In the realm of video games, turning 25 is a milestone that usually calls for a retrospective of some kind, due to the fact that most characters of that age are no longer active. One of the exceptions to the rule is Pac-Man, Namco's voracious dot-chomping maniac. Following a revival that saw the hero return to action with a 3D makeover in 1999 with Pac-Man World, Namco continues keeping Pac-Man on the slim list of active mascots for this generation of consoles with the third entry in the series, titled Pac-Man World 3. We had a chance to try out the multiplatform game on the PlayStation 2 at a Namco press event showing off its upcoming lineup.
The game's premise finds our yellow hero defending Pac-land, which is once again under siege from the forces of evil. This year the forces of evil are being represented by Erwin, an evil scientist who is upsetting the natural order of Pac-land with his mad experiments. Unfortunately, the machine that Erwin has created to peer into the mysterious Spectral Realm, home of the ghosts that have plagued Pac-Man for decades now, is causing both worlds to collapse into each other. When you start the game, our boy has just been swallowed into this ghostly alternate reality. Rather than take this lying down, his Pac-ness sets out to kick butt and set things right.
The adventure will play out in the same third-person-based structure as the previous entries in the series. The rotund hero will explore massive 3D environments, using all his familiar moves, along with a few new ones, to fight off evil. You'll be able to run, jump, punch, do a charged-up run called a rev roll, catch onto ledges, and swing on poles, with a pep that defies Pac-Man's 25 years in the video game limelight. In addition, you'll be able to pick up power-ups in the form of the old-school power pellets, which will yield different enhancements based on which you get. Punch pellets increase your mighty fist-powered melee attacks. Stomp pellets increase the power of your butt-bounce attack. Shock lets you zap foes with electricity. Finally, ribbon pellets let you take out enemies by using a trail of energy that you leave behind. You'll be able to trap clusters of foes if you make a wide enough circle around them, which will constrict when you close it. As if those power-ups weren't enough, you'll be able to charge them up by collecting special fruit that increases their effectiveness. Finally, the most significant aspect of gameplay is the ability to play as Pinky and Clyde the ghost for short stretches. Taking the reins of one of your enemies will be an integral part of solving some of the puzzles. Besides the standard platforming and puzzle-solving, you'll find yourself navigating 2D and 3D Pac-Man mazes. Although we didn't see it, we were told the game will include the original Pac-Man arcade game from 1980 as well. All this adds up to a solid collection of gameplay for a platformer.
The demo on display at Namco's event featured three distinctly different areas to explore: an indoor factory, a slimy enemy haven, and a mountainside replete with windmills. The factory offers a good mix of old and new as you fight enemies with your new abilities and make use of old standbys such as the pellet pads, which let you soar off into the sky chomping on a trail of pellets. The level also showed off a new strain of ghost that's bigger and more menacing than the garden-variety specters you'll come to control. The slimy enemy base featured environmental hazards that you need to be mindful of in your adventure, as well as some of the multipart puzzles you'll have to solve. Puzzle-solving also figures into the windmill area, as the challenges there will require some exploration to find the keys and gears that will let you progress.
The presentation in the game is well done and has some fun with the standard conventions we've seen in Pac-Man's 3D adventures. The color palette offers more variety than we've seen previously, ranging from the bouncy primary colors you'd expect, to darker shades that set the tone for the Spectral Realm's moody locales. The environments follow suit and offer a good mix of places to explore. The indoor factory doesn't initially appear to be too big, until you look up and realize it's several floors high. The slime-filled enemy base is filled with debris and obviously a whole lot of slime that serves as a hazard. The windmill section features large open areas that are high above the ground. As far as characters goes, we only saw Pac-Man and Pinky, who look good as always. The designs for the new ghosts and the other original foes you'll encounter are surprisingly menacing. Finally, the effects for the different power-ups are a nice bit of eye candy thrown into the mix. From a performance standpoint, we're pleased to see the game run so smoothly even in such an early state.
Although we couldn't make out much of the audio in the game due to the din in the demo area, we were told by reps on hand that Pac-Man World 3 will be a landmark moment in Pac-Man history because it will be the first time the old boy has spoken in a game. Besides that, you can plan on a mix of old and new sound effects for your actions. In addition, expect a bouncy selection of tunes to accompany the action.
Based on this early demo, Pac-Man World 3 is looking like a solid platformer with some engaging Pac-centric twists. What we've seen so far looks good and plays well, which should bode well for its final incarnation. Pac-Man World 3 is currently slated to ship this fall for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, PSP, and Xbox. Look for more on the game soon.