Otherwise known as the "split-screen level" or a "kill screen", the Map 256 Glitch is, when you make it to map 256, the right side of the screen turns into a jumbled mess of numbers and letters and the left side is normal. It is impossible to beat. In Ms. Pac-Man, the screen goes blank with nothing except Ms. Pac-Man and the ghosts appearing. This also happens in Jr. Pac-Man, except there are bits of the sprites of the houses and balloon in the cut-scenes. It also occurs in the Pac-Man Google Doodle as an Easter Egg. There is even a game based on this glitch.
Why It Occurs
The level counter in the original Pac-Man is stored as an 8-bit integer, meaning the highest value it can hold is 255. The level counter starts with 0 internally, but for calculating the fruit counter it adds 1; however, because of overflow, adding 1 to 255 would result in 0, and the game tries to count fruits from 1, causing the game to attempt to draw 256 fruit to the screen until it overflows to 0. The result is the garbled mess on the right side of the maze, because the screen memory starts with the bottom, followed by the columns from the right side.
The game checks for 244 Pac-Dots eaten by Pac-Man for the level to end. The right half of the screen contains only 9 dots. 122 on the left half plus the mere 9 on the right half is 131, not nearly enough to progress. (The nine dots can be consumed again on each life, but you can't get enough lives to make it to 244.) This also explains why Ms. Pac-Man's kill screen doesn't automatically progress to the next level despite the lack of dots. If you do somehow manage to beat it, it will go straight back to level 1.
- On Pac-Man's 35th anniversary, there was a special plug and play Pac-Man game that allowed the player to easily access map 256. This special "game" was called Pac-Man 256 and was nicknamed Pac-Level 256.