Developer: Namco Networks America Inc.
Price: $1.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0.1

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★☆☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★☆☆
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

Pac-Man recently turned 30 years old, and his friends at Namco decided to honor the occasion by releasing a new game starring the aging superstar. What better way to celebrate Pac’s big three-oh than with a bare-bones, match-3 puzzler! Hmm, wait a sec. I thought they liked this guy? All kidding aside, PAC-Match Party is a cute little puzzler with a large dose of retro Pac-Man charm. Unfortunately, the aesthetics alone do very little to mask a shallow and ultimately uninspired package.

PAC-Match Party makes a good first impression. Instead of matching 3 or more jewels, you need to match the signature ghosts of the series, as well as cherries and gifts. Matching 3 or more gifts gives you special abilities, such as drawing a line on the board for Pac-Man to munch on ghosts, as well as the standard clearing of a row or column, etc. As you perform matches in the main playing field, Pac-Man is propelled around the border of the screen. Ghosts are chasing Pac-Man along this track, so you need to match quickly in order to stay ahead of them. This visual gimmick is a very nice touch, but amounts to little more than a glorified timer.

Things start to go downhill when you realize that there is only 1 game mode in PAC-Match Party. This single mode is 30 levels long (talk about rubbing it in), and the goal is to make matches over the highlighted squares on the board. The ghosts on your tail get faster as the levels progress, although the game doesn’t really get difficult until the last few stages. If you lose all your lives at any point, it’s game over. The game itself performs well, although there is the occasional bout of unresponsiveness when making a match.

The main goal of the game is to rack up an impressive score by performing combos and collecting fruit from extra long matches, but there are no social networking features available in order to compare your scores, etc. Leaderboards and achievements are local only, leaving very little incentive to replay the game. The scoring system seems a bit suspect as well, as you can abuse and mind-numbingly prolong the earlier levels by avoiding making matches that will clear the highlighted squares.

One note of caution with PAC-Match Party is that version 1.0.1 does not perform correctly on iOS4. When run on a device with iOS4, the highlighted squares on the playing field are no longer visible. You need to guess where you need to execute matches to complete the levels, which essentially breaks the game. Pac-Man fans may want to wait until a new version is released and these issues are resolved before picking up the game. In the meantime, you can try the original flash version of the game for free on the official Pac-Man website. The online version is essentially the same, but with a welcomed bigger board, and with a slightly different ghost-eating mechanic that I personally prefer.

PAC-Match Party is an attractive melding of the Pac-Man vibe and a match-3 puzzler, but the overall game is just too simple and insubstantial to contend in such a crowded genre. Much of the potential of this intriguing mash-up is very much unrealized, especially considering that there is only a single, straightforward game mode. There are more standard features missing from the game, like global leaderboards, adjustable difficulty settings, multiplayer or puzzle modes, etc., than there are included. There’s just not much to bring you back for more, and, if Pac had some creeping doubts about losing a step or two with age, this game does little to ease his insecurities.

Here’s hoping Pac-Man’s 40th birthday is more satisfying, and that he doesn’t end up growing a ponytail and buying a red sports car to overcompensate. That would just be sad…

Posted in: Games, iPhone Apps and Games, Reviews

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