NOM NOM - Pac-Man World 20th Anniversary Review

When most people think of Pac-Man, they (rightly) imagine the classic 2D yellow circle chomping its way around a maze chasing down ghosts. But in a long-running series with more than thirty games to its name’ as of 2016, how do some of the other ventures fare? I wanted to see if Namco’s classic character could truly do something different.

So for starters, let’s address the title. Pac-Man World 20th Anniversary was released in 1999 (surprisingly, 20 years after the debut of the original Pac-Man in arcades) on Sony’s original Playstation console. It’s a classic early 3D platformer featuring the titular yellow hero in an all-new adventure. Pac-Man comes back home to celebrate his 20th birthday, only to find that all of his friends have been kidnapped by the evil Toc-Man, who wishes to take out the protagonist and assume the Pac-Man identity, presumably by killing him, although this is never specifically commented on.

Expand your minds dudes, it's 3D now.

Each of the game’s 23 levels are accessed via a central hub world, in which a few of the five areas can be accessed immediately, but you’ll need to beat the first mission in each to unlock further levels. The first of these areas, a pirate-themed world with a ridiculously catchy soundtrack, serves as a tutorial set to give players a chance to get to grip with manoeuvring Pac-Man around a fully 3D world.

Aside from being able to freely walk around the X, Y and Z axes, you can perform a butt-bounce to break open crates, gain height or destroy enemies. Furthermore, given that Pac-Man now has legs, they can be utilised to perform a charged rolling attack, a la Sonic The Hedgehog’s infamous spin dash, and also to activate spin pads by running in place. Finally, you can use collected pac-dots to perform a laser-like attack and incinerate your foolish foes where they dare to stand.

Where is that damn power pellet?!

There’s a variety of switches which can be bounced upon, each with a different function within the levels. Green switches usually enact some permanent local change, be it rearranging platforms or summoning a load of pac-dots and ghosts for some good old-timey wakka-wakka. Yellow switches conversely make ephemeral adjustments, such as altering the direction of a moving heliplatform or opening a door. Finally there’s the big-daddy blue switches, which are the ones you want to be looking out for - these guys are the key to finding the secrets hidden within the levels, and usually come in pairs. The position of the first is usually obvious, but you might have to hunt down the second or return to an earlier point in the level.

Talking of secrets, let’s begin with fruit. Good ol’ Pac-Man fruit. It’s back. However, not only does it come with a strangely gratifying pickup sound, it also has function here beyond simply boosting your score. You’ll find these doors all over the island, which demand a particular type of fruit to open (note: I’m unsure of the exact mechanism, it kind of gets glossed over). Upon providing said culinary treat, the door will reveal a switch, a health recovery item, or potentially even one of the letters required to spell out PACMAN, the collection of which takes you to a bonus round at the end of the level in which even more fruit can be gathered. Any spare fruit is then lobbed into a blender-cum-slot machine, which offers up the chance for yet more points and extra lives for future levels.

Collect fruit in each stage to submit to the slot machine / smoothie maker.

Of course you don’t lose out on classic Pac-Man gameplay - Mazes mode is available from the title menu, in which nostalgia-inducing mazes can be played in full 3D. Pac-Man’s 4-hit life total carries over from the main game however, so you can take a few hits from ghosts and environmental hazards before succumbing to an untimely Pac-death. Finding the elusive Galaxian (the weird red, blue and yellow thing, you know what I mean) in Quest mode dumps you in a brand new maze, the completion of which unlocks it for use in Mazes mode. Beating the story unlocks Marathon mode, required for 100% completion, which demands making it through all 36 of these stages. Of course, if that still doesn’t tickle your fancy in just the right way, Classic mode is a simple rendition of the original arcade game.

Graphically as stated, I think it looks beautiful, particularly for the time - I have a real soft spot for early Playstation platformers. The colours are vibrant, the simple, blocky style resulting in a great aesthetic theme, and the music to go along with it all is absolutely fantastic. Each area’s theme is captured incredibly well, and you’ll really want to explore each level to the maximum to find every hidden little area and collectible.

HMS Windbag, the boss of the game's first area

Of course, there are some caveats - you have to take the camera with a pinch of salt, as with most games from this period, and occasionally I found myself with no adequate reference point completely unable to determine what plane I was running in. This becomes very annoying during later stages where the jumps become increasingly tricky. Furthermore, while I had a great time with the first couple of bosses (the final stage of each area), the next two were really quite boring, one of which demanded me to repeat the same very simple action eight times, to the point where I even cut out the section on my video recording  - it was just that dull.

It’s a real shame too, because I was gushing with praise for the game during my playthrough until I hit those points. The game isn’t long by modern definitions, taking me about six hours to clear the story mode, but there’s a surprising amount of depth to the levels, particularly if you want to collect everything they have to offer.

Pac-Man world is a great example of the hallowed early 3D platformer, but there are better titles out there. If you’ve already tried Spyro, Crash Bandicoot, Klonoa and the like and are looking for something similar, then you’ll feel right at home, but it’s not a must-play by any means. That said, I don’t regret my time with the game and if you come across it cheap or get the chance to play it, I’m sure you’ll have a great time.