He's not the darling of the gaming industry that he once was, but there's no denying that Pac-Man is probably one of the most recognizable video game characters around today. Just as long as there are consoles and handhelds out there to make games for, you can be sure that this yellow ball with eyes and a smile will make new appearances every generation. This brings us to Pac-Man World 3 for the PSP, a 3D platformer that takes the console game of the same name, and puts it in the palm of your hands.
In the face of such a veteran like Pac-Man, it was hard to accept the shortcomings that popped-up because I wanted this to be good. When Pac-Man was just a flat 2D mouth gliding around a maze, no one could get enough of him. Now that expectations in gaming are higher than they have ever been, Pac-Man has a tall order to fill. The result is that Pac-Man World 3 makes use of contemporary platforming devices, but they're all pedestrian maneuvers we've seen before.
The game starts with a CG cut-scene. We get a sweeping shot of Pac-Man's home, Pac-Village, a lush puffy world that's fit for a classic video game character. Pac-Man is celebrating his 25th birthday, and he's all set to enjoy his cake when a mysterious energy starts teleporting him around the neighborhood. Ms. Pac-Man thinks its all fun and games until her husband disappears completely. Who's behind all of this? It's Orson, one of Pac-Man's rivals from the old days, although they're friends now. As the bumbling ghost fumbles with his computer and punches buttons, we learn that he's not up to any naughty shenanigans. Instead, he's trying to contact Pac-Man to ask for help. An evil genius named Erwin is sucking raw energy out of the Spectral Realm where all of the ghosts live, and feeding it to his army of robots. The only problem is that this is destroying the Spectral Realm and Pac-Land in the process. So Pac-Man has to hop to it and take this guy out.
There's no denying that the game is cute. The worlds look pretty cool at times, with a vast array of colors and environments that come across quite nicely on the PSP screen. Sometimes they get so detailed that Pac-Man begins to stand-out in stark contrast. After all, he is a yellow ball with arms and legs, running around a world filled with complex textures and design. Some of these textures and lighting effects look absolutely pretty, proving once again that the PSP is a powerful little device.
There's one visual feat in particular that's worth looking out for. When Pac-Man gets a Ribbon Loop Pellet, he runs around leaving a colorful energy trail behind him. The lighting for this effect is pretty cool-looking. When he makes a complete circle with this trail, it closes and explodes, thus destroying any enemy caught inside. It's just a sweet power-up that I was looking forward to pick-up throughout the game. There is some aliasing as the refresh rate chugs to render the world when the camera sweeps around, but it's not that noticeable. There are other issues with the camera that are more conspicuous. Any time there's mention of a camera issue in a game review, it's usually the same thing across the board. Well this review is no different, as again, the gaming experience here is confounded by a camera that seems to work against you more than it helps you. Throughout the game, the camera was constantly getting pushed up against, or caught behind, pieces of the environment. This is especially problematic for a game like this, where most of the puzzle-solving requires you to make precision jumps. At times you can't see where Pac-Man is, let alone gauge how you're going to make your next jump. It's absurd.
The challenge that the developing team at Blitz faced with this title, as would any team developing a new game for an established franchise, is how to balance the classic game play elements with new innovative ideas. Unfortunately, Pac-Man's in-game task here gets a little mundane as he's required to gobble-down thousands of pellets and fruits from level to level. There are a couple of new twists in how he carries out this task (he'll gobble a rail of pellets that put a him on a track, and send him flying and swirling through the air as if he's on a roller coaster), but for the most part, we're stuck doing what Pac-Man has always done -- chomping pellets.
There are some other standard platform maneuvers Pac-Man can pull off. These aren't anything we haven't seen in any Sonic game that's been released in the last 20 years -- butt-bouncing and rev-rolls. Yes, that's right. Pac-Man can butt-stomp his enemies right out of existence (now where have we seen that before?). Now, none of these things are necessarily bad. In fact, if you don't mind games that play with this kind of recycled approach to platforming, then this game will work well for you. But for those PSP gamers that want to experience something new and innovative on their handheld, this Pac-Man is a disappointment.
As far as features are concerned, there are new twists that we see here that take advantage of PSP technology. Although there is no infrastructure mode, there is Ad-hoc (PSP to PSP connectivity) multiplayer that allows users to team-up with other PSP owners for Pac-Man action. The feature even allows you to make use of the often under-utilized game-sharing functionality that the PSP offers. This basically means that other PSP owners can join you in multiplayer over Ad-hoc even if they don't own a physical copy of the game. If you're hosting the game, you can share your copy of Pac-Man with up to 3 other players.
The multiplayer games here are entertaining, and give you a reason to come back to the game when you get tired of the single player campaigns. The Versus mode for multiplayer allows one player to run around as Pac-Man, and the other player to run around as a ghost. As Pac-Man you go around eating pellets and fruit to score points. As the ghost, you're chasing Pac-Man to score points. When you finally catch him, the characters switch and control is passed to whoever caught Pac-Man. This neat little game manages to be nostalgic while adding the nuance of wireless multiplayer. The recognizable appeal of classic Pac-Man is there, along with the competitive allure of going up against your friends. There's also a Battle mode where players race around a classic maze to try and see who can finish first. That's pretty straight forward. But if you want something a bit more interesting, you can go with the Ghost Swap mode where you pretty much do the same thing you did in Battle Mode, except that every time you eat a ghost after chomping on a power pellet, that ghost appears on your opponent's screen. If you're particularly good, your opponent could end up with eight ghosts on their screen.
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