Tetris – Pac-Man 99’s Excellent Gameplay Makes Up for a Lack of Content
Pac-Man 99 is yet another inventive Nintendo Switch battle royale. While its DLC content is underwhelming, the core gameplay is a lot of fun.
When Nintendo de-listed Super Mario Bros. 35 from the Nintendo Switch eShop, audiences began to speculate about what would come next. Many players thought that Nintendo Switch Online’s next unconventional battle royale would draw upon another Nintendo IP, like The Legend of Zelda. No one expected that Pac-Man would get the treatment next. But, like Tetris 99, Pac-Man 99 proves that simple, classic games are flexible enough to be adapted to this format. And, on the back of great gameplay, Pac-Man 99 has cemented itself as a compelling Switch Online freebie — even if its overall package is underwhelming.
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Ultimately, the problems with Pac-Man 99 only arise as a consequence of its expensive downloadable content. The costly nature of the DLC recontextualizes expectations for the game, which is much stronger as a subscription bonus than as a paid title. Still, the basic Pac-Man 99 experience and its ability to modernize arcade gameplay makes this game a valuable aspect of Nintendo Switch Online.
Like Tetris 99 before it, Pac-Man 99 pits the player against 98 others in a bid to be the last one standing. It’s a frantic experience that turns Pac-Man Ghost-gobbling into a frenzied bid for survival. Players are able to volley junk Ghosts, called Jammer Ghosts, onto their opponents’ mazes to slow them down. Each Ghost that the player chomps after eating a Power Pellet is lobbed over. Huge masses of Jammer Ghosts can be sent at once by chowing down on a Ghost Train, which is accomplished by first eating the silhouetted Sleeping Ghosts on the board. These spirits will be daisy-chained onto a regular Ghost, which can then be combo’d together for big Jammer Ghost attacks.
Somehow, the player-versus-player aspect of Pac-Man 99 is more complicated than it seems. Like the other Switch battle royales, there are different targeting patterns that players can employ by flicking the right stick. Pac-Man 99 also introduces gameplay strategies that augment particular strengths at a specific cost. These mechanics make most sense once the player has settled into a few hours of Pac-Man 99 — and after they’ve read a few forum posts. The game is not very good at explaining its own mechanics. They come naturally enough with experience, but this title certainly has a steeper learning curve than past Switch battle royales.
The experience can be wonderfully satisfying once it clicks, though. It’s easy to enter a trance-like state during gameplay while chaining together attacks as rivals’ Ghosts threaten to overtake Pac-Man. Tetris 99 was a white-knuckle experience already, but Pac-Man 99 elevates that further. This is helped by relatively snappy rounds, which invite the one-more-match mentality that is going to run up play clocks. Pac-Man is inherently a fast-paced experience where players moves until they lose, so layering on battle royale elements only heightens the intensity.
There is a sense of passivity that dampens the experience, though. In Tetris 99, there was a satisfying and clear way to send junk lines to rivals; it was obvious and pointed. In Mario 35, sending Koopas and Goombas to a rival felt more like a reactionary move — a consequence of your gameplay a opposed to a deliberate, strategic assault.
In Pac-Man 99, as the player flies by the seat of their pants in an attempt to stay alive, sending Jammer Ghosts feels more in line with Mario 35 than Tetris 99. The Ghost Train mechanics are still engaging, but they lack the clarity that Tetris has. Pac-Man 99, like Mario 35, is more about the chaos and bid for survival than the methodical rivalry of Tetris 99. Throwing out Ghost Trains feels more defensive than deliberate.
Even in light of Pac-Man‘s issues, the overall gameplay experience is strong, and it’s easily worth downloading. The game is clear boon for a service that is otherwise known for its meager offerings. However, Pac-Man 99‘s DLC is meager in its own right, and perhaps not worth the price of admission. Its DLC is split between new modes and exclusive themes. The latter is cosmetic only, although they do overlay some fun, Namco-inspired palettes onto title. These are similar to Tetris 99‘s themes — which were offered for free through limited-time events.
The DLC modes, unfortunately, aren’t much more substantive than the themes. Players can access online Private Matches, CPU Battle (which is just core Pac-Man 99 with bots), Score Attack and Blind Time Attack. All the single-player modes operate within Pac-Man 99‘s limited structure and provide a major reason to return to the game. They do offer a single-player component, but at a certain point, it makes more sense to simply enjoy this game’s free multiplayer experience and invest in Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 for a more robust solo title. The DLC content isn’t bad, but it feels decidedly plain in contrast to the online multiplayer.
The price is certainly steep, too. The modes can be purchased for $14.99, themes for $1.99 each or all the themes and the modes for $30 combined. That’s expensive, particularly for how little the player receives, but the value proposition is almost a non-sequitur since buying in at all is optional. The one sticking point are Private Matches, which arguably shouldn’t be tied to the DLC and instead rolled into the base package.
On the whole though, Pac-Man 99 is a spirited and competitive freebie that all Nintendo Switch Online members should try. While the battle royale gimmick is wearing thin across the industry, Pac-Man 99 refreshes the concept through its replayable reimagination of classic arcade gameplay. Even though the DLC is underwhelming, Pac-Man 99 stands alongside Monster Hunter Rise as one of Nintendo’s early 2021 delights.
Developed Arika and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment, Pac-Man 99 is available for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers. A review copy was provided by the publisher.
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