Pac-Man 99 is the latest classic game to get the 99 Battle Royale treatment. Nintendo and Bandai Namco literally surprised everyone when they dropped the trailer on us this past Tuesday and a released it the next day! Pac-Man 99 is a free to play download game for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers, like Tetris 99 and Super Mario Bros. 35 are/were which also has some content behind a paywall. So far I love it, but there are a few things that while this entry into the 99 series does right, it also takes a step back.
Pac-Man is still as addicting today as it was back in the 80’s. Pac-Man 99 does exactly what Tetris 99 did before it, they don’t take away from the winning and addicting formula, but add to it it making the game exciting for competition. If you’ve played Pac-Man before this isn’t much different. However instead of going for as long as you can to get the high score, your goal is to survive and beat out 98 other players to reach the title of the Pac-One. Now avoiding ghosts and chomping on dots is only part of the game, to win you’ll need to throw stuff to other players. Think of how in Tetris 99 players can send you garbage lines to make you loose quicker, in Pac-Man 99 you do that by chomping on the ghosts. Eating ghosts will send “Pac-Jammers” to other players. These won’t kill you but they will slow you down quite a bit if you touch them. Which could mean you loosing the round if you’re surrounded by ghosts and can’t get away. Later on in the match you’ll see these red Pac-Jammers and these WILL kill you if you touch them. There is a way to get rid of the Jammers though. Power pellets get rid of the white ones close to said pellet, and eating fruit will take out all of the red ones. Like Tetris 99 you have 4 options to send the jammers to certain players (like those who are about to get knocked out) and switch them up on the fly. Unlike Tetris though you also have other options on how Pac-Man controls. These are new and do take some getting used to such as the ‘strength’ style. This style makes the ghosts eatable for only 4 seconds but sends double the Jammers to enemy players. A new feature to the game is the Ghost Train. On either side of the maze you can chomp on these little ghosts and a train will form behind one of the regular ones. Get a power pellet and these ghosts pop up and are primed to get chomped on. Chomping on these ghosts is instrumental in sending Pac-Jammers to other players and when you munch on some fruit the little ghosts come back so with some slick planning, you can create a massive chain combo and really mess someone up.
It’s muscle memory for me at this point to try and get all the dots and clear the maze but that isn’t the case with Pac-Man 99. Sure it’s a neat little statistic at the end of a round but clearing the maze doesn’t really do much but give you a speed boost and you can very well win a match without clearing the maze once. Also eating the fruit, while it replenishes the power pellets and the ghost train, it randomizes where the dots pop up so you could very easily get a maze with no dots. If you do get that you’ll instantly get a speed boost which is nice. As straight forward as playing Pac-Man with 98 other people is, the game still pulls a 99 on you by not explaining anything when you first turn it on. Just like what Tetris and Mario 35 did, they just chuck you into the deep end and hope you can swim. I would’ve liked some explanation as to how the new style wheel can help Pac-Man and what exactly the red Jammers do before I ran into one and died. It’s a trial by fire and even though the game has now been out for less than 72 hours (as of this writing) I can only assume there are YouTube videos out explaining what they are and how they change the gameplay.
Speaking of gameplay, it truly goes to show how amazing Pac-Man is because even with the added tweaks here and there the basics are the same and it’s still addicting as all get out. However once you start playing you will notice that there is a LOT going on and you could very easily get lost as to where you are and what is around you. I fear that some players may suffer from sensory overload because one moment you could have a clear screen and 2 seconds later there are tons of Pac-Jammers gunning for you and didn’t see the blue ghost get you. That happened to me, I zoned out and lost track of where I was and I died because I focused on a different ghost. Also if you’re playing on a Switch Pro Controller you may want to change the default controls once you boot up the game. I’m used to playing Pac-Man with a joystick/analog stick, however the default setting to move Pac-Man around is the D-Pad, which works if you’re used to it but that was not comfortable for me at all. Luckily changing the control settings isn’t hard and you can customize them exactly the way you like them.
Now what Pac-Man 99 does better than Tetris 99 is that the added content, like single player modes, are available right from the get go. Those modes are behind a pay wall however as are themes for the game. This is were Pac-Man isn’t the best for me because for Tetris 99 they hold events during some weekends for players to earn different cosmetic themes and if one were to miss out on one, players can just do daily missions to earn tickets to ‘buy’ them. In Pac-Man the themes (which are based off classic Namco arcade games) you have to pay for, they are not earned in game. Now the price tag for these themes are $1.99 and they are all very well done themes, and you can pick and choose which one(s) you want but if you want everything open from the get go it’ll cost you $30. Thats including the single player modes ($15 on its own) and all of the themes. To be fair there are a ton of themes but I still can’t justify a $30 price tag for single player modes and cosmetic themes. Granted I did pay for the single player modes and 2 themes, the Galaga and Dig-Dug ones, and I do want to go back and play them more, but I keep going to Pac-Man 99 mode and just changing my theme every once in a while.
The main draw of this game is playing Pac-Man with 99 other gamers to see who gets on top and it doesn’t disappoint. Also these matches are quick, Tetris can go for a bit but it’s not too long. I’ve heard horror stories of gamers playing a single match of Mario 35 for over 30 minutes until a winner was decided. With Pac-Man 99 it’s a quick 5 minutes or less until someone wins which means you can easily go for another round and minutes turn into hours. When I first started playing the game I kept going until 5:30 in the morning just to get my first win. After I got it I wanted to play another round, even when I have a bad round or place 2nd or 3rd I kept wanting to play and I didn’t realize how late it was until I heard birds chirping outside. It reminds me of wanting to pump in more quarters into a Pac-Man cabinet thinking, “I can beat that score, one more go.” Thankfully I don’t have to keep spending quarters to get that Pac-Man fix. If you have a Nintendo Switch and the Online service, and you love Pac-Man then this is an instant download. If the paid content isn’t your cup of tea and you don’t like the price, the main mode of Pac-Man 99 is more than enough to hold you over until a sale happens or you finally cave and get the single player modes. I do have some complaints with it but all in all this game is a solid entry into the 99 series of games that unlike Mario, is here to stay. Pac-Man is the perfect arcade classic to turn into a 99 Battle Royale by adding just a little bit of spice to an already near perfect meal.