A serviceable anniversary celebration title starring one of gaming’s earliest mascots that offers some basic but forgettable 3D platforming.
World-building & Story
It’s Pac-Man’s 20th birthday and he’s on his way to a birthday party to celebrate with all his friends including Ms Pac-Man and Chomp Chomp. Unbeknownst to him, a mysterious mechanical force is kidnapping everyone and it’s up to Pac-Man to head to Ghost Island to free them all so they can return to celebrate in time.
As an anniversary title, story in Pac-Man World is extremely light – other than the events described above, depicted through an opening cutscene, there’s very little else offered here (aside from an appearance by the famous ghosts and evil villain Toc-Man) which makes sense given this isn’t exactly an IP with a history of characterisation. Still, there was an opportunity to at least attempt to tell a plot here which gets passed over in favour of simple fanservice.
Presentation & Sound
Definitely more primitive in terms of presentation than mascot-platformer rivals from the PS1 such as Crash and Spyro, Pac-Man World isn’t a particularly pretty game but it gets the job done.
While the opening cutscene contains fairly solid CG graphics (for the time) showing the pac-people being kidnapped, when this shifts to gameplay there’s an expected drop in quality. Pac-Man World is a blocky looking game – part of this comes from the character models of things like Pac-Man and the ghosts which have transitioned fairly well to 3D but they’re obviously very simplistic given their origins (simply block-coloured shapes), which doesn’t give much scope to work with things like interesting animations or designs.
The perspective doesn’t help much either – sharing much more DNA with something like Super Mario World than Super Mario 64, the graphics are technically 3D but most of the time you’ll be running on 3D planes albeit with the ability to also move up and down slightly. This doesn’t give any scope for the sweeping vistas seen in something like Spyro but equally it doesn’t contain the inventive and unique areas of something like Klonoa – you’ll just run through a standard collection of castles and grasslands without much in the way of changed geometry.
At least in terms of music, there’s some smart re-use of classic themes from the franchise which are remixed in interesting new ways, making it feel like a solid modern take on an older game.
Gameplay & Content
As a first foray into the 3D realm for a classic gaming character, Pac-Man World could have been a lot worse – but it does nothing to particularly stand out making it a serviceable but ultimately forgettable entry.
So the most immediately noticeable thing is the perspective – as previously mentioned, it lands somewhere between Crash Bandicoot and Super Mario World in that you can run up and down, but most of the time you’ll simply be progressing from left to right across the screen. It makes things like judging jumps sometimes a bit difficult and I had to rely on my shadow more than I’d have liked, but it works – albeit not quite the stellar step to 3D that Pac-Man deserves, but a decent half-step in the right direction.
Pac-Man is an easy enough character to control – he has a variety of moves at his disposal including a butt-bounce (pressing x twice), a spin-dash similar to Sonic (holding square) and he can swim in water which is used repeatedly throughout the campaign. Nothing he does is particularly unique or memorable – he won’t be breathing fire or pulling out wumpa fruit bazookas, but he’s a solid platforming mascot and getting around the levels is enjoyable thanks to a bevy of things like moving platforms and trampolines.
You’ll also come across various temporary power ups as you progress – things like the standard super pill will allow you to eat the ghosts who appear as enemies, but there’s also things like a metal power up that will make you temporarily invulnerable and able to sink to the bottom of water so you can butt bounce underwater chests. They’re always placed tactically, so figuring out where you’re supposed to use them is part of the challenge.
Your standard level will be progressing in a linear fashion with a few deviations. There’s usually pills to chomp and inform you which way to go, but things like switches will reveal hidden areas which in turn might give you a fruit, which can be used to open a door earlier in the level. There’s a decent amount of remembering where everything is and backtracking if you want to clear everything (each level has hidden letters which spell PACMAN), but this is of course optional.
Behind these doors you’ll also find very traditional Pac-Man maze, played from an overhead view that has you outrunning ghosts (it’s worth noting that the original Pac-Man is also included as an extra which was a nice touch) and if you do manage to collect all the letters in a level, you’ll be given a bonus stage where you have to collect as much fruit as you can within the time limit. These were nice little inclusions, harking back to the series’ heritage and making it feel like a true anniversary game.
My big problem with Pac-Man World is just that it wasn’t particularly exciting and did little to keep me engaged in pushing forward. It isn’t helped by the fact that it runs a very archaic lives system and does contain quite a high level of difficulty at times, meaning you’ll likely be playing the same sections over and over and then will have to start the whole level again from the beginning. In a more memorable platformer this wouldn’t be an issue, but here I found my enthusiasm wavering.
There’s a handful of other enjoyable moments I haven’t mentioned – side scrolling bosses that play like you’re escaping in an endless runner for example – but they’re not enough to change my opinion overall on this being a fun but forgettable platformer.
As a celebration of Pac-Man’s history, World actually does a good job of bringing the pill-munching hero up to speed with the fifth generation of consoles and pays a nice tribute to the franchise’s roots. Still, it’s a slog at times – let down by an archaic lives system and some dull level design that means it’s not an essential PS1 platformer like some of its contemporaries.