PAC-MAN is one of those characters – assuming you can call a yellow circle with a segment missing, a character – that has entered popular culture and shows no sign of leaving. He is instantly recognisable, and like Mario and Sonic, known by gamers all over the world. I have already written at length about his history in an article celebrating his 40 years in showbiz, and so will concentrate this time around on the subject of PAC-MAN 256 and the release of it in 2016.
This entry in the PAC-MAN franchise was developed by two studios – 3 Sprockets and Hipster Whale – and yes, you probably now have an image of a whale with a moustache and topknot in your head. The game was apparently inspired by the infamous level 256 glitch in the original arcade game, where if a player was skilful enough to reach level 256, then an integer overflow error occurred and the game glitched out. That must have been somewhat annoying the first time anyone saw it. Anyway, PAC 256 first appeared as a free-to-play game on mobile platforms in 2015, before being released for the PlayStation and Xbox in 2016, along with PC and Mac versions being available.
Now, as you’d expect, the gameplay on offer here, at least in the single player mode, is really not massively different from the standard PAC-MAN games we all know and love. You, as PAC-MAN, are in an endless maze, and this maze is full of dots. Eating the dots starts a counter going, and if you manage to eat 256 dots in a row, you can unleash an attack that will clear all the enemies on the screen, for a while at least. Oh yes, it’s not quite as easy as wandering about the maze – there are ghosts, PAC’s traditional enemy, that will try and stop you.
Yep, in traditional PAC-MAN, there were only four ghosts, Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde. In 256 though they were joined by some reinforcements – Sue, Funky and Spunky. The final ghost was called Glitchy, and unlike the others who are one solid colour, he is various different hues, appearing to be glitching out constantly.
The big change to the gameplay in 256 involves the game starting to glitch out as you progress through the levels. As you get higher up the vertically scrolling screen, the bottom of the level begins to be consumed by a glitch, and if the glitched section of the screen catches up to PAC-MAN, it’s instant death. Keeping moving, climbing the screen, is very important.
The power-ups also received an overhaul, with the addition of new types that can be upgraded. Yes, this time around, in addition to the standard power pills that allow PAC-MAN to eat the dots, there are others such as lasers that bounce around corners and kill anything they hit, tornadoes that can be set loose, clones that can attack your enemies and more. As you play through the game and amass points, these points can be used to upgrade the power-ups, making them hit harder and last longer. This kind of RPG-lite addition made PAC-MAN 256 much longer lasting, for me at least, especially as there was an achievement for upgrading all the power-ups to max level. This achievement glitched for me, sadly, and is the only one in the game I didn’t get. I’m not angry, just disappointed.
Another fun part is the chance for up to four players to play together on the same screen; something made all the more fun by the introduction of some silly characters. Fancy being a robot, or one of the chickens from Crossy Road? Well, now you can!
It was this that allowed for some fond gaming memories too as I spent a great deal of time playing 256 with my son – I honestly think that playing games like this with him, where the fun isn’t tied to the latest whizz bang graphics, is part of why he plays all sorts of games today.
So, as he was being a chicken, zooming about the map, eating dots and ghosts, inevitably one of us would make a mistake and wind up dead. But all was not lost. Special power pills appear to allow you the chance to revive your fellow players, and seeing him frantically trying to reach the revive pill while dodging the glitch and all the pursuing ghosts is part of what made this game special.
These then are my memories of playing PAC-MAN 256 back in 2016 and onwards. It’s a PAC experience which didn’t just bring fun in the single player, but really came alive in multiplayer. But how about you? Did you play it back in the day, or do you fancy playing it now after reading my words? Let us know in the comments!
If you wish to grab a download of PAC-MAN 256 head over to the Xbox Store. It’s playable on both Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.