No, this isn't the 256th instalment in Namco's venerable arcade classic - the number in the title refers to the infamous glitch from the original Pac-Man. Level 256 was impossible to beat due to a jumble of letters and numbers on the right-hand side of the screen, blocking half the maze. It's this glitch, in fact, that you'll be trying to outpace in this endless runner. A tidal wave of crackling, multicoloured nonsense is in perpetual pursuit, urging you forever North-East towards higher scores.
It's a novel premise that works fantastically with the established elements of Pac-Man. The floor is still littered with pac-dots to vacuum up, score-multiplying fruit to munch on, and power pellets granting you the ghost-busting gluttony no Pac-Man game would be complete without. Inky, Pinky, Blinky, and Clyde are joined by a few new ghoulish buddies this time, however. Funky and Sue move horizontally to block your upward momentum, usually in groups of three or four. Spunky sleeps until you get too close and wake him, and Glitchy will teleport closer to you. As you continue your run, more and more ghosts will appear, each colour with its own behaviour, which can occasionally be a little overwhelming.
Luckily, there are plenty of power-ups strewn about the maze, imbuing the iconic yellow hero with all kinds of new abilities to combat the numerous ghosts. From the self-explanatory laser to the item-attracting magnet, there's a nice variety of powers to discover, unlocked one by one as you play the game. Some are more useful than others: the fire power leaves a blazing trail behind you, handily killing enemies that wander into its path, while the moot Giant is basically the same as eating a power pellet, only the ghosts don't slow down. Once you have a few, you can select which three will appear as pick-ups when you play, letting you find your favourite combo or mix things up each time.
You're also given mini objectives to complete as you progress. They're not complicated at all - eat 40 ghosts, pick up the Laser 10 times, eat 5 strawberries, etc. - but they each reward you with coins, which are needed to upgrade your power-ups. You'll rarely be short of coins, as they're sometimes just given to you when you die as a free gift, and occasionally appear as collectables on the maze floor. The upgrades for each power merely increase the time that they're effective for, or the amount of points dispatching a ghost earns you. This is a little disappointing; the upgrades could've been made more interesting by incorporating some of the later power-ups, which are mostly just better versions of what came before. For example, the Tornado ability summons - surprise - a tornado that chases and destroys ghosts, but you can later unlock the Twinado, which is exactly the same, but sends out two. These duplicate power-ups might've been better suited to being upgrades.
Still, these little extra layers that Pac-Man 256 brings to the traditional formula are all welcome, and the passion for the character is clear. This is especially true in the presentation, which makes fantastic use of the arcade original's 8-bit graphics and mono sound effects, but with modern twists. The visuals are simple, but very sharp, and it's fun switching between themes to see the various iterations of Pac-Man over the years. The wakka-wakka sound gradually increases in pitch as your chain of pac-dots goes up. Increments of memory capacity - 8, 16, 32 etc. - are everywhere it makes sense; the amount of coins it costs to upgrade a power-up, or the milestones in a pac-dot chain (with a pleasingly explosive payoff when you reach 256).
Finally, the most significant addition to this version of the game is multiplayer. Up to four local players can play cooperatively, which can get chaotic pretty quickly. If one of you dies, a Pac-Man icon appears a little further on in the maze, which lets you back in if another player picks it up. A well-orchestrated team of Pac-Men will see the overall score skyrocket, but it can sometimes be difficult to follow all the action. It's a fun alternative if you're looking for a new couch co-op game to try, especially as your individual scores are measured alongside the cumulative score, adding a little competitive element to proceedings.
There's a lot to love in this port of the original mobile game. Free from the shackles of micro-transactions and limited credits, the console version of Pac-Man 256 is a fresh and expertly executed blend of the iconic coin-op game and the endless runner genre. The simple presentation and controls allow anyone to pick up a controller and know what to do, while the addition of power-ups and objectives provide a little more depth for die-hard fans to explore. More creative use of upgrades would've been nice, and as with all endless runners, the appeal will wear off relatively quickly. However, this is a strong outing for Pac-Man that's perfect for short bursts, or, just as likely, one-more-go marathons.