Pac-Man World 2 Preview
Pac-Man returns in his first PlayStation 2 adventure.
Pac-Man's career as a gaming icon has seen its fair share of highs and lows. In the wake of the classic arcade game that placed him firmly into the gaming consciousness, attempts to reinvent the original yellow gaming icon for a new generation of gamers met with little success. That ended in 1999 when Pac-Man World, an oft-delayed and much-retooled game, was released for the PSOne to celebrate Pac-Man's 20th anniversary. A 3D platformer that kept things simple, PMW managed to offer a 3D experience that retained the appeal of Pac-Man's 2D games with simple, accessible gameplay that kept players coming back for more. For Pac-Man World 2, the PlayStation 2 sequel, developer Namco has taken an "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach, staying faithful to the original game's strengths. Offering a few tweaks and additions to gameplay with an expected graphical upgrade, Pac-Man World 2 is shaping up to offer a slick gaming experience that should please platforming fans.
For Pac-Man's first PlayStation 2 adventure, the game's story, conveyed in well-done CG sequences, offers a broader scope than that of its predecessor. This time around, the mighty yellow one finds himself racing to save all of Pac-Land from destruction at the hands of an ancient foe. A demon called Spooky, who was defeated ages ago by Pac's ancestor, Sir Pac-a-Lot, and imprisoned under a golden fruit-bearing tree in the center of Pac-Village, is freed by the Ghost Gang's pranks. Eager for some revenge and to catch up on his evil routine, Spooky is set to gain his revenge on all of Pac-Land. The only way Pac-Man can stop him is to explore six worlds and retake the fruit from the members of the Ghost Gang. Once he's armed with the golden fruit, Pac-Man will have to track down Spooky and find a way to lock him down under the tree again. Granted, you might find yourself wondering how trapping something that evil in the center of town is a good thing, but that's the plan he's working by.
If you've played the original Pac-Man World for the PSOne, you should be pretty familiar with what to expect from PMW2's core gameplay. The action is a mix of straight 3D platforming on open levels and Crash Bandicoot-style areas that find you exploring set paths through a level. Control is simple and effective: As in the original game, you'll be able to jump, hang onto ledges, butt-bounce, and rev yourself to speed to the top of steep hills. You won't be able to attack your enemies with Pac-dots as before, but it's a negligible loss. You won't be lamenting your inability to pitch dots long, as Pac-Man will still be able to perform a wider variety of moves. In addition to the above-mentioned skills, Pac-Man will be able to pilot an underwater submarine, ice-skate, and rollerblade. You'll still find color-coded buttons to butt-stomp in levels that will trigger doors or special Pac-dot trails. You'll need to become well acquainted with all of Pac's abilities if you hope to progress through the game.
Not only will the new abilities help keep you healthy, but they'll also assist you in your item collection. Outside of the dots and fruit that you'll be collecting in the game, it will also be possible to collect Namco tokens, which can be used in Pac-Village's arcade. Namco tokens will let you access a number of classic Pac-Man-themed games if you've collected enough of them. The arcade will let you play such games as the original Pac-Man, Pac-Attack, and Ms. Pac-Man, among others. In addition to the classic games, you'll find a jukebox mode that plays you selections of music and a Pac-Man World 2 mode that lets you play the new 3D mazes you discover in the game as you progress. The last use for the tokens is to fund Pac-Village's museum, which contains Pac-Man memorabilia for you to enjoy.
Graphically, PMW2 offers a simple, clean look that fits the type of game it's shaping up to be. Detail is simple, featuring clean textures and crisp character models. The early environments we explored worked well and offered a solid amount of visual variety. Basic grass areas gave way to platform jumping onto rock ledges near a waterfall. A later forest level began with platform jumping on trampolines that sent us high above the forest canopy and segued to hopping up and down the sides of trees. Atmospheric elements, like mist from the waterfall and in the forest, offered little touches that suited the levels. Pac-Man himself looks quite fetching in his first PS2 outing, featuring solid animation in his movement and facial animation that conveys his mood.
Sound and music in the game is similar to its predecessor's. Featuring a blending of orchestrated music and classic arcade tunes, the music suits the onscreen action well. Sound effects are basic and draw heavily on the classic Pac-Man sound effects, which should be instantly familiar to gamers.
So far, Pac-Man World 2 is shaping up to be a sequel worthy to follow in the footsteps of its charming predecessor. The platforming elements felt right, and the boss fights retained the retro-gaming feel thanks to their pattern-based attacks. The game's handling is solid, and its challenge level seems to be tuned well, offering a nice increase in difficulty as you progress. The only rough spots we found in the game were focused on the way the camera chose to follow the onscreen action and the fact that it was sometimes difficult to gauge jumps. Fortunately, the game is still a ways out, which gives Namco a bit of time to polish the game. As it stands, Pac-Man World 2 looks to offer solid retro gaming with some twists. Platforming and Pac-Man fans can look for it next month on the PlayStation 2.
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