Pac-Man World 2 Review
For years, especially in the 80's, there was one major icon that stood alongside Mario in the video game industry, a fearless little adventurer known only as Pac-Man. One of the bigger draws in arcades throughout the country, Pac-Man started to fade from the spotlight in the early 90's, due to in part the slow but inevitable death of the arcade scene. While Namco tried to revive their character in many recreations of previous installments in the series, Pac-Man soon became but a lingering memory in the minds of most gamers. Then the series saw a rather successful reprisal when Pac-Man World debuted on the Playstation. Taking a classic 2D game and turning it into a well crafted 3D platformer was no easy task, but Namco pulled it off nicely. And now Pac Man makes his way into the newest generation with his return in Pac-Man World 2. By utilizing the power of the Playstation 2, Namco was able to build on the concepts of the first game while retaining the simple, lighthearted fun that gave it such a broad appeal. Pac-Man World 2 starts off in Pac-Land, in the village of the Pac-People. In the center of this village grows the mighty tree of the Golden Fruit. As long as this tree is undisturbed, the land will remain peaceful for all time, but leave it to the ghosts of Pac-Land to ruin this with their mischief. One night, the ghosts steal the fruit from the tree, and unleash a powerful evil force known as Spooky, creating chaos throughout the land. It is now up to Pac-Man to track down the golden fruit, defeat Spooky, and restore peace to Pac-Land.
While Pac-Man World 2 certainly retains a lot of the old school charm of its predecessors, it certainly takes advantage of the power of the Playstation 2 to create some fairly impressive visuals, or at least compared to its predecessor. The graphics certainly take their cue from the light hearted nature of the game, as Pac-Land is drawn out in a very colorful and cartoon like manner. There isn't much attempt at shading or blending, but rather an exorbitant use of eye searing color, ranging from bright reds to fiery yellows. These are thrown together to create a surreal landscape that is both more and less than real, somewhat akin to an abstract by Picasso, without the insane tilt to it. One of the more impressive visual features is the diversity that the game offers when it comes to terrain to explore. Pac-Land is full of all sorts of mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, and more, each offering their own unique perspective, while somehow managing to retain a coherent visual theme. Unlike other games where there is little difference between snowy and temperate lands, save a change in color attributes, this game changes things up every now and again, which really helps the game stay fresh. Overall, while not a testament to the power of the Playstation 2, Pac-Man World 2 certainly looks good.
One area where Pac-Man World 2 is quite similar to its predecessors, at least in a spiritual sense, is in gameplay. Even though the game takes place in a 3D environment, the game retains much of the pure, simple play that made the originals so much fun. While definitely a platform style game, a great deal of importance is placed upon collecting various objects throughout the level, such as different tokens, health wedges, power ups, 1 Ups, and of course, the famous Pac-dots and Power Pellets as well as various fruit. All of these items assist Pac-Man in his adventures, by restoring health, increasing player score, giving Pac-Man special powers, etc. Collecting tokens allow players to unlock arcade games that can be played by revisiting Pac-Village, which is a nice little side bonus for when you feel like taking a break from the game. By collecting fruit scattered throughout a level, players can unlock Fruit Chests that have special power ups, in addition to increasing your score for that level, which determines how much of the game you have completed. Power ups come in different forms, giving Pac-Man special abilities like being able to walk at the bottom of a lake, or shrink him down to a much smaller size, allowing him to access otherwise unreachable areas. The most important of the power ups, however, is the Power Pellet. By grabbing one of these, Pac-Man strikes fear in the hearts of infamous ghosts, turning them blue and allowing them to be consumed by Pac-Man, in very similar fashion to the original.
Some of the more innovative features in this game have to do with its gameplay as well. For instance, Pac-Man will have to use special moves at certain key junctures in order to progress. The Butt-Bounce allows Pac-Man to use his backside to launch him off the ground or to pound enemies into the dirt. After jumping, a repeat tap of the jump button curls Pac-Man into a ball as he jettisons himself into the air. Players will also have the ability to run at super speed by holding down the square button and then releasing, launching Pac-Man at incredible velocity. This comes in handy when there is a gap too wide to jump by normal means or when a steep incline proves to be too tough to climb. At is heart, however, Pac-Man World 2 is a platformer, and has many of the same problems as many games in that genre. The games camera angles are often horrid, not allowing you to see where you need to go or jump to next, and the fact that rotating the camera angle is not possible about 80% of the time does not help either. As expected, this creates some frustration when faced with a difficult jump, soon becoming the biggest flaw in the gameplay. Not only does this affect your ability to time or even accurately see your next jump, it makes using the aforementioned abilities downright impossible at times.
Where this game does differ from classic platformers is in its well above average replay value. Unlike a lot of platformers, Pac-Man World 2 gives players reasons to go back and replay levels they have already completed, due to the incredible amount of items to be acquired, that will most likely go untouched the first time through. With all the fruits, tokens, wedges, pellets, and more to be unlocked, there are plenty of reasons to take another stab at a previously beaten level. While other games offer similar replay value, the desire to collect everything in a given level is so great as to give this game the edge in that particular aspect.
Just like the gameplay in this title, the overall sound is very light and often comical. The in game music is remarkably similar to cartoon shorts, with overly dramatic tunes punctuated with bell and whistle like sounds. Likewise, the sound effects are quite cheesy in a charming way. Whenever Pac-Man performs his Butt-Bounce, it is accompanied by a loud BOING, and when charging up for a dash, the accompanying sound effects are very similar to a RoadRunner style burnout. While most of the dialogue in Pac-Man is presented via text, there are voice-overs for important cutscenes. Overall, the voice acting is solid, but nothing remarkable by any means. Most conversations in the game are very simple and to the point, which really fits with the games overall approach by not bogging players down in too much chit-chat, because there isn't much that really needs to be explained anyway- find the golden fruit, defeat Spooky, have fun.
Of course, having fun in this game can be, and often is, a difficult task due to issues with character control. Solid controls are something that no game, especially a platformer, should be without, and this game is nothing if not bereft of decent control. Horrid camera angles aside, simply moving Pac-Man around efficiently can sometimes feel awkward, because movement is simply too loose and sluggish. While not drastic enough to become a valid reason for passing up on the game, it certainly warrants some thought.
There are some games out there that continue to innovate on themselves, always providing a fresh take on their hero's tales.... this is not one of them. Pac-Man 2 offers little innovation over its predecessor, aside from the enhancements in graphics. Those looking for something more than a few hours of simple fun would be much better off with a more mature title, as this is one game that is most definitely geared towards younger audiences and simpler minds. However, the game offers that type of pure and simple button mashing fun that was so prominent in the early 2D titles, and manages to bring that enjoyment into the third dimension. For anyone looking for a great title for their children, or for anyone longing for a quasi-nostalgic gaming experience, Pac-Man World 2 is definitely worth a weekend rental.
4/15/2002 Ryan Hartmann