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Game Review: Pacman 256 (The endless maze; Beware the Glitch)

August 26, 2015

One of the best classic game sequels I’ve seen in the new Pacman 256 that came out for mobile devices, as part of the ongoing 35th anniversary celebration this year. (It’s actually by a third party, but looks as genuine as a Namco OEM game).
Far better than the direction they had been taking the franchise, such as platformers.

It takes the level 256 random character glitch, and turns it into an encroaching threat. You start on what looks like a regular new maze, with a bottom, and tunnels on the side, and you can scroll upward, and it never ends. If you stay in the area too long, then the glitch appears across the whole bottom of the screen, and begins spreading upward, so you have to keep moving up. You can brush the edge of it (i.e. touch the first flashing characters that arrive, like a shallow surf), but once “drowned” in it, you die (in a garbled version of the regular Pac Man death. In the original game, it was not deadly, it just made it hard to find your way around).

This is a cool idea. It reminds me so much of the “New Super Mario Bros” series’ Worlds 8 (Bowser’s lair), where on overworld levels, you are chased by a volcanic ash that comes from behind, and there are vertical volcano levels with rising lava.

The graphics are a sort of 2.5 D, with a 2D maze, yet flat 3D versions of the pixellated original 8 bit characters, with only one pixel of thickess, stand up vertically on edge in the maze.
Eating dots is the original sound, and there is a counter of each dot eaten that appears in their place right as you eat them (similar to Pacman Championship Edition, which shows the number of points of each dot eaten), and you may notice, around an uninterrupted string of 50 consecutive dots, that the pitch of the dot eating sound is increasing. When you’re in the 100’s and above, it really high (and you’re getting faster as well).
It reminds me of the “siren” sound of the original game (and the “engine” sound of the Z80-based sequels) that increases in pitch (indicating the increased intensity of the chase) as you clear dots. (There is no other background sound like that in this one).

The goal is to get an unbroken chain of 256 dots, which then clears all the ghostmonsters from the board. (This is temporary, as new ones will eventually arrive, and meanwhile, the dot counter then starts over from 1). It can be hard, as only certain paths will have no gaps in the dots, and of course, monsters can block you and cause you to turn back, and you’re going faster, so you have less time to plot the best path. To interrupt the count resets it; however, you can stop and rest against a wall without resetting it. (If going fast enough around a corner with a single dot missing, you may be able to continue, and I think I snagged a fruit that was one space out of the way and continued back on the path, without resetting).
At press time, I was able to do this a few times. What makes it easier to do is to head down first, to the bottom of the maze. There is one path of an unbroken string of dots, and usually only one monster; generally Inky, who stays in one area. By the time you do the circuit and start heading up, you’ll be well ahead of the brewing glitch that begins engulfing the maze, and will be able to follow a good unbroken path while avoiding the monsters that start appearing further up.

There are coins placed everywhere, that you collect, which you can buy to upgrade powerups.

Fruits are scattered in various places (they are not specific to levels, as the maze is continuous anyway), and their purpose is to increase the value of anything eaten afterward (like the cherry doubles everything, while the green grape, being the highest in this game, sextuples it. For some reason, this green grape cluster, like the others, being from the original game, is called a “melon” here).
Energizers are also scattered around. Since there is no monster pen, eating them sends the eyes down into the advancing glitch.

There are also other powerup items, earned by reaching certain goals (including attacking monsters with ones you’ve already gained).
You have one that slows down the enemies by partly freezing them,
a hurricane that eats them,
a laser beam that shoots down a straight path,
a fire trail,
some sort of rock traps placed in intersections, that destroys them,
three little Pacmen that can eat them even without an energizer,
a purple “stealth” cloak that makes you invicible (and comes with these robotic sound effects)
a magnet that attracts coins
a bomb cloak
a super size cloak that crushes them, etc.

You have to choose three at a time from a “loadout” menu, and these will be what appear throughout the maze. When one is in effect (including the regular energizer), the other powerups turn into little cubic energizers, which simply extend the current one. When active, a little box naming the power appears, and has a meter showing the time running down, so you know when it will run out.

The monsters (who appear in multiple copies) are the standard Blinky, Pinky, Inky, Clyde; as well as the purple Sue (who joined the cast by replacing Clyde in Ms. Pacman), Funky (green) and Spunky (gray), from Pacmania. An eighth monster is “Glitchy“, who materializes anywhere in a small glitch like the one following you, and then seems to continuously flash into some of the other monsters, taking on their behaviors. He eventually dematerializes in a similar fashion.

Blinky comes right after you, like always.
Clyde comes at you in a less aggressive fashion, often getting in the way.
Pinky sits guarding a place, then comes after you when you’re in the line of sight. He moves real fast (faster than Blinky on “Cruise Elroy” in thhe old game), so you have to duck out of the way, and he’ll just stay on that path until reaching the end, and sit there until you pass by again.
Inky just circles the same block.
Spunky sits sleeping, and similar to Pinky, begins following when you get close in any direction (not neccessarily in the line of sight). He can follow you anywhere for a bit, but then goes back to sleep.
Funky appears in a line of three or four, moving horizontally across a straight path, and can only go back and forth there.
Sue also appears in threes of fours, but is slower, and tries to head you off by moving toward whatever vertical path you’re approaching from, and sitting there. It can be difficult to get by.
There are so many monsters (kind of like a throwback to Pacmania, where they all bunched up on you), and some long paths with no exits, so it’s easy to get chased right down into the glitch.

There are also moving arrows in parts of the maze, which the monsters cannot go the other way on. When you go the other way on them, you slow down, though (and I’m seeing, this can actually reset your dot count!)

What’s difficult is that you start out with six “credits”, and it takes tens of minutes for them to replenish once you’ve used them. You only get one “continue” for a credit (or for watching a long ad), then, you have to start over. The free game has no powerups.

You can also earn credits or other items by watching ads (currently, usually this stupid looking forest monster game the same company, I believe, made).

It’s really captivating, and works on both the tablet and the phone.
Here is the best guide for it: http://www.gamezebo.com/2015/08/19/pac-man-256-tips-cheats-strategies/


Some trivia; the actual first “PacMan” I saw, 35 years ago, was actually installed in a “Breakout” machine, in an arcade located in the space of a current row of salons on Clarendon Rd. near Flatbush Ave. Breakout was a black & white game, and so Blinky looked almost invisible, while Inky looked pure white, like an actual “ghost”.
It was actually a PuckMan chip, with the Japanese names (and the original maze). So I knew “Puck-Man” was the name of the playable character, and figured the game simply wasn’t named after him. “Breakout” did seem to be an understandable name for a game about escaping a maze with four monsters coming after you, but I had to wonder why the cabinet artwork consisted entirely of actual smashing bricks!

For months that year and into the next, I watched others play games in the multiple arcades and other businesses with games in the area, but usually having no money, and not having a physical dexterity, didn’t venture to play. (I had hoped someone would allow me to try on one of their games).
It was in April, ’81 that I got some quarters, and tried out Space Invaders, in a diner around the corner from the first place, and then Astro Blaster or some similar game next to it. Probably the day after, I then tried the real PacMan machine in the Bona Pizza down the block (still there, but hasn’t had games in decades). Later that year, the PacMan clone “Hangly-Man” appeared in that first arcade I mentioned!

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