Has Melbourne’s Hipster Whale even had time to reflect on the highs of 2014 yet? Crossy Road is a simple idea that doesn’t shy away from the Frogger influence, and single-handedly reinvented the mobile free-to-play formula. Less than a year later, the three-man studio has teamed up with Bandai Namco to create an endless runner for one of the most iconic characters video games will ever know.
Pac-Man 256 plays off the infamous “256 glitch” by having it chase Pac-Man up an endless course. It’s your job to avoid being caught by the fast-moving glitch, while targeting a high score and contending with the usual battle between ghosts and power pellets.
The free-to-play element means consumers need to be shaken by the ankles at some point, and that comes with quirky power-ups. The “free play” mode reverts to classic power pellets and nothing else, but the standard mode, which uses one credit with each play, introduces other power-ups like lasers, freezes, bombs and tornados to quickly dispose of meddling ghosts.
It’s nowhere near as generous as Crossy Road, which became my most played mobile game not only because of its addictive gameplay, but because it never really asks for money. Real cash is limited to cosmetics, not gameplay, and I care not for such aesthetics. By embracing players that didn’t pay as much as those that did, Crossy Road was downloaded 50 million times in its first three months, and made more than $10 million.
The influence of a big publisher has diminished the best mobile free-to-play monetisation model we’ve seen yet, from a player’s perspective, but it’s still generous compared to much of the competition. If you want the quirky power-ups, either wait for credits to restock, watch a terrible ad or buy a 12 pack for $1.29.
Better yet, the game can essentially be bought outright for $9.99 for unlimited credits. While this is a little pricy, and I still prefer Crossy Road’s model of not charging for anything that affects gameplay, I like the option to pay once and not worry about interfering microtransactions. More mobile games should do this.
I wish the tiny “free play” button was more prominent. I gets lost in all the bright flashing lights and this mode makes the game entirely free; without the power-ups. Truth be told, I prefer it. It’s a more traditional Pac-Man experience, teamed with the modern style of an endless runner, and has little bearing on increasing score. Multipliers, classic fruits, are all still there, alongside power pellets.
The game itself is great, and may well replace Crossy Road as my fifteen minute ‘the plane is landing’ game – you know, when larger electronics are stowed so I’m relegated to an iPhone. Bettering the high score is worryingly addictive, it has remnants of classic Pac-Man, while being something new altogether, and is easy to play with a simple swipe mechanic.
It hasn’t quite outdone traditional Pac-Man – there’s something special about completing each stage which is lost by an endless runner – but Pac-Man 256 modernises a classic with the popular made-for-commute style. Its free-to-play monetization isn’t as good as Crossy Road, but I appreciate the options to choose less features (free) or to buy it outright.