How to win at Pac-Man 99

Pac-Man 99 is the latest addition to the “retro game battle royale” formula that has become popular on the Nintendo Switch — and it’s a great game.

One thing it doesn’t do, though, is explain everything. So let’s take a look at the things you need to know in order to win more consistently at Pac-Man 99.

The basics

Pac-Man 99

Pac-Man 99 is about survival rather than score. Therefore it’s important to prepare yourself accordingly. There are few things to bear in mind in this regard:

  • For every maze you completely clear, Pac-Man’s speed increases by one step, up to a maximum of 10. When you get an “empty” maze with just the four Power Pills, Pac-Man’s speed will increase automatically.
  • Fruit appears when you eat 50% of the dots on a stage; eating this resets the maze and increases the round number.
  • At higher rounds, ghosts are faster and more intelligent.

With all this in mind, a good basic strategy for Pac-Man 99 is to completely clear as many mazes as possible in the early game to get your speed up, then switch to concentrating on just getting enough dots to get the fruit in the later game. This becomes particularly important as the Jammer Pac-Men increase in ferocity as the game progresses.

Jammer Pac-Men

Pac-Man 99

There are two types of Jammer Pac-Man in Pac-Man 99. White ones slow you down as you pass over them, while red ones will kill you outright.

  • White Jammer Pac-Men are static at the beginning of the game, but as the game progresses they will start to move.
  • Red Jammer Pac-Men are static while a Power Pill is active, but will move around otherwise.
  • White Jammer Pac-Men can be removed by eating a Power Pill.
  • Red Jammer Pac-Men can only be removed by eating a fruit.

Bearing these things in mind, a good strategy for solid Pac-Man 99 play is to save Power Pills until the screen is getting dangerously full with white Jammer Pac-Men, and to make a beeline for the fruit as soon as you’re uncomfortable with the number of red Jammer Pac-Men. Eat a Power Pill on the way to freeze them.

Ghosts

Pac-Man 99

The ghosts in Pac-Man 99 behave authentically according to their original arcade AI. They alternate between a brief “scatter” mode, during which they each take aim for an invisible point beyond the boundary of the maze, and “chase” mode, where they exhibit the following behaviour:

  • Blinky the red ghost follows the player doggedly. You can occasionally outwit him by forcing him to take an inefficient path; this can occur if you’re close to him, but behind his current direction of movement.
  • Pinky the pink ghost takes aim for just ahead of where Pac-Man currently is, attempting to ambush him. You can actually outwit Pinky by playing “chicken” with him at times; head towards him and his “target” square will end up behind himself, forcing him to take a turning at the next opportunity.
  • Inky the blue ghost takes aim for a position between Pac-Man and Blinky’s current positions. This makes him most dangerous when Pac-Man is close to Blinky; when they are spread far apart, Inky’s target can vary wildly.
  • Clyde the orange ghost takes aim for Pac-Man if he is more than eight tiles away, but takes aim for a tile outside the bottom-left corner of the maze if he is closer than eight tiles. This makes the lower-left corner of the maze quite dangerous, but also means you can scare off Clyde with some sensible movement.

As the round increases in Pac-Man 99, the duration of “scatter” mode decreases, making the ghosts appear more “intelligent”, since they are spending longer in “chase” mode.

There are some areas in the maze towards the centre through which ghosts can only proceed in one direction — until you see some flashing neon arrows appear in those areas. From that point on, the ghosts can move freely back and forth through those passages. See the image above for reference.

Sleeping ghosts and ghost combos

Pac-Man 99

Pac-Man 99’s sleeping ghosts behave as they do in the Pac-Man Championship Edition games. They can be safely moved over, at which point they will attach themselves to one of the ghosts — typically Pinky or Clyde. This creates a “ghost train” that can be up to 32 ghosts in length.

Eating a Power Pill allows you to consume a ghost train and start a combo, which will send Jammer Pac-Men towards the players you have targeted. The combo will continue for as long as the Power Pill lasts, and can be refreshed by eating another Power Pill. The Power Pill timer will never expire while you are in the middle of eating ghosts, as it will refresh slightly if you eat a ghost while it is below a certain threshold.

Sparks and perfect dodge

You can “buffer” the direction you want Pac-Man to turn in when he reaches the next intersection by pushing the direction before he reaches it. This causes Pac-Man to emit sparks as he rounds the corner, and means that he gets a tiny speed boost as he changes direction.

There’s a tricky but useful side-effect to this, too; if you’re emitting sparks (i.e. changing direction) as you collide with a ghost or a red Jammer Pac-Man, you won’t die and will instead perform a perfect dodge, which allows you to “parry” their attack with a metallic “shing” sound. The timing for this is extremely difficult and you’ll more likely achieve this by accident than deliberately, but it’s worth bearing in mind as an advanced tactic. Practice in the offline modes if you’ve picked them up.

Power modes

Pac-Man 99

There are four “modes” you can play Pac-Man 99 in, and mastering when and how to use each is an important part of taking your play to the next level. Change modes with the face buttons on the controller.

  • Standard mode is the default; there are no particular pros or cons.
  • In Speed mode, Pac-Man moves as if the speed level was 2 higher than it currently is, but in exchange you send fewer Jammer Pac-Men when you eat chosts.
  • In Train mode, you double the number of ghosts you can add to a train, but you also send Jammer Pac-Men to yourself when you do this.
  • In Stronger mode, you send double the number of Jammer Pac-Men to your opponents, but Power Pills only last for three seconds. On top of that, your speed level decreases permanently every time you activate this.

Targeting modes

Pac-Man 99

Likewise, there are four methods of targeting other players in Pac-Man 99. Switch between them with the right analogue stick.

  • Random selects an opponent randomly.
  • Knockout picks an opponent who is most likely to be knocked out next. It’s not 100% clear exactly how this is calculated, but it’s likely to involve the number of Jammer Pac-Men they’re dealing with.
  • Counter targets the people who are targeting you. This is why you might want to avoid using Knockout; if everyone is targeting the same person, that target gets a lot of power by using Counter!
  • Hunter targets the opponent with the most shield tokens.

Speaking of which…

Shield tokens

Pac-Man 99

In Pac-Man 99, you’re awarded a shield token fragment for achieving a knockout — i.e. one of your Jammer Pac-Men caused another player to lose. Not only that, though, but you also get to loot all the shield token fragments that your victim was carrying.

You need a certain number of shield token fragments to create a full shield token. For your first token, you need 2; the second needs 4; the third needs 8 and the last needs 16.

Shield tokens are more than just bragging rights. The more you have, the more incoming Jammer Pac-Men you can block. As you gain shield tokens, you’ll notice shield token markers appearing on the gauge at the bottom of the screen. Any Jammer Pac-Men before the latest shield token on the gauge will not appear in your maze.

Conclusion

You’ll find your own play style in Pac-Man 99, but generally speaking it’s a good idea to gain as many levels of speed as you can in the early game while generating large ghost trains and combos, then as the number of players dwindles concentrate on survival, perhaps by switching to Speed mode.

And practice that perfect dodge! If you can get to a point where you can perform it consistently, you’ll truly take your gameplay to the next level.

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Pete Davison
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