Pac-Man 256: Score 10,000 or more with these tips, tricks, and power chains

Like most of the tech world, I've been obsessed with Pac-Man 256 over the past week. Its colorful throwback graphics, delightful gameplay mechanics, and ridiculously fun power-ups keep you chomping for bits long after the novelty of a traditional Pac-Man game might have worn off. If you're having trouble beating your friends' scores or want some extra help to get you over the 5,000 or 10,000 mark, here are some of my best tips, tricks, and bit-chaining advice to get you on your way.

1. If you like the game, buy unlimited credits

Let's get this out of the way first: If you want to get good at the game and get the best power-ups, you're going to need to play it a lot. A whole lot. And while Pac-Man 256 is free to play, you only get a limited number of credits to play with every few hours.

If you want to beat your friends and have a lot of fun, skip the $1 credit boost and go straight for the $8 unlimited credits in-app purchase. It's worth it, you'll have a lot more fun, and you won't get the same awful frustrated feeling when you run out of lives.

2. Know your Pac-Man

Pac-Man 256 is, at its heart, a Pac-Man game. The creators of Crossy Road teamed up with Bandai Namco to create this 21st-century Pac-Man reboot, and the result is a maze with all of the fun, frustration, and play mechanics of a Pac-Man game—as well as a few signature Crossy Road delights.

Just as in the original, you play Pac-Man, the titular pixel-muncher, attempting to wind your way through a maze and eat as many white Pac-dots as you can find to up your score.

But there are a few quirks that separate it from your average Pac-Man experience. The title—and those ominous munching numbers at the bottom of the screen—are nods to an infamous glitch in the 256th level of Pac-Man, wherein a coding error caused the entire screen to slowly fill up with nonsense characters and crash the game.

In good fun, Bandai Namco has brought this conceit back for Pac-Man 256—but instead of an outright crash, the "glitch" has been retooled as a time-eating monster. Dawdle too long at the bottom of your screen, and those colorfully-bizarre numbers will swallow your Pac-Man whole, ending the game.

Lucky for you, unlike a traditional Pac-Man game, this iteration endlessly scrolls upward: So you can escape the glitch as long as you can keep a forward bit-munching momentum.

You'll have some resistance in your desire to score points, of course: Stopping you from a freewheeling career in eating Pac-dots are seven ghosts: Blinky (red), Pinky (pink), Spunky (grey), Clyde (orange), Inky (teal), Sue (purple), Funky (green), and a new, 256-inspired ghost named Glitchy (who appears as a series of glitch-numbers followed by one of the ghost colors).

But Pac-Man 256 isn't sending you out to glitch-and-ghost minefields to die in a blast of pixelated glory unaided: You'll get some delightful powerups, point multipliers, and pixelated coins to aid you on your journey.

3. Know your ghosts

The best way to avoid Pac-Man's ghosts and climb ever upwards is to know how to beat them. Each of the ghosts has a unique and rather strange way of traversing the maze:

  • Inky (teal): Inky is the simplest (and the first) ghost you'll likely meet in Pac-Man 256: It follows a strict square-or-rectangular path through the maze, and won't follow you. Get in the ghost's way, however, and it will explode your Pac-Man without much thought.
  • Clyde (orange): Like Inky, Clyde follows a strict path and doesn't much care for chasing you through the maze. Clyde's set path tends to be more winding, however, and involves several turns.
  • Pinky (pink): Starts off stationary at one end of a maze lane, ever-searching. If you munch into Pinky's lane, the ghost will come racing down that stretch at 120-percent speed. Once Pinky goes the entire distance of a lane, it will again start searching for you; if it can still see you in an adjacent lane, it will again run down that lane. You can avoid Pinky by either not crossing or going down lanes that Pinky's guarding, or by running quickly across the lane and getting out of Pinky's vision.
  • Spunky (grey): Starts the game off sleeping in a corner; if you get within five white Pac-dots of the ghost, it will wake and then chase you for five seconds or so; if it can't catch you, Spunky will go back to sleep. Keep moving and don't get yourself trapped in the maze, and you should be able to avoid Spunky with no problems.
  • Sue (purple): Sue always has two Sue buddies, and moves slowly (around 60 percent move speed) in one horizontal lane within the maze. Stay out of the three Sue ghosts's way, and you'll avoid being eaten by them.
  • Funky (green): Funky, like Sue, travels in a group and is trapped to a single horizontal lane; unlike Sue, Funky comes in a group of four, and travels at full movement speed. But the same principle of avoidance and dodging applies here.
  • Blinky (red): Starts appearing around the 3000-point mark, and will wind its way through the maze targeting you. Blinky will destroy you eventually if you give it the chance, so you need to either eat him first or send him to his death in the glitch void.
  • Glitchy (glitch): The weirdest of the ghosts, Glitchy has... well... a problem: It glitches in and out of existence. Glitchy appears in a swarm of glitch numbers. In swarm-form, the ghost is actually harmless, and you can munch through it with no concern; once it transforms into a colored ghost, however, it will follow you much like Blinky... until it glitches out of existence again a few seconds later.

Unlike your average Pac-Man game, there's no limit to the number of each ghost type that can be on the board—you could run into a section with three Blinkys, two Clydes, an Inky, and a set of Funkys.

4. Use your power-ups and fruits to your advantage

If you're looking at that list of ghosts from the last slide and going "Gee, that's a lot of ghosts and I'm only one little Pac-Man," I feel for you, buddy. And so do the game designers: You'll get a lot of weapon power-ups at your disposal to dispatch with them.

There are 21 power-ups in the game, and all are earned strictly by eating Pac-dots. You can't buy them, find them, or otherwise cheat your way into having them: Like all good things, these power-ups come with time—and bit-chains munched.

Power-up types

You'll start with the age-old Pac-Man power-up: a Power Pellet, which appears in the maze like an oversized white dot. Munching a power pellet will turn all the ghosts blue, and give you the power to destroy them from the map by eating them. Unlike typical Pac-Man, once eaten, ghost don't respawn from a box; instead, they'll re-appear upwards on the map.

You'll also get the first of many very cool power-ups: the Laser. This does exactly what it sounds like when you pick it up—it shoots a laser out of Pac-Man's mouth straight down any maze corridor you turn into. It's one of my favorites. The Laser starts as a 5-second power-up, but you can increase its power and points-per-ghost-vanquished with coins. (More on that later.)

As you play, you'll uncover a bunch of other great power-ups—some more awesome than others. You can only ever have three active power-ups (plus the Power Pellet) in the maze at a time, so choose wisely. (My current favorite lineup: Optics, Pyro, and Boom.)

Here are the various "active attack" power-ups:

  • Freeze: Slows all ghost movement for a certain amount of time to allow you to dodge through the maze.
  • Bomb: Touch a ghost, and you'll trigger an explosion that will take out all ghosts in a three-dot radius.
  • Giant: Turns you into a giant rolling Pac-Man that can squish all enemies.
  • Fire: You turn into a flame ball, and set fire to every path you take.
  • Pyro: Fire's big brother. Flames appear in every path you take, but also spread out one or two dots to adjacent lanes.
  • Optics: A better version of Laser, and my favorite power-up in the game. Optics gives you lasers that go the length of a lane then bend around one corner, letting you sneak-attack ghosts nearby.
  • Boom: Not only do you get a massive bomb after a certain time period, but any time a ghost runs into you until that point, they'll get exploded, too.

Here are the "passive attack" power-ups (they do the ghost-killing for you):

  • Tornado: You summon a tornado that randomly chases ghosts through the maze for a set time period.
  • Stealth: For a set period, ghosts can't see you and you can roll right through them.
  • Trap: Five or so traps spring up around you in the maze, killing ghosts who run across them.
  • Pac-Men: You'll get a few clones, all of which go and attack ghosts.
  • Twinado: Like Tornado, but there are now two of them. Double the trouble.

And here are the "get you more points" power-ups:

  • Magnet: Fruit and coins within a three-dot radius get automatically absorbed by Pac-Man, no eating necessary.
  • Shatter: Five or so stalacmites appear on the board, which you can shatter for bonus points. Ghosts also get slowed and frozen.
  • Regen: If you eat this power-up, any Pac-dots you consume will automatically regenerate.

Fruits and coins

In the maze, you'll see two other items you can eat along the way: fruit, which gives you a point multiplier for a limited time period; and coins, which help you upgrade your weapons.

There are five fruits in the game, each with a different multiplier: Cherries (2x), Apples (3x), Strawberries (4x), Oranges (5x), and Melons (6x). All of these are good, but if you have to choose which to pick up and which to skip, keep your eyes out for Strawberries, Oranges, and Melons.

Picking up coins is the only way you'll upgrade your power-ups (so they last longer and score you more points per ghost kill), but coins also don't get you any points. If you're going for a points run, you'll want to avoid coins; if you're trying to upgrade your weapons, you want to pick up nothing but coins on a run. (Coins, incidentally, are also one of the few in-app purchase items you can acquire: you can double your coins for $5, or you can watch an ad to get a chance at more coins.)

5. ABCP: Always Be Chasing Power-ups (for lots of points)

If you want to be the envy of your Game Center friends list, this is the way to do it. You want to traverse the maze with one goal, and one goal only: Get to the next power-up on the screen.

This works best when you have a load-out of three active attack power-ups. When you pick up a power-up, you're protected from ghosts; your goal should then be to run up the maze until you can find the next power-up, and get as close to it as possible before time runs out.

When you eat a power-up, any "other" power-up shows up on the screen as a white Pac-dot diamond: This is what you should be looking for. As soon as the previous power-up expires and you see the diamond turn back into an icon, eat it to turn on the new power-up. (On rare occasions, you may be lucky enough to find two in a row of the same power-up; in that case, you'll see the icon for that power-up immediately instead of a white diamond.)

What power-ups you choose are ultimately up to you, but I've had great success with Optics, Boom, and Pyro (or their lower-level cousins Laser, Bomb, and Flame).

Do not fall into the trap of eating Pac-dots horizontally—even if it means you get to eat a few ghosts. If you absolutely have to move horizontally to advance forward, do it, but otherwise, focus on vertical movement and don't get distracted by fruits, coins, or ghost-eating possibilities.

6. Look ahead and have an escape plan

As you traverse the maze, you'll want to look upwards to see what kinds of ghosts you're going to be encountering. Some can be easily avoided; others, like Blinky, will need to be killed with a power-up or led into the glitch. (More on that trick later.)

You can also look ahead to avoid accidentally running yourself into a corner. And remember: If you run up the edges of the screen, you may see a group of arrows pointing a corridor off-maze; that loops you back around to the opposite side and can be useful in avoiding ghosts. (When you pop back into the maze, you're also briefly invulnerable from any ghosts in that immediate vicinity.)

7. Earn more power-ups by chaining your Pac-dots

If you want some of the big-daddy power-ups like Optics and Pyro, you need to collect Pac-dots, not points. There are a couple of good ways of doing this.

My personal favorite (and how I got all my power-ups) is eating as many dots as possible at the very beginning of the game. The glitch starts five seconds in, so you have a brief period of time to munch along the very bottom of the maze, collecting Pac-dots, and you'll likely only have one or two ghosts to avoid. Collecting Pac-dots gets a lot harder the further up the maze you go, so getting as many as you can at the beginning is crucial.

Additionally, in this variation of Pac-Man, you have two lives: When you die the first time, the board is wiped of ghosts and the glitch resets. That often gives you an entire blank screen of Pac-dots and power-ups with which to gorge yourself on.

8. Earn more coins by completing missions

If you're finding coin collection to be exceedingly slow going, you can get more power-up juice in a variety of different ways.

If in-app purchasing and watching 30-second ad videos aren't your jam, you can win coin groupings by completing missions; you'll get these during the game over screen, above the settings buttons and miscellany. Missions can range from "Kill 30 ghosts" to "Deploy bombs 5 times", and once you've finished them, you'll get a little play button during the game over screen that lets you roll a chance die for money. You have a chance of getting 16, 32, 64, 128, or 256 coins every time you complete a mission, so the more missions you can complete, the better.

9. Let the glitch be your friend and rid you of ghosts

If you have a Pinky or a Blinky that just won't get off your back, you can use the glitch to your advantage and send them into the great black beyond.

As long as the glitch only partially obscures paths, it's safe to travel into—though your screen will start shaking and Pac-Man moves a little slower. You can use this to get ghosts to follow you down screen, then cut across horizontally and flee the glitch while they get swallowed up. You won't get any points for their demise, but you'll at least get them off your back.

10. How to get the 256-chain combo

If you eat 256 consecutive Pac-dots, you'll clear the entire board of ghosts and get their points (and a point bonus). It's a really fun way to start off a run, and pretty easy to do if you begin at the start of the board.

Start by going to the middle left and eating down the side of the screen, going around, then going up the long right vertical. From there, look for squares, long horizontal lanes, and other areas where you can collect as many consecutive dots as possible without running into a ghost. Completing a 256 chain is a lot harder as you get further up into the maze, so it's best to start at the very beginning.

I've also had decent luck with making a 256 chain immediately after your first death in-game, when the board's been cleared of glitches and ghosts.

11. Get to the settings screen by getting exploded

Can't find the settings screen? Weirdly enough, you can only get to it—and its sound controls—after you die, on the Game Over screen. If you want to turn off the music and sound effects, start a new game, and immediately run into the first ghost you see.

12: Upgrade power-ups at the end of a gaming session

Your power-ups take actual time to upgrade when you spend coins on them, and will be unavailable while they're pumped up. As such, if you're planning on spending a bunch of coins to take your Laser to the next level, make sure you do it at the end of a gaming session, so that they can upgrade when you don't need them to defeat that one ghost.

(Alternatively, you can turn your iPhone's clock forward if you're really impatient, but end of a gaming session works just as well.)

Your tips?

Those are my favorite tips for getting the most out of Pac-Man 256. Do you guys like the game? Have any tricks you're finding successful for navigating your way through the pixelated maze? Let us know in the comments.

Serenity Caldwell

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.