P.A.C.O., an acronym meaning "prison action climbing obstacles," is yet another game that falls into the genre of ridiculously simple to play yet ridiculously challenging and addictive. The one-armed bandits are trying to escape from prison switching from ladder to ladder and you're helping them out. When the timing is right, you have to tap the screen so the bandit makes the jump from one ladder to the other. Tap too soon and he misses and falls, but tap too late and the security guard catches him. Timing is key. P.A.C.O. is free with in-app purchases for iPhone and iPad and requires no earlier than iOS 7.1.
The app description boasts that the title is "the hardest game you've ever played." I'm not sure if that's objectively true, but I don't doubt that many players agree it's pretty difficult. A quick scroll through the ratings and reviews in the App Store support that theory.
P.A.C.O.'s controls don't expand any further than a single tap on the display. The bandits move on their own up the ladders pretty quickly, but your tap is what switches them between the two ladders, or more like pieces of ladders.
There are four different characters: Paco, Peco, Chico and Rico. You're randomly assigned one as your own player every time you play or replay. Right below the currently active bandit is the security guard chasing him, whom you have no control over.
The tutorial does a pretty poor job of explaining anything about the game other than to tap at the perfect time to avoid losing. For the first few rounds I thought I was controlling both the bandit and the guard. The ladders also have green lines toward the top of them and I had no idea what those meant. It turns out they're guides for when to switch ladders. It's best to tap when the bandit's entire body is above the green line, but this doesn't always guarantee success.
P.A.C.O.'s design is very retro and it's clear the game overall got some of its inspiration from the notorious Flappy Bird. P.A.C.O. is the more challenging of the two. Timing matters in Flappy Bird too, but this makes Flappy Bird look amateurish in terms of difficulty.
Somewhere in the world someone must hold that sweet formula for making a successful game that's easy to play, hard to win, yet captures everyone's love and affection. If it's just a little too hard or even a little too easy, it loses its magic. Unfortunately, P.A.C.O. seems to err a tad too much on the side of being difficult. It's fun to keep trying, but after making so little progress, it becomes downright frustrating.
P.A.C.O. also integrates with Game Center for achievements and leaderboards, plus includes one in-app purchase for US$0.99 that gets rid of the admirably modest ads.
The game needs to get a tad easier so it reaches that sweet spot of euphoric gameplay and desperately needs to improve upon the tutorial for beginners. It's rough around the edges, but I look forward to that update, if or when it ever arrives. At any rate, P.A.C.O. is free in the App Store for iOS.