You might think that after being around for so long, Pac-Man would be ready to hang up his red boots and spend the rest of his life in comfortable retirement. Instead, the sunny, spherical video game icon is taking his own unique brand of fun to the world of kart racing with Pac-Man World Rally. We've been turning laps in the game recently and took enough time in the pits to bring your this report on the game's progress.
It probably won't come as a surprise to most that Pac-Man World Rally is a cartoonish kart-racing game, and it wears its influences on its virtual sleeve. At its core is a fast-paced and kid-friendly racing game that features an all-star lineup of Namco characters, including Ms. Pac-Man, Inky, Blinky (and the rest of the ghostly bunch), Pooka and Fygar from Dig Dug and, of course, Pac-Man himself. The characters all have unique vehicles: Blinky, for example, drives a slick-looking Formula One-style car, while Ms. Pac-Man pilots a pink luxury car more befitting her feminine nature. Vehicles fall under three classes: heavy, normal, and light. The light cars are the most nimble but also the slowest of the bunch. The heaviest cars are bullets at high speeds, but accelerate slowly and can't navigate tight turns very well. Of course, the normal cars find a balance between agility and speed.
Which character (and ride) you choose should largely depend on the different courses you'll tackle in the game. The early circuits are pretty straightforward, with long straights and gentle curves that almost any vehicle will have no problems navigating. As you move up through the circuit mode (which has you racing your way through multiple tracks on your way to a championship), the courses become much more complex, with tighter curves, obstacles to avoid in the road, and so on. The variety of courses displays a good deal of imagination--you'll be racing through haunted mansions, lava-lined caves, kooky amusement parks, outer space, and even a 3D version of a pellet-chomping maze from the original Pac-Man. The courses have plenty of obstacles to avoid. For example, in the castle level you'll wind your way through spikes rising from the floor and giant armored monsters swinging huge axes. However, as this is a kid-friendly game, even if Ms. Pac-Man gets whacked with an axe, it's only going to slow her down temporarily.
Of course, the action in any kart-racing game is composed of equal parts courses and other racers in the field. Circuit mode events in Pac-Man World Rally will feature your racer going up against a field of seven other drivers, all of whom are intent on not just winning the race, but also on taking each other out. To make that happen, the game provides the racers with a number of different pick-up weapons during a race, including bombs; snow men, which temporarily freeze their targets; and lightning clouds, which strike your opponents' cars and cause them to temporarily lose control of the steering. There are also pellets and fruits to eat as you race. As you chomp down pellets, a meter will fill up on the right side of the screen--fill it up completely and you can temporarily transform your rider into a gigantic Pac-Man, and all of the other riders will change into blue ghosts. As Pac-Man, you'll immediately gobble up any ghost rider you run down.
While weapons are certainly useful in the traditional races--which include circuit mode, quick race, and time trials--they're even more critical in the battle modes. Game types featured in this mode include deathmatch, free for all, last kart driving, binge, and classic game types. While most the battle modes are self-explanatory, binge probably deserves an explanation. In this timed event, you race around one of several courses while scooping up fruit scattered throughout the level. The racer with the most fruit at the end of the match is the winner.
From a control standpoint, Pac-Man World Rally is as straightforward as can be--you turn with the left analog stick, accelerate with the X button (on the PlayStation 2 controller), brake with the square button, and fire your weapon with the L1 button. The hop button (R1 on the PS2 controller) will let you add some extra air when tackling jumps.
Pac-Man World Rally's biggest strengths are its approachable controls, its colorful racing environments, and the varied and familiar cast of characters, which should appeal to young kids (and perhaps even their nostalgic parents). The game is currently scheduled for release in August.