Stadia turned one last week, and I’m having a blast with the current stream of titles; with hard-hitters like Immortals Fenyx Rising and Cyberpunk 2077 heading to the platform next month, there’s a ton of reasons to be excited for Google’s cloud gaming platform. That said, the exclusives have been pretty fun too, with Super Bomberman R Online getting one of my highest recommendations of the year. If the 64-player frenzy translated remarkably well for that series, why not Pac-Man? Released earlier this week, Pac-Man Mega Tunnel Battle is a fun little take on the battle royale formula that will please fans, but is still a bit too buggy and lacking in value for the big leagues.
As I’ve noted in my preview beforehand, Pac-Man Mega Tunnel Battle is an innovative concept that needs more work in order to succeed. Did it do so? Well, yes and no. The main gameplay mode is elimination, where you are trying to be the last Pac-Man standing in a group of 64-players. Each of you has a maze where you will need to try and complete, with ghosts that are threatening to kill you. Should you touch a Power Pellet, you will make them vulnerable and eat them for a lot of points. Clearing a maze will reset it and make you and the ghosts speedier, with higher value fruits in the mix to grant you a point bonus every so often.
It’s nothing too out of the ordinary in terms of Pac-Man, but then you’ll have to throw in powerups which will affect either you or the ghosts (and maybe your opponents too). These can range from making your Pac-Man speedy, contracting an odor that will make ghosts run away, or even make a dizzy explosion that will immobilize all foes for a period. And your main attack against other foes: should you eat a Power Pellet, any other Pac-Men in the vicinity that haven’t eaten one are vulnerable to being eaten as well, which means you can eliminate other players by either forcing ghosts on them or eating them yourself. Once the gates unlock, you can also insert yourself into another player’s maze and try to get more points or even try and defeat other people.
In addition, Pac-Man Mega Tunnel Battle’s “Fortnite Storm” is the implementation of a minimum score system. If enough Pac-Men haven’t died by a certain time limit, those who have the least amount of points will automatically lose, and the round will advance, with mazes from defeated players being erased. This means you can’t dawdle around, and if you want to survive, you’ll need to clear mazes as much as possible. While I didn’t really experience much trouble beating the score requirement when I played the demo, here I was pressured into making risky calls to eat ghosts or try to eliminate other opponents in order to stay in the game. I also had to think if I needed to save my powerups in order to make a getaway or sabotage my opponents. This tension was a neat way to proceed with the game, and I enjoyed the risk/reward style of the classic gameplay.
Aside from the main elimination game, there’s a separate challenge mode that functionally acts as a waiting lobby (and also a bit of an endless mode). It’s the same game except now you have goals to fulfill (like eating 5 ghosts or scoring 30,000 points in one game), and doing so will grant you experience and in-game currency that will allow you unlock customizable parts for your Pac-Man. You can also spectate either of these modes, where you’ll have the ability to get a bird’s eye view of the whole playing field and even choose which powerups appear for a certain player.
Pac-Man Mega Tunnel Battle is an innovative concept that unfortunately suffers from some technical jitters and quirkiness too. While the premise is interesting (it’s less intense but more interactively involved than Tetris 99, for sure), I wish there was a way to make player conflict more present in the main gameplay loop. I would regularly only see one, maybe two other Pac-Men in a given maze, which is great for playing mind games, but having four or five in one maze? That would be pure mayhem (which would be awesome considering the genre). You can actually make it through a game without seeing another soul in your maze, which again can bring Tetris 99 comparisons to the forefront. It takes a while to build up to the high-stakes gameplay, and I wish it happened sooner in the round.
By now I’ve gotten used to Stadia’s technical issues when streaming from the cloud, but for some reason, there were times when ghosts or powerups would just pop in and out of the lane I was on for no reason. Luckily, I didn’t get eliminated because of these errors, but I did miss out on scoring some big points because the fast Pac-Man powerup randomly warped to the other side. I also have to note the lack of music past the main menu screen, which makes the game feel less exciting than the premise suggests. This sucks too, considering that the menu track is energetic and lovely, and you could even just plop something from the Pac-Man Championship duology and it would work so much better.
I’m going to have to compare this to Super Bomberman R Online since they’re both a reimagining of a beloved franchise, and honestly? This looks less polished and feature-heavy compared to that game. Sure, the challenge mode alleviates the matchmaking problem that’s apparent in the whole Stadia catalog (so you can basically play by yourself or with just a few people in a room), but even a day after launch, it took me around 5 or 6 minutes to get enough people for a match. This also takes into consideration the times when I got a message that servers were full, even though I only saw a handful of rooms in the first place.
The biggest difference between the two games? The pricing model, which might plague the game’s playerbase going forward. Super Bomberman R Online is technically free at the moment, with Pro subscribers getting until December to claim a free version. That said, the premium pack is $9.99, but even after two months, I was able to get a steady stream of players (to destroy using Pyramid Bomber). Pac-Man Mega Tunnel Battle asks for twice that price, and while I think this is a fun title for the avid Pac-Man fan, it’s a harder sell for someone who thinks of the game as a mere curiosity. (For added hurt, PUBG and its Highlands expansion are currently free on Stadia Pro.) I personally think this title would work well as a free-to-play game, or if necessary, having a premium pack add-on, but as it stands, I would recommend the game for those looking at another battle royale title in the Stadia’s arsenal.
Pac-Man Mega Tunnel Battle
Pac-Man Mega Tunnel Battle is an interesting way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of everyone’s favorite yellow muncher, but the asking price and lack of content might turn off some interested fans. However, with some added updates and patches, it has the potential to be one of the more engaging battle royale titles.