One of gaming's oldest heroes is celebrating his 25th birthday this year, and if the intro movie from his upcoming game is to be believed, Pac-Man was planning to spend his special day celebrating with his spherical family and a particularly tasty-looking cake. The forces of evil have other ideas, though, and before Pac-Man is able to take his first bite of birthday cake, he's mysteriously and unceremoniously teleported from the idyllic Pac-Village to the far less picturesque Spectral Realm. An evil genius named Erwin has created a machine that can penetrate this realm of the ghosts, and as a result, the realm has started to collapse into the real world. Your mission in Pac-Man World 3, then, is simply to save the world. We recently had an opportunity to spend some time with a work-in-progress PlayStation 2 version of Pac-Man World 3, and although we encountered a few problems with camera angles and game crashes (as is often the case with unfinished games), we can report that Pac-Man's next adventure is looking quite promising.
In the 25 years since he first appeared in arcades, Pac-Man has evolved from a pill-popping 2D negotiator of mazes into a pill-popping 3D negotiator of levels that incorporate all manner of obstacles and hazards. Pac-Man's enemies have also evolved, and in addition to ghostlike spectral monsters, you'll battle with plenty of different bad guys who can only be beat using some of the numerous new moves that Namco's spherical hero has at his disposal. Most of the enemies that we've encountered to date can't be chomped after swallowing a power pill, so we've had to resort to punching them, butt-bouncing them, or just rolling into them like a bowling ball. The punch is the least powerful of these attacks, but it can be used against enemies who are immune to the butt-bounce attacks, and it's far easier to control than the rolling attack. The butt-bounce feels pretty overpowered in the early levels of the game, particularly after you realize that you're able to string together three of them for a devastating combo quite simply. It didn't take long for us to encounter enemies against whom the attack was useless, though--we invariably came off worse any time we tried to butt-bounce an enemy with spikes on its back. The rolling attack is also very powerful; when used correctly, it can take out four or five enemies simultaneously. Controlling Pac-Man when he's curled up into a fast-moving ball is quite tricky, though, and there are plenty of platforms and ledges around for you to fall from if you're not careful.
If the few levels that we've played through are any indication, falling from ledges and platforms will be the least of your worries in many of Pac-Man World 3's locales. It's not the falling that hurts, after all; it's whatever you hit when you stop falling. In Pac-Man World 3 you'll find that landing in pits of spikes or lakes of green goop is a bad idea and that other hazards, such as jets of poisonous gas, are also best avoided. Not everything in the Spectral Realm is deadly to the touch, of course, and in addition to the pills that you'll be munching for points (which are laid out in patterns that do a good job of leading you through each area), you'll find plenty of power-ups, bonus items, and fruit to collect. Our favorite items to date are undoubtedly the "power ribbon" weapon that lets you kill enemies by simply running around them in a full circle and the pickup that instantly transports you to a 3D version of the original Pac-Man maze, where you can earn bonus points before getting back to the game proper. We're told that the original 1980 arcade version of Pac-Man is somewhere in Pac-Man World 3, incidentally, but to date we've not been able to find it.
Another promised feature of Pac-Man World 3 that we've not seen for ourselves just yet is the ability to play certain levels as the ghosts Pinky and Clyde. Quite how Pac-Man's archenemies fit into the storyline of the upcoming game isn't clear at this point, but the possibility that they'll join forces with Pac-Man to combat the evil genius Erwin certainly can't be ruled out. We'll bring you more information on Pac-Man World 3 as soon as it becomes available.