To apply for the position of "my new iPhone obsession", the following is required.
- Some sort of high score mechanic. - Must be easy-to-pick-up, difficult-to-master. - High scores must feel like they are earned, not paid for. - Slick controls. Must make sense on touch screens. - Games must be short enough to feel transient, long enough to feel significant.
Additional elements will also be highly regarded:
- Unique gameplay elements. - Slick visual style - Sexy sound design and/or music that I like.
For reference, previously successful applicants:
Doodle Jump, Fruit Ninja, Collision Effect, Ziggurat, Duet and...
Remember Crossy Road? Yep. Pretty hard to forget Crossy Road. It's probably the most recent Australian mobile to truly hit that tipping point: the Fruit Ninja/Angry Birds/Flappy Bird tipping point. The 'hitting the iOS lotto' tipping point. Crossy Road is the kind of game that changes the lives of the developers, the kind that makes a buttload of money. The kind of game your grandmother plays. The kind of game everyone plays. Everyone.
A one-in-a-million hit. And lightning doesn't strike twice, right?
Pac-Man 256 is the second game from Hipster Whale, the Australian team behind Crossy Road. And while it might be practically impossible to have that gargantuan Crossy Road level hit twice in a row, the team are putting themselves in a very good position to make lightning strike twice.
"We wanted to make something that Toru Iwatani would play."
That's what Matthew Hall of Hipster Whale told me.
We were talking about Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, the last iteration of Pac-Man that we both enjoyed.
But a game that Hall did not want to imitate.
Here's how I would describe Pac-Man 256: it's Pac-Man as an infinite runner, and combines this concept with a number of slick risk/reward mechanics. My favourite? Pac-Man 256 treats dots you collect as a combo system. If you take a path that breaks your dot combo, you lose the points earning potential. This creates a number of tricky scenarios: do you risk heading towards the dots (and a number of hungry looking ghosts) or do you play it safe, break the combo, and head in the opposite direction?
Another way of thinking about it: Pac-Man 256 is an endless runner that relies less on twitch movements and more on efficient moment-to-moment planning. It's an endless runner that pays it's respects to the Pac-Men of olde, but innovates in ways specific to mobile devices and touch controls.
And speaking of controls: they're fluid, precise and make absolute sense. They work like Crossy Road in that players swipe in certain directions in order to move. Swiping is essentially a decision you make at the end of reach route, and that's how we play regular Pac-Man anyway, right?
The 'gimmick' of Pac-Man 256 is this: it's based around the infamous 256 glitch, the glitch on the 256th level that made finishing the game impossible. A glitch that, ironically, made Pac-Man 'endless'. The game literally could not be finished. Players had to keep playing into infinity.
Sorta like the world's first endless runner.
Again: it makes sense. Thematically and in terms of playing to the strengths of the mobile platform.
It also means that — at its heart — Pac-Man 256 is Pac-Man. In its purest form. Pac-Man 256 isn't a 'modernised' experience like Pac-Man Championship Edition DX. It doesn't add bells and whistles in an attempt to bring in a new audience. Pac-Man 256 is far simpler, it looks, sounds, plays and feels like the original Pac-Man. The only twist: it's endless.
I think that's what Matthew Hall means when he wanted Pac-Man 256 to be a game that Toru Iwatani would want to play.
At the very least Pac-Man 256 the kind of game that fans of the original Pac-Man will want to play. And probably the only way Pac-Man could work so seamlessly on the mobile platform — which is where most of those creaky old gamers who remember the original Pac-Man are currently playing games.
It works on so many levels.
But Pac-Man 256 works on the most important level of all: it's accessible, slick and rewarding. Hipster Whale might struggle to replicate the once-in-a-lifetime success of a game like Crossy Road but, with Pac-Man 256, I get the sense that isn't necessarily the end goal here. This is a homage and a slick attempt at making Pac-Man work on mobile.
And it works. It really, really works.