Turning kid-friendly platformers into kid-friendly kart racing games is hardly anything new, and with Namco Bandai's attempts in the last several years to merge everyone's favorite power-pill junkie into a bona fide platforming franchise with the Pac-Man World games, it's predictable that we now find ourselves with Pac-Man World Rally. This boilerplate kart racer borrows liberally from Nintendo's Mario Kart series, though it does try to toss in a couple of Pac-centric gameplay concepts to give the game its own spin. Unfortunately, these Pac-isms do little to offset the overly familiar feel of the game, or its complete and utter lack of challenge. Of course, this last criticism is most likely because the game seems aimed very squarely at a more youthful audience. But when you consider that Pac-Man is best beloved by the older, more nostalgic gaming audience, you have to wonder why the developer would make the game so dull for anyone out of elementary school.
A number of key characters from the Pac-Man universe take to the tracks in World Rally, including Ms. Pac-Man, Inky, Blinky, Pinky, Clyde, and of course, the great Pac himself. You'll also find slightly less memorable characters from the Pac-Man World games, like Tac-Man, Spooky, and Pac-Devil. There're even a few characters from other Namco Bandai franchises on offer, as well. Though each driver has ratings in a few different attributes, who you choose to drive with is purely an aesthetic choice since all the karts handle the same. Plus, even with the lousiest kart, you're still likely to blaze past the competition with relative ease.
Racing in World Rally is about as dull as you can get for a game that features brightly colored cartoon characters tossing bombs at one another. Though the game's circuit mode boasts three difficulty levels, you'll be hard pressed to find any of them especially difficult. If you've ever played a kart racer, you will likely defeat each circuit on your first try and play through the entire mode in a few short hours. One reason the circuits are so easy is that the opponent artificial intelligence isn't aggressive at all; another reason is that you're given copious ways to sabotage your pacifist opponents. They'll occasionally launch a bomb or other random weapon at you if you happen to be bunched up with the pack, but once you take the lead in a race, it's like the other racers forget you even exist. Also, there are numerous shortcuts that opponent racers seem incapable of using, making victory that much more inevitable.
For the most part, World Rally plays very much like a Mario Kart clone, especially when it comes to combat. The weapons, while visually different, often function similar to many of the weapons used in the Mario Kart games. The developer did try to give the game a bit of the Pac-Man fever by providing collectible fruit and power pills throughout the various tracks. Collecting fruit gives you access to the aforementioned shortcuts. Collecting enough power pills activates a goofy invincibility mode where all the other racers on the course turn into helpless blue ghosts, and you become a jaunty mechanical Pac-Man with a big, chomping mouth that can snack upon those ghost drivers when you come in contact with them. While these are certainly welcome additions to what is otherwise a very straightforward formula piece, the game is already decisively easy and these features just add to that fact.
There's also not an awful lot to Pac-Man World Rally's package. Apart from the circuit mode, there's a quick-race option, as well as a few marginal battle modes that range from simple deathmatches to fruit and power-pill collection challenges. The PlayStation Portable version also includes a few specific challenge modes, like a time-based race where you have to collect power pills and clocks to keep a timer from expiring before you finish the race, as well as a letter hunt where you have to collect letters that spell out the word Pac-Man. Maybe this is why the PSP version inexplicably costs $10 more than the console versions, but it's safe to say these challenges aren't worth the extra money. Though the challenges and battle modes are a bit less breezy than the circuit races, they're significantly less fun and feel more like tacked-on, last-minute additions.
World Rally's presentation is reasonably well done, though also completely devoid of unique qualities. This game looks like every other brightly colored, wacky-themed kart racer ever made, with tracks themed after ghost houses, volcanoes, jungles, deserts, snowy mountains, and the like. A few quirky tracks do end up in the fold, such as a tabletop Pac-Man-game-themed track, and even a Katamari Damacy-themed level, but these are some of the lamest and least enjoyable tracks to drive around, despite the neat thematic qualities. The Katamari track has next to nothing to it beyond a rolling katamari to avoid from time to time, and the tabletop track is so overwrought with annoying turns that you have to wonder how anyone thought this would be fun. The graphics are, at the very least, crisp and colorful, and on the PlayStation 2 and GameCube, the game runs very smoothly. The PSP version, however, runs at about 15 frames a second at all times and looks choppy no matter where you are or what you do. The graphics are nearly as clean looking on the PSP as they are in the console versions, but perhaps a few sacrifices to up the frame rate would have helped matters here. The game's audio is made up of plenty of cartoonish music, including several variations on the Pac-Man theme and some goofy sound effects, some of which are decent and some of which are repetitive and grating.
In the end, Pac-Man World Rally simply has nothing unique, special, or fun about it. It's a serviceable training-wheels rendition of a kart racer for that younger audience, but for anybody looking for more than a quickly beaten game, look elsewhere.