Pac-Man S reinvents one of the all-time arcade classics into a compelling Facebook game
It may be time for all the other Facebook developers to go home (barring, perhaps, PopCap). In terms of concept, Pac-Man S is such a perfect Facebook game that it’s hard to imagine how anything else could compete. Pac-Man S uses a Bejeweled Blitz-like format where you attempt to get the highest score possible in two minutes of play. As your score increases, the game becomes faster-paced and more challenging. Players can opt to spend a virtual currency called points on up to two power-ups from a group of four to customize the experience.
The gameplay is very recognizable as Pac-Man from the start, using the classic arcade sprites for both the titular hero and his rival ghosts. Instead of a board full of dots, though, you begin with only a few trails of dots and far more of the power pellets (which make ghosts edible) than any standard game would allow. As you munch dots, the familiar Pac-Man fruit icons appear. Instead of just offering bonus points, munching fruit summons more dots and power pellets to the board. Separate 10,000 point bonuses also appear at random. You can also increase the multiplier on points you gain from chasing ghosts by eating special multiplier ghosts, but doing so causes everything in the game to move faster.
The power-ups are roughly what you’d expect in a Bejeweled Blitz-style game. You can add five seconds to the game timer, slow down the ghosts, speed up Pac-Man relative to the ghosts, or go into the game with an x2 point modifier already applied. The speed-up power-up is the only one that seems ill-considered, since making Pac-Man faster just tends to result in a lot of accidental deaths. Dying in Pac-Man S amounts to a time penalty, as you can’t gain points while the death animation plays. You’ll respawn at the exact point in the maze where you died, but your score modifier will be reset. Getting really high scores calls for not getting killed during a two-minute session.
The only real flaw in Pac-Man S is the control input. The game has to be played with the arrow or WASD keys. There doesn’t seem to be any support for gamepads or joysticks. Pac-Man S‘s actual controls are arcade-perfect and very responsive, so at very high score modifiers the keyboard input feels extremely clunky. It’s less like you’re fighting the maze and more like you’re fighting a control scheme that’s just not natural for a fast-paced arcade game. Some kind of support for USB gamepads and joysticks would be very welcome.
Pac-Man S is still a marvelous two-minute time-waster that stands up very well to repeat play. The scoring system and escalating difficulty keeps the process of trying to top your own (or your friends’) high scores interesting. Pac-Man S doesn’t include a lot of social mechanics beyond the basics, but that’s fine for a game like this. Even when surrounded by a group of admirers in an arcade, the design of the cabinets created a feeling of isolation when you played games like Pac-Man back in the 80s. Pac-Man S simply brings that arcade feel to Facebook.