Pac-Man holds a fascinating spot in the hierarchy of video game characters. He no longer sits at the top like Mario and Sonic and he doesn’t have the clout of recent heroes such as Master Chief and Kratos.

Despite that, BandaiNamco’s mascot is still iconic because he was one of the first video game characters to go mainstream. He had his own cartoon. (It wasn’t very good). Like Mr. T, Pac-Man had his own cereal. The hero even had a hit song named after him.

The problem for Pac-Man was that his adventures beyond the power pellets and mazes have been awful. Most of his games have stuck to the tried and true blueprint with a few gimmicks. Developers have added more players, turning it into a party game, or they have altered the perspective to make it more 3D. The outcome has been fun but unremarkable, but a new addition to the “Pac-Man” formula holds promise.

The battle royale genre has been hugely popular with “Fortnite” and “Fall Guys.” Not wanting to miss out on a trend, BandaiNamco has published not one but two “Pac-Man” games that take advantage of the concept.

TWO TAKES ON BATTLE ROYALE

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The first, titled “Pac-Man: Mega Tunnel Battle,” was released a few months ago on Stadia and features 64 players battling to stay alive against ghosts and each other. More recently, BandaiNamco launched “Pac-Man 99” on the Nintendo Switch. This entry pits 99 players against each other as they outmaneuver ghosts and obstacles.

The goal of these “Pac-Man” battle royale games is to be the one that outlasts the others and takes first place. Everyone starts off the same with players running through a maze, eating pellets while avoiding ghosts. Defeat comes when a ghost catches Pac-Man or he meets another end.

In “Mega Tunnel Battle,” players wander through interconnected maps. Players start off alone but they can take portals that occasionally open and invade an opponent’s maze. Once there, they can the help opponent finish eating the pellets and upgrade the map or more likely they can cause havoc. A rival can steal power-ups that flit through the corridors. These can be extra lives, a shield or even a smelly aura to scare ghosts away. What’s even better is that an opponent can grab a Power Pellet and try eating an unpowered Pac-Man as if he were a ghost.

Like all good battle royale games, it’s cutthroat. Players have up to three lives. Once they use those up, they lose and can spectate among the remaining players and even vote to toss items to the remaining few. It’s a game that’s more strategic and deeper than “Pac-Man 99.” The ways to win are more varied, but unfortunately, the player base isn’t as big and it doesn’t feel as though players are competing against a broad field of foes with all the randomness and chaos that’s part of the genre’s fun.

SUCCESS THROUGH SIMPLICITY

On the other hand, “Pac-Man 99” has no such problem being on the Nintendo Switch. This version of a battle royale game nails down the speed and simplicity of gameplay. Players jump into a match, and they play like it’s a normal campaign. They munch on dots, avoid ghosts, eat Power Pellets and turn the tables on adversaries.

What’s different is that players will notice a line of ghost symbols running down two rows of the map. As Pac-Man rolls over the symbols, they’re added to the closest enemy, creating a line. If players eat an Energizer and devour the line of ghosts, they create obstacles for their competitors. It’s akin to dropping random blocks on competitors in “Tetris.” These can be shadowy versions of Pac-Man that slow players down so that ghosts can hunt them down. As players move up the survivor ranks, these Pac-Men turn red and will kill players if they touch them.

One of the ways to raise the odds of survival is to empty a maze of pellets raising Pac-Man’s speed. Players can also eat fruit to reset the board and add new Power Pellets if they’re getting low. The strategy is limited compared to “Mega Tunnel Battle” but with only one life in a match, players will appreciate the intensity of every contest. The bigger player base also means fans can jump into games quickly when defeated.

Both “Mega Battle Tunnel” and “Pac-Man 99” have a way of being addictively fun even when players lose. If a player is eliminated, a new match is on the horizon. It doesn’t take much to hit the retry button and hop back into a contest. “Pac-Man 99’s” setup excels at this while jumping into a match in “Mega Battle Tunnel” takes longer. Thankfully, the developers included computer challenges to keep players busy while they wait for people to queue up.

If I were to choose one, I had more fun with “Pac-Man 99” because of its simplified gameplay and the ease of finding a match. Defeat in a battle royale game is a pain but the joy is that there’s always another chance at redemption around the corner and the more recent “Pac-Man” game gets it right.

‘PAC-MAN: MEGA TUNNEL BATTLE’

2 stars

Platform: Stadia

Rating: Everyone

‘PAC-MAN 99’

2.5 stars

Platform: Nintendo Switch

Rating: Everyone

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