Pac-Man 256 Hands-On Review: Welcome To The Endless Eater

Pac-Man is a classic, well loved for its gluttony. Pac-Man 256 is what happens when you merge its famous glitch with the endless runner concept. The end result is excellent (at least at first), both in execution, and the way it handles its in app purchases.
Pac-Man 256 has been developed by Hipster Whale, 3 Sprockets and Namco Bandai, which means it’s got a solid quantity of Australian developer DNA in it, including of course the team behind the incredibly successful Crossy Road. Even from the outset it’s not hard to see Crossy Road’s DNA all over Pac-Man 256. It takes the endless runner concept and slightly isometric viewpoint of Crossy Road and applies it to a touch-based game of Pac-Man.
I’m assuming you’re familiar with Pac-Man. You should be. You should also be playing Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, by the way. Tell Pac I sent you.
Heck, if you want that real old school flavour, you should also be playing the Atari 2600 version of Ms Pac-Man, which I reviewed not that long ago. But I digress — back to the main action.
A straight up endless runner Pac-Man would be over all too quick in the regular maze, so instead, Pac-Man 256 gives you an endlessly generated maze that you’re forced to traverse upwards thanks to the appearance of the rather famous screen 256 Glitch that made the classic arcade game effectively impossible to “finish”. The glitch chases you up the screen, as well as randomly appearing in place on the map. Touch the glitch and it’s game over, but the same is true of Pac-Man 256’s many ghosts as well.

It all starts off so simple. A hungry yellow circle, a few ghosts and a few dots. Just like it was in the good old days.
It all starts off so simple. A hungry yellow circle, a few ghosts and a few dots. Just like it was in the good old days.

Being Pac-Man, you’ve got power pellets to turn the tide against the ghosts, who are a little stupider than their classic arcade brethren, but then in an always-scrolling Pac-world, that’s probably for the best. You’ve also (in the full game) got unlockable powerups that provide Pac-Man with a variety of different powers to slow down or destroy his ghostly foes.
No, you can’t defeat the glitch. Don’t be silly. The more you play, the more dots you eat, which unlocks higher tiers of powerups to allow you to get higher scores, which encourages you to play more. All good clean psychologically motivating fun, then.
Children, Pac-Man has... gone to live on a farm somewhere. Yes. That sounds plausible. Also, he's dead now.
Children, Pac-Man has… gone to live on a farm somewhere. Yes. That sounds plausible.
Also, he’s dead now.

Pac-Man 256 has a straight free-to-play mode that doesn’t give you access to the powerups, but to play the full game, you need in-game credits.
This is where Pac-Man 256’s rather clever In App Purchasing system comes into play.
IAP is a controversial thing, and there’s no doubt that many games rely on the idea of heavily milking gamers for every last penny. It was easily my biggest fear with Pac-Man 256, because it would have been very easy for Hipster Whale and Namco Bandai to go down that particular road. Thankfully, they didn’t.
Instead, Pac-Man 256 uses IAP in some rather interesting ways. You get six credits — lives, effectively, because there’s no three-lives-to-a-20c as there might have been back in the 80s here — every time you start the game anew, set on what’s reportedly a timer. You can “earn” a single continue credit by watching ads (most of which appear to be for other, slightly less IAP-friendly games of the “Of War” ilk), buy a limited set of 12 credits for $1.29, or unlock unlimited credits for $9.99. That’s the iOS pricing; it may differ ever so slightly for Android or Kindle devices.
I'm tempted to drop ten bucks for unlimited credits. Very tempted.
I’m tempted to drop ten bucks for unlimited credits. Very tempted.

It’s an interesting approach; you can rather directly pay the Australian developers (and Namco Bandai, who will undoubtedly get their cut) straight away at what is effectively a rather high price for a mobile app, or use ads to get a limited one-time boost to your credits, or simply wait ten minutes for your credits to refresh. Or play the no-powerups game to your heart’s content.
As I’m writing this, Pac-Man 256 hasn’t been live on the Apple, Android and Amazon App stores all that long, which means I’ve only had limited hands-on time to really assess it — but at the same time, the core game is simple enough to assess rather quickly, because at its heart it’s still Pac-Man.
There are a few issues I can see, although the way that mobile games get endlessly iterated they’re by no means game breakers. The touch controls can be a little quirky when the pace picks up, which is problematic for a game that only gives one life per credit. There are instances where you’re scrolling fast and reaction time alone won’t save you from avoiding a ghost, which feels a little unfair. Finally — and I’m being picky — I’m not a fan of Pac-Man exploding when a ghost hits him. He should curl up and vanish, like he always did.
Update: Developers 3 Sprockets tell me the pace doesn’t pick up (and yeah, it doesn’t in a strict pac-eating-pace sense), but you do get more ghosts onscreen which effectively modifies the pace at which you have to react — I probably should have made that clearer!
Just like in the 80s, my brain is screaming "YOU NEED MORE CREDITS YOU NEED MORE CREDITS NOOOOOOOW!"
Just like in the 80s, my brain is screaming “YOU NEED MORE CREDITS YOU NEED MORE CREDITS NOOOOOOOW!”

Ultimately, while I’m still getting to grips with Pac-Man 256, at “free”, and with such generous IAP provisions, you’ve got not much more than a little data to lose checking it out. Right now I love it (but then, I would), but I’ll have to give it a week or so’s proper play to find out if I’m still properly besotted, or if it’s just a short-term arcade fling.I have this strong feeling that $9.99 will vanish from my wallet in the meantime.
Pac-Man 256 is available right now for iOS here, Android here and Amazon Kindle Fire devices here.
Author’s Note: Roughly three minutes after finishing this review, I bought the unlimited credits. I’m so very predictable.

About the author

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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