Mobile game of the week: Pac-Man 256

PAC-MAN_256

The new Pac-Man game is a little bit different than you remember, and not just because you play it on your smartphone. Although more recent iterations of the franchise have added more bells and whistles to the classic concept, Pac-Man 256 turns the entire concept on its head by sending the perpetually hungry spheroid hero racing through an endless map of power pellets as a lethal glitch wave nips at his heels.

The wave and the game's title is a reference to the famous glitch from level 256 of the original game, where half the board disintegrates into colorful alphanumeric symbols. Here, the glitch slowly creeps forward destroying the level inch by inch as you race away, turning Pac-Man from a claustrophobic one-room play into a thrilling chase scene. Suddenly, it isn't about sweeping the board of every power pellet anymore. It's about running as fast as you can through an obstacle course of ghosts that's dissolving behind you.

The game both demands and rewards forward momentum, not only by shifting the colors of the map like a neon disco floor as you progress, but rewarding you with speed boosts for chomping power pellets in unbroken chains. That often requires taking more hazardous routes through the course, so watch your step and don't double back—just keep moving. Over time, you'll also unlock power-ups that throw more entertaining chaos into the game, like ghost-killing lasers, freeze bombs and even tornados.

Pac-Man 256 was developed for Bandai Namco by Hipster Whale, the studio best known for the mobile game Crossy Road. Their popular car-dodging adventure is sometimes described as "Infinite Frogger," so it's not a huge surprise to see them reimagine another classic '80s arcade game with similarly endless levels.

The game is free to download, and every day you'll be only allotted six credits. Each play costs one credit, though you can use another credit to continue when you die—but only once. After that, you'll start over at the beginning. You can also choose "free play," which will allow you to keep going after you're out of credits, but with none of the power-ups that make it so much fun.

If you're particularly desperate, you can pay more for extra credits once your allotment runs out—the modern equivalent of popping another quarter into the arcade machine. Or you can "earn" a "gift" of more credits by watching an ad, which is the modern equivalent of, I dunno, having to listen to a lecture from your parents before you could play video games? Except that the lecture is about... buying more video games? There's no exact parallel, I guess. You can also plunk down $7.99 for infinite credits, aka "actually purchasing the game."

Pac-Man 256 is available on iOS and Android.