They’re eating her… and then they’re going to eat me! — Pac-Man Mega Tunnel Battle preview

It seems like every game franchise and its mother has a new battle royale out now. From last year’s Tetris 99 to this year’s Super Bomberman R Online and Super Mario 35, there’s really no sacred franchise that can be spared by the thought of hordes of people duking it out to be the last person standing. Likewise, as a commemoration of Pac-Man’s 40-year legacy, Bandai Namco has announced a battle royale game in the form of Pac-Man Mega Tunnel Battle. A free demo is available now exclusively on Google Stadia, and while it’s very rough around the edges, it does have the potential to be a great celebration of our favorite dot muncher.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Pac-Man is a solid franchise. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality works when releasing something like Pac-Man Championship Edition, where the core maze mechanics are the same. While this isn’t the first time we got a maze-related multiplayer Pac-Man game on consoles, this is the first one that involves a metric ton of people; 64, in fact! It’s a brilliant concept that is amazing in theory, but in practice could use a bit of work.

So you have original Pac-Man gameplay, where your goal is to eat all of the dots while escaping the clutches of four ghosts in a maze. Eat a power pellet, and YOU are now the hunter, but only for a short time. If you end up eating all your dots, then the map resets and you get points. Simple, right? I mean, that’s how it’s been for 40 years.

Now add 63 more players to the mix.

That’s a lot of Pac-Men!

You see, there are 64 players in the demo’s Elimination Game mode (currently the only one offered in the demo), and they all have their own mazes. Seems like a pretty monotonous exercise, especially since the early game has slow ghosts and easy mazes. So here’s where the battle royale mechanics kick in: On the edge of your map lie some exits that are locked initially. After some time passes, they will open up, which will allow you to wreak havoc on another player’s maze.

Essentially, you’ll be doing the same thing as you would in the arcade version of Pac-Man, but you can also interact with the maze by activating powerups like faster ghosts or a shield that will repel ghosts off of you. The biggest game-changer here is the fact if you eat a Power Pellet, any other Pac-Man is now as vulnerable to your chomping skills as the ghosts, That means you can eliminate your opponents yourself rather than waiting for them to self-destruct by running into a ghost. However, you can also be on the opposite end, so you need to be careful and run away should you be the target of a big Pac-Man.

But what if you want to make love, not war, and just roam around? Well, the round system will eliminate the lowest scoring Pac-Man players (this is still the same arcade game at its core, after all), and if you don’t make the prerequisite number of points, it’s curtains for you. The game now becomes one of cat-and-mouse as well as a score earner, because the game will whittle down players while also throwing obstacles in your path.

It’s this chaos that makes Pac-Man Mega Tunnel Battle different from its multiplayer predecessors; while the 64-player count (and Stadia exclusivity) might make some people gravitate towards Super Bomberman R Online comparisons, I liken it to Tetris 99 instead. Both games have you trying to clear your board of junk while also dealing with the distractions your opponents throw at you. Only this time, they can pull a Fairly Oddparents: Channel Chasers maneuver and kill you when you least expect it. It was during the midgame when arenas were getting slimmer (mazes disappear when opponents are eliminated), and I saw one or two other opponents popping into my maze and trying to eat Power Pellets to kill me. It’s a great time when you have to navigate a hectic environment, but unfortunately, the buildup takes a bit of time to do this.

This is a demo made for testing purposes, but I did notice a bit of stutter and performance errors  (which aren’t even related to the usual Stadia problems I normally have, oddly enough) while playing; heck, I outright died the second I entered my very first match for no reason. There’s a lengthy sequence where Pac-Men enters the arena which is cute the first time, but because there’s a single-line queue, 64 characters being showcased feels more like a stalling measure for loading the arenas than anything else. In addition, there was no music aside from the main menu, which makes the game feel hollow and empty at times. It’s a shame because even adding a repetitive background song would have made the game feel much more exciting. I think in order to cut down on the “boring” parts of the battle royale experience, the game should have a mode where the number of mazes forces players to interact and destroy each other (so minimizing the number from 64 playing fields to 16 would have four players fighting one another immediately).

This was my second game. I am now the self-proclaimed king of Stadia exclusive Battle Royale titles.

At the end of the day, Pac-Man Mega Tunnel Battle has the potential to be a smash hit. With its novel approach to the classic maze gameplay mixed with the fact that someone is always ready to eliminate you, there is much to love here. Stay tuned for more developments here on Gaming Trend.

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