Game review: Pac-Man 256 for Android

Endless runners aren’t really my thing. I did enjoy Jetpack Joyride for several months, but most of the games in the genre get stale for me in a week or two. Pac-Man 256 got stale around the two hour mark.

Bear in mind, Pac-Man was one of the first arcade games to show up at our skate rink and movie theater, and it was the first game we got for our Atari 2600. Alongside Dig-Dug and Galaga, I’ve got Pac-Man on my PS4 whenever I need a quick pellet munching fix. I owned the Tiger Electronics LCD version of Pac-Man. You see what I’m saying? I love Pac-Man, and I don’t like this endless runner version of it. Not at all.

My problems with this game can be traced to the procedural generation and the blind spots created by the way the maze appears from the top and right of the screen. I might be aiming for a specific path, only to see that way is now blocked by several ghosts, and I’m dead with no chance of course correction.

The game places emphasis on eating chains of dots, resetting the counter each time Pac-Man hits an empty space. But the maze is full of blank spaces, and again, you can’t see them until you’re practically on top of them with no way to backtrack, and thus you can’t plan how to get a pellet chain up to 256, which the game rewards you for by wiping out all the ghosts. When I got the reward, it wasn’t skill, just blind luck that I happened along the right path.

Let’s talk about the ghosts. Part of the appeal of classic Pac-Man for me is management of the things I can see. There’s only four ghosts, and based on their colors, I can somewhat predict their behavior. In a way, Pac-Man 256 is angling for the same idea, but procedural generation pops out so many ghosts that at times it is impossible to avoid them. Adding insult to injury, ghosts will sometimes be added on screen right in front of Pac-Man. In a straight corridor and being pursued by any other ghost, this just feels like a huge “fuck you for playing.”

There’s also a vague threat munching up the bottom of the maze, Glitch, but I honestly don’t know what happens if Pac-Man gets caught by the cloud of multi-color numbers and letters. My focus always has to remain up and right, so as far as I’m concerned, Glitch is a non-threat.

I will say that the power-ups are clever, but even after multiple upgrades, I can’t see much change in how long they last. Usually they run out right when I need them most, which leads to another death. This might have been less frustrating if power-ups had some kind of visual or audio indication that they were running out, but that seems to be asking for too much.

This brings me to my last complaint: the ads. When I die, I have the option of watching an ad to continue. If I choose to end the game and start over, I’m offered another chance to watch an ad in exchange for a gift of some extra coins, the currency to upgrade power-ups and continue from a death without seeing an ad. Randomly, I’ll just be shown an ad, even if I haven’t asked for one. None of this would be quite so annoying if it wasn’t the same ad for the same game. Every. Single. Time.

I would like this game with several provisions, with the first being an option to buy the game and opt out of all advertisements. Secondly, I would like to see some sort of logic filtering the appearance of the ghosts, or a limit, at the very least. The internal coding should have something like “if there’s already 10 ghosts in one section, don’t randomly spawn another 3 in the same section.” The final wish is that there would be no “gotcha gaps” in the maze. If I have to backtrack to dodge a ghost, killing my pellet chain, that’s fine. But the way the game drops the chain for me because EVERY path ahead has a gap is…it just feels cheap.

I’ll give Pac-Man 256 3 stars. It’s not terrible, but it’s definitely not what I’m looking for when I need a Pac-Fix. But hey, it’s free. So if you want to try it and don’t mind ads, give it a shot.