"Kenta Cho?" I take a slow puff on my pipe as I stare into the distance. "Now there's a name I haven't heard in a long time…" Way back when I was obsessed with 2D schmups, I'd tell anyone with ears to check out Kenta Cho's amazing games: often small, often built around a single smart idea, and always worth playing. Perhaps his best-known game is rRootage (which is now available as a Remastered version) but, honestly, everything this guy makes is worth the time.
So it was that I went to play Paku Paku, which was released last year but has only recently attracted the attention it deserves, and realised with delight it's another Cho special. Cho's games really are about the table-flip, the one mechanic or idea that everything else in the game revolves around, and that's a natural fit for Pac-Man, which itself is built on the table-flipping mechanic of running from the ghosts then chasing them when you're powered-up.
Pac-Man is a genius game but a fairly simple one. Paku Paku distils that down even further, giving you one corridor, one ghost, one power pill, and wraparound screen ends. It's a one-button game where the only thing to do is change Pac-Man's direction as the ghost homes in. It can be played here.
You'll be amazed just how much Cho wrings out of this, thanks to the simple application of momentum and some smart ideas about the ghost's rhythms of chasing and being chased. First and most obviously, the game increases in speed as you munch through the waves of pills (when you've eaten them all, a new line spawns, with every line having one power pill). The ghost is slightly faster than Pac-Man anyway so, as your score creeps up, so too are you more furiously changing direction back-and-forth (the ghost can't use the edges of the screen like you can, a blessing and occasionally the curse that will end a run).
Then the ghost's changes get quicker, to the extent that eating the ghost can become a massive risk: over-extend slightly and it'll flip right back and instantly end the run. Add to this other kinks, like completing a line of pills instantly switching a scared ghost back to hunter ghost, and all of a sudden these simple ideas are layering into something with an incredible one-more-go and what-happened-to–my-lunch-hour quality.
Paku Paku is one of hundreds of games from Cho's ABA Games label, alongside his own open source Crisp Game Lib engine (focused on developing stripped-back designs like this one). "Small games possess a unique charm exclusive to them," says Cho. "That's what I believe." That's what his work proves. There are doubtless many more Paku Pakus to be found on the ABA Games site (try Torus Trooper) but, for now, I'm going back to beat my high score.