With the battle royale genre taking the video game world by storm over the past few years, a recent trend has been remaking classic video games in the style of this genre. At the heart of this trend is developer Arika, who teamed up with Nintendo to create Tetris 99 and Super Mario Bros. 35, the latter of which was pointlessly discontinued after only a few months. Shortly after Super Mario Bros. 35’s cancellation, Arika announced that they were teaming up with Bandai Namco to give Pac-Man the battle royale treatment with Pac-Man 99 for the Nintendo Switch. And much like Arika’s previous efforts, Pac-Man 99 is a fun and addicting spin on one of the classics of the medium.
As its name implies, Pac-Man 99 takes a page from Tetris 99’s book, and sees ninety-nine players compete against each other in a game of Pac-Man all trying to outlast each other, with the last player standing being the winner.
Pac-Man still moves around the board eating ‘Pac-Dots’ and avoiding the ghosts (Inky, Pinky, Blinky and Clyde). There are still the big ‘Power Pellets’ in the corners of the board, which temporarily supercharge Pac-Man and allow him to turn the tables and eat the ghosts! So the basic gameplay is as it always was, but there are some fun changes that come with the battle royale makeover.
Now, whenever Pac-Man eats a ghost, that creates a “Jammer Pac-Man” for other players. Jammer Pac-Men are basically white Pac-Man outlines that slow players down. The more Jammer Pac-Men you send to other players, the slower they’ll get, making them easy pickings for the ghosts, thus eliminating them from the competition. Of course, this also means other players are constantly sending Jammer Pac-Men your way as well. But you can eliminate all of the current Jammers at once by eating a Power Pellet.
Another addition are the groups of tiny “Sleeping Ghosts” on both sides of the board. When collected, these Sleeping Ghosts then trail behind the nearest proper ghost to create a ‘Ghost Train.’ The benefit to this is that, once the ghosts become edible with a Power Pellet, each ghost in the Ghost Train creates its own Jammer, thus bombarding your opponents.
Once a certain amount of the Pac-Dots on the board are eaten (I believe it’s half of them), a fruit appears at the center of the board which resets all of the Pac-Dots, Power Pellets and Sleeping Ghosts once Pac-Man eats it.
Also of note is how the game changes as it goes. Not only do Pac-Man and the ghosts move faster as a match goes on, but the Jammer Pac-Men will behave differently in different stages of a match. In the earlier portion of a game, the Jammers will stay in place, and will slow Pac-Man if he moves through them. Later, the Jammers start chasing Pac-Man. And the late-game introduces red Jammer Pac-Men, who may move slower than the others, but will eliminate Pac-Man just as the ghosts do. And Power Pellets merely freeze the red Jammers in place temporarily. Only getting the fruit will eliminate the red Jammers from the board.
These are all fun twists to the Pac-Man formula that make for a thrilling multiplayer competition. But there are some additional elements that add another level of strategy, though they could be better explained and presented. These are the power-ups and the targeting options.
The power-ups are added bonuses the player can equip at any time, that are activated once Pac-Man eats a Power Pellet. The power-up options are Speed, Stronger, Train and Standard. Speed – true to its name – will double Pac-Man’s movement speed for the duration of a Power Pellet, with the caveat that you’ll send less Jammers to other players. Stronger creates more Jammers per ghost that you eat, but reduces the length of the Power Pellets’ effects. Train adds more ghosts to the Ghost Trains, but also brings a Jammer to your own board for every extra ghost. Standard won’t give Pac-Man any bonuses outside of what Power Pellets usually do, but also doesn’t have a downside.
Targeting options refer to who you want to be sending your Jammer Pac-Men to, and can also be changed at any point. The targeting options are categorized as Random, Knockout, Hunter, and Counter. Random, of course, will simply target a random set of players. Knockout will target players who are on the verge of being eliminated. Hunter will go after the players who have eliminated the most competition already. Finally, Counter will target anyone who is currently targeting you.
It is possible to target individual players, but this is only plausibly done when played in the Switch’s handheld mode, where you just tap that player’s screen on the touchscreen. When played in docked mode, you have to press the ‘L’ or ‘R’ buttons to manually go through each player to find the one you want. But with 98 other players, that’s simply unreasonable, especially in a game that gets as chaotic as this.
As much fun as Pac-Man 99 is, I have to admit the implementation of the power-ups and targeting options could have been done better. Pac-Man himself is controlled by the D-pad, while the buttons change the power-ups, and the right joystick switches the target options. I suppose that’s fine, but if I’m going to be honest, as the game goes on and gets faster and faster, I tend to forget those options are even there. It doesn’t help that the HUD for these options are greatly obscured by all the other players’ screens. Tetris 99 also did something like this, but Pac-Man 99 has so many added visual effects (which look nice on their own) that the displays for the power-ups and targeting options are just drown out. It just makes things all the more chaotic and I lose track of the action.
Another problem is that the game fails to properly explain what the power-ups and targeting options do. There are no in-game options detailing them, and the effects aren’t immediately apparent during gameplay. Although the names gave me a general idea, I actually had to look them up online to know what they did.
A simple instructions section on the main menu and a clearer display would really benefit these aspects. Otherwise Pac-Man 99 is a very fun twist on a timeless classic. It’s highly competitive, and you’ll find yourself even competing with yourself to see if you can rank higher than you did the time before. You’ll find you catch on to the new mechanics pretty quickly, but will play game after game trying to master them. It’s one of those “just one more game” kind of video games.
Pac-Man 99 doesn’t reinvent the Pac-Man formula or the battle royale genre, but like Tetris 99 and Super Mario Bros. 35 before it, Pac-Man 99 proves that battle royales and classic games are a match made in heaven.