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RELEASE DATE (NA): September 30, 1999 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Look out! He's Pac-in' heat!

Ever since 1980, people have been falling ill to a deadly virus. No, I'm not talking about AIDS. I'm talking about Pac-Man Fever! Once Namco successfully implanted that game into arcades all over the world, hordes of gamers fell victim to the subtle allure of a yellow partially-eaten anthropomorphized pie whose sole purpose for existence was to eradicate a cyber-maze of its ghostly inhabitants while snacking on fatty cheese dots, and nothing more. Somehow, people were drawn to this simplistic game. I, myself, do not care for Pac-Man much, although I was admittedly spoiled by more advanced gaming technology when I grew up. (Okay, the NES isn't all that "advanced", but it definitely could devour Pac-Man whole.) Pac-Man has endured for quite a long time (as of this review, 29 years and still rolling) and has created a franchise of sorts beyond the original arcade classic. He has starred in numerous games, many of them horrible, and also has allowed for fellow Pac-People, such as Ms. Pac-Man and Baby Pac-Man, to achieve some levels of success in their own games. After surviving for 20 years in the industry (actually, it was only 19, but who's counting?), an all-new celebratory game was released to commemorate the occasion: Pac-Man World!

But Pac-Man World is not exactly the ideal game. In fact, it kind of pisses me off a little. I won't call it a bad game, because it really is a nice little title that could keep people off the streets and out of trouble for a while. But because of a few nasty game design points, this game has managed to steer clear of my mental "favourite games" list. But before I dive too deeply into this quirky platformer, let me tell you a little more about what's going down. All the Pac-People are celebrating Pac-Man's 20th birthday, which pretty much tells me that Pac-Man was an infant when he first hit arcades in 1980. That was one talented infant. Or just a hungry one who had a craving for ghost crunchies. Anyway, while Pac-Man was at work, doing whatever he was doing, everyone else was preparing for a big Pac-Party. Meanwhile, on Ghost Island, Toc-Man is having his own little shindig and doesn't want Pac-Man to steal his thunder, so he orders his ghastly drones to kidnap our rotund hero. But they're pretty daft and end up abducting everyone BUT Pac-Man. Even the, um, Pac-Puppy, has been kidnapped! So now it's up to Pac-Man to save his friends -- not to mention his wife, the lovely Ms. Pac-Man! ...Shouldn't that be Ms. Pac-Woman? Feminists, take note.

Pac-Man World, unlike the original Pac-Man of fabled lore, is a three-dimensional platformer. The game is divided into 6 worlds of 4 levels each, including one boss fight per area. The areas aren't particularly creative or exciting, but they do the job. Your percentage of completion is based upon how many points you earn for yourself, which in itself is based upon ensuring you pick up as many fruits and Pac-Dots as possible in every level, as well as defeat as many enemies as you can in the process. In every level, you can use collected fruits as keys to unlock various doors that usually hide good things! Don't ask how to unlock a door with a banana. It won't make any sense. Blame the video game universe for its lack of rationale. Hidden amongst each level are the letters to spell out PACMAN, and if you collect all six, you can attempt a bonus level for even more bonus fruits/points. And if you want even more points, find a portal hidden behind one of the doors in each level that leads to a special 3D Pac-Maze; collect all the Pac-Dots in there for bonus points! Unfortunately, I was never very good at the original Pac-Man game, so I'm not particularly good at this. Same probably goes for the majority of the younger modern gamers, so I don't know why they would make this an (almost) mandatory part of each level. They should have just added the old-school Pac-Man game as a bonus somewhere. Oh wait -- they did! So why do I have to go through stupid mazes when I don't really want to? ...What do you think, Namco Executive?

NAMCO EXECUTIVE: If you didn't like the original Pac-Man, why would you want to play THIS Pac-Man game? C'mon, SoyBomb, you tool. Clue in.

Fair enough. In order to survive in the harsh, cruel vicinity of Ghost Island, Pac-Man will need more than just the ability to move around without the ability to stop while opening and closing his mouth and spurting out "Wah-oh-wah-oh-wah-oh-wah-oh" noises. He'll need tons of new moves. Well, he has a few new tricks up his sleeve... okay, only three. But that's a solid improvement over pretty much zero moves. Sometime between 1980 and 1999, Pac-Man underwent some sort of crazy Pac-Evolution and grew a couple of arms and legs. And a nose. And perhaps other things. With his new legs, he can jump in the air, and also after another button press, he can bounce on his buttocks to perform a "Butt-Bounce". Trust me: this game is plenty sexy. Last but not least, as a possible homage to our good friend Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man can curl himself up into a ball and perform a Rev-Roll for some temporary speedy travel. So you're still fairly limited, but you have to use these resources to get around. That would be great, although the controls aren't always as responsive as I'd prefer. Sometimes I'd hit a button, but he'd either do nothing and get hurt or do something I didn't expect. I openly admit that I'm not the best player out there, but I'd like to say that I'm at least fairly competent. But this game made me feel like I stink at everything. "You stink," said the video game. "You stink at me. Maybe you should go back to playing only edutainment games. I hear Donkey Kong Jr. Math is awesome." Stop that, Pac-Man World. It's your fault. Your main character is a gimp. Add to that the fact that visibility is also a factor that certainly could use some perking up. I remember a couple of levels later on where there were items in the foreground that blocked my view of Pac-Man, causing me to be unsure of what I was doing, and that led to death. And why is it that when I fell a great distance, the camera had difficulty keeping up with me. Come on, Pac-Camera. You can't keep up with me when I'm falling? It's 1999. I think we should be able to master KEEPING YOUR CHARACTER ON THE SCREEN.

NAMCO EXECUTIVE: If you want your character to stay on screen, stop falling down. C'mon, SoyBomb, you tool. Clue in.

Mmmm... no, I think you could do better. Anyway, another thing that was very irritating was the boss battles. Many of them took far too many hits to kill and ended up being more of an endurance test than something fun. Although I appreciate the inception of some interesting boss designs, including the space ruler King Galaxian (of the Galaxian arcade classic), but the stamina required to defeat them is more than many young players could probably handle. Same goes for an old crazy guy like me. It was not uncommon for me to expend between 10-15 lives on a boss. The game may repeat itself and note that I stink, but they are just plain tough. I will say one thing in his defense: prior to this game, Pac-Man had never looked quite as lively. In the bland but nevertheless effective CG cutscenes, Pac-Man actually has a bit of personality. Not much, but at least he has a full face and you can tell how he's feeling. During the actual game, he generally appears amused. His surroundings are equally lively and well-detailed, if also a bit cartoony, but I guess that's what you'd expect from a game starring a yellow orb man. The enemies could use a little creativity; at least they worked the ghosts from the old Pac-Man days into every level. The music is average at best as well, although I will give the composers kudos for incorporating the old Pac-Man theme music into many of the songs in subtle ways. At least they were trying. The sound effects are often taken directly from classic games as well, which is a great throwback and a definite nostalgia booster.

Pac-Man World has come forward as a mixed bag to me. On one hand, it's a fairly decent platformer with a solid tie to the past, even if I don't really care much for the Pac-Man arcade game. On the other hand, I became frustrated so many times because of occasionally wacky controls and a seesaw difficulty level throughout the game. However, if you can handle some rough times, or if you just want Pac-Man to do something a little different, give Pac-Man World a try. As a sidenote, this game was also ported to the Game Boy Advance (odd for a 3D platformer) if portability is your key selling point. That game is quite similar but still not quite up to par due to inferior hardware. Ah well. GBA owners will have to suck it up... or Pac it in!

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