Following in the footsteps of Tetris 99 and Super Mario Bros. 35 comes Bandai Namco's Pac-Man 99, a fast-paced, highly addicting, and cleverly designed take on the iconic arcade classic. Pac-Man 99 doesn’t dramatically shake up the Pac formula: You still eat dots, devour Power Pellets, and chomp ghosts. However, the Nintendo Switch game adds dynamic hazards, strategic abilities, and a competitive atmosphere that makes it incredibly difficult to put down. Pac-Man 99 has a few shortcomings, with the main one being poorly detailed rules explanations, but they're nothing that seriously detracts from the experience.
Pac-Man Battle Royale
Like Tetris 99 and Super Mario Bros. 35, Pac-Man 99 is a free-to-play, last-man-standing game for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers. As its name suggests, Pac-Man 99 places you in a Pac-Man game in which your actions impact the 98 other people playing their own games in your shared lobby. It's familiar Pac-Man gameplay, but with a few twists.
For example, devouring the sleeping ghosts on either side of the maze causes them to trail regular ghosts in a long train, which sets up delicious, Pac-Man Championship Edition-style combos. In addition, eating a ghost sends the specter to an opponent’s maze where it manifests as a hollow, Jammer Pac-Man that reduces your rival's speed should that person make contact with it. Naturally, eating a ghost train sends a swarm of Jammers to your opponent, making it a critical part of your offense. As the match progresses, Jammers sent from other people enter your maze and give the ghosts a massive advantage. Thankfully, Power Pellets have a dual purpose in Pac-Man 99: They instantly clear Jammers from your maze and make all ghosts vulnerable to your chomps. As a result, you must use strategic reasoning to determine when to save or use them.
Dots serve a unique purpose in Pac-Man 99, as they grant a permanent speed boost when you've eaten them all. The speed boosts stack with each stage clear, and the increased movement comes in particularly handy as Jammers enter your maze in droves. Fruit appears in the maze's center after you've gobbled a certain amount of dots. Eating the fruit resets the board, restocking both dots and Power Pellets.
Fuser (for Nintendo Switch)
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury (for Nintendo Switch)
Fruit carries a give-and-take element that also demands strategic thinking. Eating fruit gives you a fresh set of Power Pellets, but resetting the board before you eat all the dots means you miss out on a vital speed boost. And much like Power Pellets, fruit has a secondary purpose: It clears the maze of the dangerous Red Jammer Pac-Men. These appear in the maze as stationary hazards that kill you if you touch them. They effectively block off certain maze sections, and as matches draw to a close, these Red Jammers start chasing you, too. Power Pellets freeze them, but the only way to clear them off your board is to eat fruit, hamstringing your speed buff progress. Who would have thought Pac-Man could be so strategic?
Once you get in the zone, Pac-Man 99 is a shockingly addicting, even thrilling game that encourages various play styles, on-the-fly adaptation, and improvisation, all throughout the course of a single match. It’s a roller coaster of action and strategy, which is all the more impressive considering you’re playing what amounts to a glorified round of Pac-Man. You can boost your speed via dots early on when there are less hazards, devour as many ghosts as possible to pressure opponents, or play defensively and camp near Power Pellets. You need to think on your feet if you want the number-one spot.
Pac-Man 99's Hidden Systems
Pac-Man 99 has other offensive and defensive elements. You can choose who you send Jammers to by selecting one of four options with the right thumb-stick, but the game does not explain what the options do. You need to go online and read Pac-Man 99 tips or parse the gameplay elements yourself through trial and error.
The Random option targets people at random, while Knockout targets people on the verge of elimination. Counter targets players targeting you, while Hunter targets the lead person. This should sound relatively familiar if you’ve played previous 99 games, but new to Pac-Man 99 are power-up options. These affect how your Power Pellets function during a match, granting you massive boons if you know which option to select and when. Standard is default, and it contains no perks or drawbacks.
Stronger sends double the Jammers to your opponents, but the ghosts you must eat are only vulnerable for half the time. Train adds more ghosts to the train when you eat sleeping ghosts, but each one also adds Jammers to your maze as a penalty. Speed lets you move at twice your normal speed, but it reduces the number of Jammers you can send to opponents. A tutorial or instruction card during loading screens would've been nice ways to explain the gameplay systems.
DLC Shenanigans and Other Modes
Unfortunately, a few bonus game modes, maze skins, and features are exclusive to Pac-Man 99's paid versions. Unlocking the various costs $15, while the entire premium package costs $30. It's hard to complain about missing features in a free game, but placing private lobbies and play-with-friends options behind a paywall is a touch too greedy, especially when Pac-Man 99 is primed for friendly battles and community rivalry.
Pac-Man 99 offers a few offline game modes: CPU battle (the game swaps humans for bots), Score Attack (a focus on gobbling up big points), and Time Attack (a battle against the clock). These modes flesh out the Pac-Man 99 package, and make it worth a purchase if you fear that it will get pulled from Nintendo Switch Online like Super Mario Bros. 35.
Pac-Man 99 is a clever take on a classic game, offering fast-paced action, multiplayer thrills, and strategic planning. Despite its fresh gameplay elements, Pac-Man 99 is just as accessible and enjoyable as the arcade icon it’s based on. Sure, the lack of private lobbies in the free version is a bummer, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a game as fun and addicting as this, especially considering the price tag.
Pac-Man 99 (for Nintendo Switch)
The Bottom Line
Pac-Man 99 is gaming in its purest form, marrying classic arcade nostalgia with a dynamic multiplayer twist that makes it hard to put down.