E3 06: Pac-Man World Rally Preshow Hands-On

The big yellow sphere hits the tracks in this goofy kart-racing game. We've got a hands-on first look.

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You'd 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 had a chance to check out the game at a recent Namco press event to get an idea of how this fast-paced racing game is shaping up.

It's probably not surprising that Pac-Man World Rally wears its kart racing influences on its sleeve--after all, it seems like all the major publishers have published kid-friendly arcade racing games featuring all their big-name gaming characters. And in that respect, World Rally is no different--in addition to racing through the multiple courses found in the game as the iconic Pac-Man, you'll be able to choose drivers from other Namco coin-op classics, such as Ms. Pac-Man, any of Pac-Man's ghost pals, or Pooka and Fygar from Dig Dug, among others. Each character will have specially designed vehicles as they speed around the twisting corners of the courses--the ghosts from Pac-Man, for example, drive replicas of the Formula One car found in Pole Position. Another character carrying a huge battle mace rolled around in a tough-looking replica of a Harley. It seems as though the rides are tied directly to the drivers at this point, which is kind of a shame, but perhaps you'll be able to individually choose between characters and cars in a later build of the game.

There are also elements of games like Ridge Racer in World Rally. As you drift around corners, you'll slowly build up a drift meter; if you max it out, you'll earn a speed boost and temporary invulnerability as you boost through or around your competitors on the track. Like in the Ridge Racer games, you'll be able to store up to three of these boosts to use at any time. Of course, because this is a Pac-Man game, you'll also be chomping pellets as you make your way around the track. Gulp down enough of them and you'll transform into a Pac-Mobile, while everyone else on the track will temporarily turn into a ready-to-be-eaten blue ghost. The Pac-Man theme continues with the multiple types of fruit that can be found on each course--each of which will open a new shortcut on the track, which you can use to bring down your lap time.

It wouldn't be a kart-racing game without loads of weapons to pick up and blast one another to bits with, and World Rally is looking to fit this bill as well, with standard weapons such as freeze bombs, guided rockets, and even arcade-themed weapons such as a Galaga ship, which acts as a street sweeper that will clear your path of any obstacles in your way. Battle mode, World Rally's other main game mode, will use an entirely separate set of weapons that are more customized to the point-and-shoot nature of the mode.

The handful of courses we took a crack at in World Rally featured plenty of interactivity--namely in the form of things you need to avoid to keep up your momentum. One volcano-themed course had us avoiding spurts of spewing lava, for example. Most of the tracks also featured big jumps you could take to get from one stretch of asphalt to the next--in fact, some of the jumps were too big in the early version of the game we played, something that the developers assured us would be taken care of in successive builds of the game. True to the game's arcade roots, you'll be able to steer your car in midair to avoid contact with any enemy or to ensure yourself a perfect landing.

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 fans of arcade racing games or coin-op classics alike. The game is currently scheduled for release later this year, and we'll be bringing you more on it in the coming months.

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