I'm a pretty big Pac-Man fan ever since the days I would spend my precious tokens on the Ms. Pac-Man machine at the local arcade. Last year I'd played and enjoyed Pac-Man Championship Edition on XBLA, and recently I've been playing the smartphone game Pac-Man 256.

The game is co-developed by Hipster Whale, who created the successful Frogger clone Crossy Road. I spent a bit of time with Crossy Road to see if it offered anything more than being a Frogger clone with retro graphics, and it doesn't at all, which is a pity. But that makes Pac-Man 256 all the more enjoyable, because Pac-Man 256 combines the Pac-Man games with Crossy Road and adds in new elements that serve to make it a fun experience.

Like every Pac-Man game, in Pac-Man 256 the main goal is to eat dots and defeat ghosts. Pac-Man 256 ramps up the action by incorporating auto-scrolling which forces you not to linger in an area for long, and also by giving a big bonus if you're able to eat 256 dots in a single unbroken chain. This turns out to be pretty challenging, as easier routes through the maze will invariably have a gap in them that will break your chain, as will backtracking to collect fruit (which gives you an often sizable bonus multiplier) or a power-up. The power-ups make the game feel like more than just another Pac-Man game, and there's a good variety, even though many are similar. You can use in-game coins to level up the power-ups, which make them last longer and earn you more points for defeating ghosts while they're active.

The game was and still is free to play, but it was initially released with more restrictions. Currently the game is much less restrictive and you can play as many times as you want. You can spend real money to buy coins which you can use to level up power-ups or change the skin of the game or continue once if you lose a life. As with most free-to-play games, you can earn coins at a slow pace for free by collecting the ones lying around on stages or completing simple missions such as "eat a certain number of cherries". There are some ads in the game, but they're not that intrusive. The game is played with swipe gestures on a touchscreen, which I usually dislike, but the controls are precise enough for the casual pace of the game. The fact that the variety of ghosts behave in clearly recognizable ways helps make the game more fun as well.

Pac-Man 256 has gotten high acclaim, and it's well-deserved. The gameplay is well thought out and a unique twist on the classic formula, and the visual design is great (the sound design is also particularly noteworthy). It's definitely more satisfying to clear a single Pac-Man board as in the classics than to "endlessly munch" as in this game, but Pac-Man 256 is still a game that I'll be coming back to in the future in order to finish unlocking the remaining power-ups, earning coins to level them up, and chasing my next high score.

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