locally, that one mode is all you get, however playing with power-ups and collecting coins to max out each one of them and unlock all of the achievements can keep you busy for 20 hours at least. Skins are a nice addition, but sadly apart from changing the aspect, they don't change anything to the gameplay itself.
Pac-man 256 is a pleasant throwback to the times when video games used to be much more simple, yet still entertaining at the same time and reminds us why Pacman is still one of the most influential video games of all time, decades later still managing to be as addictive and fun as it was when it first came out.