Pac-Man World 2
Let us begin with a brief history lesson. Pac Man came out back in 1980 to video arcades across the civilised world. It was the brainchild of Tohru Iwatani, a young game designer who worked for Namco. The story goes that he was inspired while dining out for pizza with some friends, when the pizza arrived the first slice was removed to reveal the shape that would be forever burned into our subconscious. Originally the game was set to be called 'Punkman' after the Japanese word pakupaku, which means to flap your mouth open and closed. The opportunity for the P being victimised was spotted and thus before being exported to America the name was changed to Pac Man. A frelling close call for the franchise. It was a huge success and the character became synonymous with video games, a status it still enjoys to this day. To capitalise on the runaway success a number of tie-in games and products where produced. The game garnered considerable fan status from that elusive species of gamer, the female, and this led to Ms Pac Man joining the fray. All good things must, and always do, come to an end. The relentless branding eventually wore down the appeal and Pac Mania was no more. It seems Namco has decided that the yellow fellow may still hold some appeal, and from one successful update we now have another. Pac Man World 2 now graces the major platforms and we take a look at the Gamecube version.
Pac Man World is a 3D platform game with the added incentive of having some of the original classic game play thrown in. Pac Man now sports arms and legs that lets him run, jump and grab onto ledges. If you need to move a little faster he can also perform a rev roll which has you shooting across the ground curled up in a ball. To attack enemies you can perform a butt bounce while in mid air, to land on their heads. If all this sounds a little familiar, and it should, then you already know what to expect from this formulaic platformer. The story is inconsequential, all you have to know is that you need to collect some stolen pieces of golden fruit. You start your quest from Pac Village, which also contains a few goodies, and proceed through the levels one at a time. The first few levels, set amidst some tree tops, are pretty easy and you will breeze through them in no time. Then you will head into some snowy mountains which contains some excellent gameplay. You will have to work your way up a frozen river, run away from some huge snowballs and ice skate down a long cavern. As you run and jump amidst the colourful pastel scenery you will probably be enjoying yourself but it is all a clever ruse. What lurks ahead will chip away at your patience, ramp up your frustration, and before long you'll feel the fun factor ebbing away.
The problems start with the camera. In certain sequences the camera position is fixed, for example when you are running away from the large snow ball the camera will remain in front of you pointing backwards. In these instances it is generally quite good. At other times it will follow you from a convenient angle but let you control it using the C stick. This is the case in one of the tree levels, you are jumping up platforms that protrude from the main trunk in a spiral fashion and the camera will rotate itself around the tree usefully. Much of the time the camera system is okay, however in a game such as this the camera need only perform poorly at just the right time to bring the facade of competency crashing down. You will jump, the camera will swing wildly, and you will die. The camera will refuse to move into a useful position and you will have to make a leap of faith. It will sometimes get stuck behind the scenery and completely block your view. It can be hard enough to judge certain jumps without the added infuriation of not being able to see anything. Many of these problems were avoidable. Take for instance a cavern in the third section of the game. As you enter this cavern you can see various raised platforms and you know instantly that you will have to find a path through. You will need to take care with each jump as one misstep will plunge you into the lava below. There are rock formations in this cavern that hang from the ceiling and are pretty to look at. They are pretty right up to the point when they occlude everything on screen, had they implemented some transparency effects this could have been solved. The cavern will also start to seem claustrophobic when your efforts to rotate the camera will be thwarted by having it hit the walls causing it to jerk, as if on a tight spring. Sometimes it will break free from this jack in the box operation and move to your desired viewpoint, at other times you will have to jump and pray.
If you should fall from grace you will be punished. Perhaps I have become spoiled by the luxury that comes from quick saving and loading on the PC but I have an extreme aversion to being forced to repeat large sections of a game if I die. In Pac Man World you have a limited number of lives, each one made up of four sections. Should you bump into an enemy you will lose one section of your life, but most of your lives will be lost instantly by falling into the depths below the platforms. There are checkpoints in each level but I found them too few and far between. If you lose all your lives you will have to start from the beginning. I hate that. In some games it is a system that can work, mainly when repeating a section will give you a notable advantage for the area that bested you previously. That is not the case here. There are things to collect in the game, fruit for points and tokens, but you will grow weary of a section as soon as you've had to traverse it a couple of times. The game gets less and less forgiving as you progress. Pac Man can hang onto ledges should you slightly misjudge a jump, but in later levels the areas you land on are often so close to the deathly layer below that you need to make a perfect clean jump or you die. Further on there are some welcome variations in gameplay such as piloting a mini-sub. The game does quite a good job of mixing in a few different playing styles to keep things fresh. Of the twenty three main levels available, six of them are boss battles. If there is one unwritten rule in game design it is surely that you may not, on pain of death, repeat a boss battle. J'accuse Namco, in Pac Man World 2 the first four bosses you encounter are copies with minor changes. Bad designer, no biscuit.
It will probably take you around eight to ten hours to get through everything the first time around. You can revisit any level to try and collect every piece of fruit and munch every dot, but what may make you come back for more are the tokens and the mazes. In the main village where you start there is an arcade that holds some of the classic games, to play them you will need to collect sufficient tokens that are hidden amidst the levels. On offer is the original Pac Man, Pac Mania, Pac-Attack and Ms Pac Man. Ms Pac Man is probably the game most people will want to get at but it unfortunately requires one hundred and eighty tokens from the one hundred and ninety available. The original Pac Man is still good fun and only requires ten tokens. In the main levels you will also come across small Galaxian symbols (they look like space invaders) which will open up reworked Pac Man levels with modern day graphics. It is when you are playing these little gems that you'll wonder why Namco didn't just choose to update the original concept. These maze games, once collected, can be accessed from the arcade and are simply great fun. They may not hold your attention for very long but at least in these games the camera stays fixed so you can see what is going on.
Pac Man World 2 is a pretty decent platformer. There are moments that you will enjoy quite a lot, particularly when the camera is behaving itself. The story and simple nature of many of the elements will appeal to younger gamers much more than mature platform fans. It doesn't manage to bridge the gap, in the same way that the 3D Mario games have, between those audiences. The original Pac Man included here is still a very good game, but it is also a very old game and as such it cannot command a full retail price on its own, particularly for a modern console. Pac Man World 2 is a basic 3D platformer that borrows from this legacy. If one were to juxtapose the game with the inspiration that kicked off the mania, Pac Man World 2 would be a large cheese and tomato pizza. Tasty, but nothing special, and you will have probably have had your fill before the final slice.
You dig up the past, all you get is dirty.