Reviews
PAC-MAN Friends

By Dave McLean - October 5th, 2014

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It’s not a property you’ve thought about in a long time, but PAC-MAN really is a title that’s ripe for reinvention. Just think about Donkey Kong – a title from the same era that was reinvented not once but dozens of times (Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario Bros., Dr. Mario, Mario Party, Wario Land, Paper Mario…) With all of the games squeezed out of some guy in overalls jumping over barrels and climbing ladders, surely we can make something exciting and new out of an eating-disordered yellow sprite and his undead nemeses, no? Well, Bandai Namco Games’ PAC-MAN Friends for iOS and Android.

As far as these results go, I have to admit that my immediate reaction was disappointment. I don’t know exactly what I expected, but my gut feeling in those first few minutes was, “Oh. It’s only… this.” 3D graphics, first-person perspective, violence and adult situations? Again – not sure precisely what I thought this PAC-MAN reinvention would be – but I thought it would be bigger than it turned out to be. Of course, that was really just my immediate reaction, and after playing it at length I ended up liking it quite a bit.

PAC-MAN Friends is a puzzler. At heart it’s still about gluttony and ghost-evasion; but you’re not just running that same board over and over. Using tilt-screen controls, your goal is to guide PAC-MAN through different mazes, with the goal of gobbling up all of the pellets in the level to unlock the exit and escape. There are ghosts aplenty, but they’re not the aggressive, smart ones you’re used to from the old days; here they mostly function as dangerous obstacles. Most of them remain fixed in one spot, and while some of them do move, it’s only in repetitive patterns. It’s a format that could become dull, but one thing this title does really well is mix things up on a frequent basis – largely thanks to PAC-MAN’s titular friends that you pick up along the way. Some of them glow in the dark, some can float through ghosts without getting harmed, some magnetically pull pellets towards themselves, and others are just wee and can squeeze into tight places.

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Not your parents’ PAC-MAN.

Another strength of this game is that it offers the player additional achievements per level that are challenging, but not impossible: finish without losing one of your friends; finish in a fixed amount of time; pick up all the fruit along the way; et cetera and so on. There are also different obstacles that get introduced along the way. Darkened mazes, teleportation passages, and walls that move (depending upon how the device is titled) are an example of what awaits. And I’ll come back to my point about variety: the game doesn’t just introduce something new and then hammer on it for ten straight levels. Nope! When you get your magnet friend, it’s not followed by twenty minutes of magnet-related levels. There are a number of dark mazes, but they’re not all back-to-back. Friends and obstacles change often, and your tactics will change right along with them.

Strong title, this one. It’s more of a diversion than an obsession, but definitely worth checking out. You can grab it for yourself on itunes or on Google Play.

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