It's been two and a half years since Pac-Man World first popped its head up at the 1997 E3 in Atlanta. At the time, it looked like an attempt by the American development team to "pull a Mario" on its legendary mascot. Even two years ago, the game didn't really look all that great, and as a result, the original development team was pulled and, after much hemming and hawing, work resumed on the project.
It has now been 20 years since the "little yellow dot that could" emerged on the video-game map, and much has happened since then. Gameplay mechanics can no longer rely on such simple control schemes, and Namco has had its hands full trying to inaugurate its armless/legless character into the digital age. The good news is that whatever Namco has done to the pill popper known as Pac-Man, the current Pac-Man World has turned out great. Staying true to the format, it is a title full of charm, ingenuity, and playability.
While this is no Mario 64 or Sonic Adventure, Pac-Man World could at least be described as Klonoa-lite. It seems as if Pac-Man's mortal enemy, Toc-Man, has kidnapped Ms. Pac Man, Pac Jr., Baby Pac, Professor Pac, Pooka (from Dig-Dug) and Chomp Chomp the dog-pac. (Tupac was, apparently, nowhere to be found.) Naturally, it is up to Pac-Man to find and rescue his friends from Toc-Man's hiding spots, which include desert islands, deep-space outposts, and mine shafts. While not in possession of the vast array of moves that his bunny-like counterpart possesses, Pac-Man has learned a few things along the way. As befits any mascot worth his salt, a butt-bounce has been implemented to take care of opening chests and dispatching enemies of a nonghostly nature. He also has a power shot (which uses energy) an ultra-butt-bounce, and, of course, the power pellet, which he will use to chomp on Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde.
Throughout the game, there is a large number of puzzles for you to find; you use the ol' "find the key, open the door" techniques to achieve your goal. Along the way, you will encounter enemies to vanquish, b-doing platforms to launch yourself to spots too high to reach with a normal jump. You must find buttons and jump on them to open doors that may hold the keys you'll need to open other doors. Pac-Man also has a spin-roll move he can use to zip up hills he cannot climb, and a rev-run that generates power to propeller-platforms scattered around the game. While some aspects of Pac-Man World could be viewed as derivative, there are definitely moments that Pac-Man can call his own. While this may seem fairly standard, and it is, the game is very well designed, and the graphics are rich and convincing. The backgrounds look like a cross between Klonoa's and Crash Bandicoot's, which is a very good thing. In addition to that, Pac-Man himself has a large variety of facial expressions, making him practically irresistible. He has facial expressions for every activity - swimming, walking, running, or just standing around. He is very well animated (for a round yellow man-thing, that is) and the control is top-notch. The challenges in the game boast a fair and gradual learning curve. Should you find certain Galaxian doors, you will be transported to bonus levels that are 3D versions of old-school Pac-Man maps, where you eat dots and try to chomp the ghosts. As you discover these secret levels, you will unlock them in the puzzle-mode, which features more than 30 mazes. The original Pac-Man game - just like the kind found in the Namco Museum games - is included in its entirety, as well. Between these two options and the twenty-plus levels in the platforming game, there is more replay value here than one might have expected from a game of such humble origins.
With all the crappy "Xtreme" sports games flooding the market, along with uninspired first-person shooters, racing games, and rip-off platformers, it's encouraging to see one of the originators come back in style. While the simple gameplay and cutesy premise may turn off some so-called "hard-core gamers," anyone with an open mind would do well to pick up the Pacster's newest offering. Basically an unpretentious offering that hold its own as a platformer, Pac-Man World is a fun little game that goes beyond mere regurgitation. This one is worthy of anyone's library. Don't call it a comeback.