Pac-Man World 20th Anniversary
Pac-Man fans, rejoice! After years without an original title featuring your favorite dot-gobbler, now comes Pac-Man World 20th Anniversary -- and it might just be the best Pac-title since the days when you ate marshmallow ghosts for breakfast, kept your sandwich in a tin Pac-Man lunch box and came home to Pac-Man Pasta. In other words, Pac-Man World is a pure delight for anyone who lived the definition of "Pac-Man Fever."
Over the years we've seen our yellow buddy star in a variety of genres -- everything from 2D side-scrollers (Pac in Time) to puzzle games (Pac-Attack) to the downright unique (Pac-Man 2). Pac-Man World offers us yet another new way to experience his adventures, through 3D platform-style action; well, almost 3D anyway. Our hero does have the ability to move in all directions, but his path is more or less predetermined through each level (think Crash Bandicoot, not Super Mario 64). In addition, there are some new 3D mazes, as well as a direct port of the Arcade game that started it all.
The game begins with a fabulous computer-animated FMV sequence that sets up the story. On their way to Pac-Man's 20th birthday party (apparently they celebrate birthdays a year early in Namcoland), all of his friends and family are kidnapped in a variety of humorous ways. These Pac-people include Ms. Pac-Man, Pac Jr., Baby Pac and Professor Pac (from a little-known 1983 Arcade trivia game). Even his dog Chomp-Chomp and pet Pooka (from Dig Dug) have been captured! The perpetrator? A mechanical Pac-Man wannabe called Toc-Man. Now it's up to the world's first videogame icon to rescue everyone.
And boy, will you ever enjoy rescuing everyone! While the game is in many ways a platformer like those you've experienced since Super Mario Bros., Pac-Man World offers a healthy dose of originality to make for a rather unique experience. There are a couple of interesting moves at work here, each with more than one purpose. For instance, Pac-Man's "Rev Roll" enables him to prepare to dash in one place until you release him. Besides just activating a quick burst of speed to send him up a steep hill or past an obstacle, it's also useful in activating "Helivators" (contraptions used to move across long gaps or to access high and low platforms) and terminating certain enemies. Meanwhile, your Ultra Butt-Bounce does more than the assumed enemy elimination, it also assists Pac-Man to jump higher, open treasure chests and trigger switches.
After successfully completing all of the sub-levels of one of the six complete stages (and over 20 total levels), you'll have the pleasure of engaging in battle with a variety of unique boss characters. Don't expect the same type of fight at the end of one stage as you had at the end of the last -- ever. These are some of the most creative and downright enjoyable climactic battles I've ever experienced in a videogame.
Though all of the bosses make for a fun fight, a couple of them stick out as the best. One of these battles switches gaming genres completely by becoming an all-out shooter as you make your way toward King Galaxian. As you might suspect, your way to this mammoth space entity is impeded by numerous Galaxians straight out of the Namco classic. The other great final battle involves a bunch of Pac-hating clowns at the end of the amusement park stage, as you race bumper cars down a slick track.
Overall, the boss battles range from easy (the pirate ship) to downright hard (Anubis Rex). You might even spend several lives just figuring out how to beat one! Luckily, lives are something you should have plenty of if you take the time to collect the letters for bonus stages. Eventually you'll figure out how to win at post-level slots every time so that your reward is always an extra life. Don't be surprised if you accumulate as many as 30 or 40 lives at one point. But you also shouldn't be surprised if you go through most of them when fighting one boss!
At least once per level, you'll have the opportunity to play a 3D version of the classic Pac-Man mazes by opening a Galaxian door. There are 36 of these theme mazes, half of which can be played without quest mode while the others must first be unlocked. As much as it saddens me to say this, it's often not worth your trouble to access the maze on your way to defeating Toc-Man, especially if you're short on lives. Your performance through the optional mazes does not exclude itself from your quest, and any lives you lose or the damage you take during the process could cost you in the end. Furthermore, the entire maze only fits on your screen if you make it super-tiny, meaning that you'll run into many ghosts that you didn't even know were there... not to mention the random obstacles that sometimes seem impossible to avoid.
On the other hand, you do get used to the mazes after a while and will eventually know when to switch perspectives in order to navigate your way most effectively. Also, by accessing all mazes and playing through all 36 at once, you get a very cool montage of behind-the-scenes production images as a reward.
It's also nice to be able to access the classic Pac-Man, which has actually been "enhanced" by rattling your Dual Shock Analog Controller every time you gulp a ghost or get gulped yourself (don't worry, purists; you can always turn that feature off).
Beyond the good things I've already mentioned about Pac-Man World, the exceptional graphics and sound should be noted as well. Pac-Man has never looked better, not even in the 1980s Saturday morning cartoon. Equally impressive are his surroundings and enemies, all helping to bring Ghost Island to life. Meanwhile, classic Pac-sounds such as the dot-chomp and unforgettable death noise help pile on the nostalgia, along with music as catchy as any videogame tune out there (for better or for worse).
If there's any reason to complain about Pac-Man World outside of the faults with the 3D mazes, I can think of only one thing -- he hardly ever chomps! Instead of gobbling up the pellets and ghosts, he more or less just walks through them most of the time. But if that's all I've got to complain about, then I think it's clear what a winner we have on our hands here.
When it's all said and done, Pac-Man World doesn't merely star one of the greatest videogame characters ever created. Rather, it's a great platformer in its own right, worthy of its venerable name. Will it throw the world back to the state of Pac-Man Fever it felt back in the early '80s? Of course not, but it's still a lot of fun. ~ Christopher Michael Baker, All Game Guide
Pac-Man and company have never looked better! ~ Christopher Michael Baker, All Game Guide
Classic Pac-sounds accompany some fine music to listen to. ~ Christopher Michael Baker, All Game Guide
If you're a Pac-Man fan, you'll be in Heaven. If not (and you call yourself a gamer?), then you'll still be very entertained. ~ Christopher Michael Baker, All Game Guide
You might find yourself replaying several of the levels attempting to access mazes you passed, gather extra men or achieve the elusive 100 percent completion. Such revisits can become repetitive, but you'll never get bored. ~ Christopher Michael Baker, All Game Guide
A fine, 29-paged color instruction booklet that tells you all you need to know. ~ Christopher Michael Baker, All Game Guide