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Sunday, July 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The Tech Deck

This week’s free game: “Pac-Man 256”

Are you a gamer? Do you like free things? Of course you do!

We here at the Tech Deck are just like you: poor gamers looking for cheap entertainment. And nothing's cheaper than cost-free gaming. Each week, we'll bring you a title (or two or three) you can legally play at home without plopping down a single dollar. If you see games you think we should be featuring on the blog, email us at dang@spokesman.com or kiph@spokesman.com.

So far, we've endeavored at The Tech Deck to bring you free games that don't follow the so-called "free-to-play" model that has taken over the industry by storm. You know the type - ad-supported gaming that often offers power-ups and game-winning perks at the cost of a few shekels. If that type of gaming is your thing, more power to you. But we like to give you meaty experiences in our weekly free-game highlights that more closely resemble the gaming greats of yore.

But developer Hipster Whale, makers of the wildly popular Frogger clone "Crossy Road," released a free-to-play version of Pac-Man this summer that's just too good to ignore, especially on the 35th anniversary of the yellow guy's appearance in arcades. Click below to see what all the fuss is about in "Pac-Man 256."

Promotional screenshot for 'Pac-Man 256'
Click here to find 'Pac-Man 256' in the Apple store.
Click here for 'Pac-Man 256' on Android devices.

'Pac-Man 256' takes its name from the original arcade title's notorious 256th level, when the screen would glitch and eventually force a Game Over. As an endless runner, your goal in Pac-Man 256 is to guide the hero through a maze that is being consumed by the glitch, while also avoiding the game's obligatory ghosts and aiming for power-ups like lasers and freeze rays.

Controls aren't awful, as you'll flick your fingers to show Pac-Man where to go and the touch controls are relatively responsive. But nothing beats the tactile brilliance of the joystick, of course.

The game is free to play, meaning you can download it on your device without cost. All you'll need is a Google or Apple account. You can pay to continue the game after you've died, or you can wait 10 minutes for your continues to reset. You can also use continues, in the form of tokens, that appear in the maze, but you've got to collect them, and the tokens are also used to beef up your power-ups. So there's a risk-reward system in how you spend your spoils.

Go inside the blog to learn more about the 256 glitch and how Pac-Man has transformed over the years.

The level 256 glitch is a function of the original Pac-Man game's logic. Levels are stored in the game as 8-bit integers, which max out at 255. The game is actually attempting to draw 256 pieces of fruit on the screen, in addition to the rest of the level. Thus the right side of the screen is consumed in a garbled mess of symbols and letters.

It's impossible to eat all the pellets on this screen, meaning you can't progress past level 256. Then again, there's the question of whether you'd want to continue playing after what has to be a several-hour nonstop session of Pac-Man.

Pac-Man 256 isn't the first game to attempt to tweak the arcade game's formula for a modern audience. Pac-Man Championship editions feature easy, pick-up-and-play gameplay that speeds up your character, changes the boards into puzzles and makes hunting down ghosts the primary goal. Pac-Man has also been featured in several other types of games and franchises, most notably in the recent Smash Bros. release

The yellow guy also appeared in a terrible adventure game on the Super Nintendo, Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures, which inexplicably gave you no control over the protagonist. You had to manipulate the world around him to solve puzzles, which was infuriating. I still blame Blockbuster for failing to give me an accurate representation of what I was getting into back in the mid-90s.

Do you have a favorite Pac-Man game? Are you surprised Namco handed out its biggest license to an indie developer interested in an endless runner? Let us know in the comments below, and check back next week for another, more traditional free game offering. 




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Kip Hill
Kip Hill joined The Spokesman-Review in 2013. He currently is a reporter for the City Desk covering City Hall, Congressional politics and the marijuana industry. He previously hosted the newspaper's podcast.

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