Based on recent activity, it appears that Namco Bandai's App Store strategy is to insert Pac-Man into a variety of different games, even if it means shamelessly copying smash hits. The latest release, Pac-Chomp!, bears a striking resemblance to Bejeweled and Puzzle Quest. That aside, the developers managed to include a couple unique features that help this enjoyable title stand on its own. The fact that it's universal and on sale for $0.99 doesn't hurt, either.
If you've played a match-three game before, Pac-Chomp! will look and feel instantly familiar. Except instead of grouping four or more similarly colored gems, the goal is to match those pesky ghosts.
You must do this as quickly as possible to fill the constantly depleting time gauge, because once that runs out, it's game over. That said, you can improve the odds by rotating five by five sections of ghosts. This alone separates Pac-Chomp! from the competition, making it even more accessible to casual players.
The fun, though, comes from Pac-Man, who's on the board at all times. Matching four ghosts triggers a power-up to appear, of which there are three. The Twister makes ghosts near Pac-Man (a three by three grid) disappear. Then there's the Color Bomb, which blows up ghosts of the same color. Finally, the Rainbow Cross destroys ghosts in the horizontal and vertical rows that intersect at Pac-Man's position.
If you really want to dominate, you'll match five or more ghosts. Doing that produces a power pellet that, when consumed, turns the enemies blue. From there, you can flick to direct Pac-Man around the play field as he gobbles them up. The controls are a bit unresponsive (you need precise movements to change direction), but it works OK for the most part.
Of course, clearing one of the later stages is easier said than done. Part of the challenge involves getting Pac-Man within range of a power-up or power pellet. On Normal, this isn't a big deal. Hardcore, on the other hand, takes some skill (the time gauge depletes faster), but for a tougher challenge, go with Scramble, which gives you 60 seconds to score as many points as possible.
Regardless of how well (or terrible) you perform, the game will post your high score to the online leaderboard through Game Center. You may even unlock some achievements along the way.
Is Pac-Chomp! the most original effort? Absolutely not. It's Bejeweled with ghosts and power-pellets, but it's still a cool puzzle game with just enough content to warrant a purchase. We just hope Namco Bandai creates something more original next time.
Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.
What's Hot: Traditional match-three style play, cool power-ups, eating ghosts never gets old, universal download, $0.99 introductory price, Game Center support, achievements.
What's Not: Shameless Bejeweled knockoff, swipe controls need work.