Pac-Man Monsters from Japanese developer GREE is a free to play puzzle-RPG, not unlike Puzzle & Dragons and Doctor Who: Legacy. But GREE's take on the genre has a lot to differentiate it from other puzzlers. For one thing, it's not a match-3 game! This one has a totally fresh puzzle mechanic to keep the battles interesting. It also features hundreds of Pac-Man characters and guest stars from classic Namco games for players to collect and upgrade.
Learn the ins and outs of this addictive monster collecting game in our detailed review.
Preparing for battle
In the world of Pac-Man Monsters, Pac-Man lives at peace with his longtime rivals: the ghosts. As the introduction reveals, an invading force of monsters invades their home of Pac Land. Thus Pac-Man forms a team consisting of ghosts and monsters of his own to fight back and rescue the kingdom. A fine setup, but that's all the story we get. No mid-game cinematics or ending, sadly. Doctor Who: Legacy easily wins that battle.
Luckily, Pac-Man Monsters redeems itself in puzzle mechanics and monster collecting. Before you go into battle, you'll assemble a team of five monsters. All monsters have a colored element, and each element is strong and weak against another element. You can build your team around the boss or level's specific elements, or just assemble based on stats.
Having selected a level, you must then choose a partner character to fill the sixth slot on your team. The game presents a random assortment of your friends' monsters and three non-friends' monsters from which to choose. The monster serves as a regular party member for that battle. You can send a friend request to any monster you use.
Like most puzzle-RPGs, the battle stuff goes on at the top of the screen while the puzzle stuff happens down below. All six characters on the player's team stand on the top-left side of the screen and face off against any number of enemy monsters or giant bosses on the right. The characters stretch and animate a little bit while they fight, which I find a lot more interesting than the static team portraits of Doctor Who: Legacy and Puzzle & Dragons.
The puzzle field consists of groups of colored dots for Pac-Man to eat. During each turn, players draw a line 12 spaces long through the dots. A little classic-style Pac-Man then eats those dots. If he eats any colors that match your monsters' elements, those monsters will attack the enemy during that turn. Any surviving enemies will then attack your team, which has a shared life bar determined by the individual monster's stats. The cycle repeats until one side or the other runs out of health.
Dots of the same color form a group. Clearing out the entire group will cause monsters of that color to deliver a much more powerful attack. Only clearing part of a group puts you at a disadvantage, as new dots won't fall in to replace the missing dots until the entire group has been eaten. A big part of the strategy is to form a big group of same-colored dots by eating the other colors first. Once your combo has been set up, eat the dots and you'll deliver a devastating attack.
A variety of items occasionally appear on the dot field as well, such as fruits that restore the team's health when eaten. Each monster on the team also has a special move that can be activated after that monster has attacked a certain number of times during the level. Their special attacks appear as items such as swords and shields within the dot field. Eat the item to activate its offensive or defensive power.
Standard unfriendly ghosts show up to block Pac-Man's path, preventing him from clearing whatever dot group they occupy. Eating a power pellet will allow Pac-Man to chomp the ghost within the next two turns. Every two or three ghosts eaten will activate Pac-Man Fever for the next three turns. During the Fever, all of your monsters do extra damage. That's a huge help against bosses, so you might want to avoid clearing a large group of pellets until you catch the Fever.
Regular and Special quests
Pac-Man Monsters offers 19 locations to visit, each with multiple quests to complete. A quest (level) consists of 3-9 battles, often ending with a boss fight. This is an all-combat RPG, so you won't find any exploration, story, or secondary goals during quests.
Special Quests are really the meat of the game though. Every weekday, a specific colored maze appears for players to enter. These mazes provide the elemental seeds needed to evolve monsters as rewards. On weekends, players can earn chips (money) instead of seeds. The chips quests will help fund your upgrades and evolutions.
Limited time quests are the most exciting part of the game. The game typically offers one or two limited quests, each of which lasts for 2-3 weeks. Special bosses called King Bosses have a chance of appearing during limited quests (and even regular quests).
Each time you defeat a king boss, its level raises by one. So the next time the fight gets harder. Eventually they become so powerful that it will take multiple battles to defeat one. You only have a limited time, like 30-120 minutes during which to attempt fighting the same boss before it runs away (respawns). Your friends can opt to join in a king battle fight asynchronously, providing a strong incentive to keep a fully-stocked friends list.
The 2 week-ish time limits on limited time requests often prove slightly unfair to players with personal lives. You'll have to come back through the day during most days of the event in order to defeat the highest level of King Boss and get whatever special monster it drops as a prize. Despite the stressfulness of the time limits, they do provide a great incentive to keep on playing and developing your monsters.
Gotta catch and upgrade them all!
Pac-Man Monsters has over 370 monsters to collect. The lineup includes all manner of Pac-men and Pac-women, numerous ghosts, fairies, and original creatures. But my favorite characters are the guest stars from other Namco games. Galaga, Tower of Druaga, New Rally X, and even Splatterhouse all contribute to the game's roster.
Players get new monsters in two basic ways: from eggs or by summoning. During any level, defeated monsters can randomly drop colored eggs. These in turn provide random creatures of that egg's rarity level when used. And like I mentioned, specific levels of King Bosses will drop special reward monsters as well.
Monsters can also be summoned using medals (one of the two soft currencies) or gold pellets (premium currency). The random monsters you get from summoning are usually much better than the ones dropped from eggs. It takes a while to save up enough medals for a summoning, so some players will want to buy gold pellets in order to summon multiple monsters at once.
Monsters can be upgraded by feeding them eggs or other monsters. Doing so increases their stats and special ability levels as well. Once a monster has reached its maximum level, it can then be evolved if you have the necessary seeds (which enemies sometimes drop). Evolving a monster increases its rarity level and appearance, greatly improving its stats. Upgrades and evolutions both cost chips, one of the two soft currencies.
Almost the perfect Pac
Having played Pac-Man Monsters for months now, I have very little bad to say about it. The loading times are a bit too long and frequent. Data is stored cloud-side, so the game has to connect to a server. But much could still be done to minimize the waiting.
The game's English translation doesn't read too terribly, but I often notice spelling and grammatical errors. Clearly the Japanese developers have a translator who is fluent in English but not a native speaker. They should hire an editor like me to give the text a final pass before using it!
If you want to earn Achievements, you have to manually sign in to Google Play every time you play. There's no reason we should have to sign in more than once. The Achievements are all for completing the regular quests anyway – nothing creative or fun.
Although save data is stored on the cloud, you have to write down a player ID code in order to retrieve your data. Lame! Adding specific friends is highly unintuitive because you have to share your User ID (a long random code) and not your invite code or username. Oh, and the invite code system (which is supposed to give rewards for inviting people) is completely broken.
Endless dots to chomp and monsters to collect
Despite a few rough edges and the disappointing lack of story, Pac-Man Monsters is a fantastic game. The combination of hundreds of monsters to collect and evolve, an attractive and distinctive art style, and a unique puzzle mechanic just never gets old.
Sure, you get a good story from Doctor Who: Legacy. But the puzzle battles and character collecting and upgrading in Pac-Man Monsters are just way more exciting. If you enjoy a good puzzle-RPG, don't miss this one.