Plenty of video game characters have iOS and Android endless runners, so why not Pac-Man? Namco Bandai's Pac-Man Dash! sees the iconic hero doing his best Sonic the Hedgehog impression as he zips through five unique courses gobbling pellets referred to as cookies and munching on his archenemies, the evil ghosts, to add precious seconds to the clock. There are some cool ideas that help make this free-to-play effort intriguing, along with visually stimulating graphics, a quality presentation and responsive tap controls. Our only gripe involves the need for Stamina, which similar to Candy Crush Saga's lives forbids people from playing unless it refills over time or the person forks over some cash.
Like most running games, you don't control Pac-Man's momentum. Instead, the yellow guy charges forward and you simply press the jump button to reach higher platforms. You also don't have to inhale special power-pellets to turn ghosts blue. They do this automatically whenever Pac-Man gets within range, which lets you concentrate on the task at hand, completing the current objective.
These challenges run the proverbial gamut, from jumping a set number of times to using the Dash Meter to catch up to progressively quicker ghosts. The first 20 goals are easy enough, but later missions made us sweat as the timer ticked closer to zero with no ghosts in sight. Eventually, one more second seemed like manna from the heavens.
What's especially satisfying is how fast the game is. We didn't use that Sonic reference lightly. You've never seen Pac-Man move like this, and the thrilling sense of speed that comes from running through tubes, sailing through the air and charging down ramps is a welcome sensation and a far departure from Pac-Man's usual maze-traveling antics.
In addition, we really like the game's presentation. Screens are both colorful and easy to navigate, and high quality music rounds out the package. All told, the app is like something we'd see as a downloadable title for Xbox Live Arcade.
There's also a promising Skylanders-like feature with a line of Pac-Man toys due out this August. Consumers are able to enter bar codes to gain access to different characters for a limited time, or they can buy these virtual figurines with cookies at reduced prizes. Each one comes with special abilities to help make things easier, along with much-needed variety.
Of course, there's the usual in-app purchase fluff designed to grab dollars from one's wallet, things like extra time and double the cookies. That stuff's fine. It's the aforementioned Stamina that drags the game down. We see little reason to limit a person's playtime. Namco Bandai redeems itself by allowing someone 10 chances at a time, and Stamina replenishes quickly enough, but still. It doesn't belong.
Aside from that minor annoyance, Pac-Man Dash is both highly polished and refreshing. Not sure whether the upcoming toys will be a hit, but if anything, you can enjoy this fast-paced and free runner for your mobile device.
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