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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 


     




Namcoís legendary gaming icon returns on the Gamecube. His latest adventure, Pac Man World 2 is a follow-up to the first PMW title and like that one PMW2 mixes solid 3D platforming action with traditional maze games to make for an engrossing and challenging game. Some new elements and moves have been added to keep things fresh and exciting, and fans of the series will find most of these improvements add polish to an already solid game. The Laser examines the retro-starís latest comeback and decides whether itís worth your time.

Released two years ago, Pac Man World on the PS1 was an excellent title that took the classic character into the realm of 3D platforming adventures while also incorporating many signature Pac Man elements seamlessly. The game was embraced by fans of the original series as well as the current generation of gamers as a great return. Now, Namco has released a much more polished follow-up on the Gamecube (a version is also out for the PS2.) While there are some new elements, it mostly builds on the successful formula while still retaining the majority of the elements that made the first PMW so appealing. While it stays true to the first game, Pac-Man World 2 goes a bit farther and increases the versatility of the main character with several new moves and a refined control system that makes things much more accessible. Players will find that the controls are far more intuitive, making the gameplay flow much better. In addition, some work has been done on the gameplay mechanics. This means that the levels are much more polished this time around and the game has a more cohesive feel, making it far superior. As usual, this action adventure game throws a lot at the player and each level features a variety of obstacles, inventive puzzles, and an array different enemies that will keep you on your toes. This is especially in the new underwater sequences which can be a bit difficult.

The game begins in the Pac-Village, which is the central area. Here, youíll meet Professor Pac Man and other characters whoíll help you throughout the game. This is also where youíll be able to use your tokens and access the Pac-Jukebox among other things. The Pac-Village also serves as your initial training area and the central point where you can access other levels. There are several different types of areas including forests, volcanoes, hills and more. As you go along the levels, youíll see the traditional dots, which Pac Man can eat for points, as well as the classic power-pills which allow you to eat the ghosts.  In addition to these standard power-ups, there are also new invincibility pellets which turn Pac-Man into metallatic muncher. In addition, he can then walk around the surface of the water and break the submerged boxes, but this ability is time limited so you have to move fast. One of the cooler new objects in the game are the Dot Chains. These are usually unlocked by hitting a switch and allow Pac-Man to fly through a path of dots to reach areas he canít normally and these can also lead to surprises such as bonus tokens.

The standard moves are also pretty cool. Pac-Man can jump, roll, bounce and climb over objects. He can also shimmy while hanging on a ledge, do a cool turbo boost and more. Among the more elaborate new moves implemented is the ability to swim, which is quite cool. However, when heís submerged, you canít change the camera viewpoints or break boxes unless he has the special Metal Pac-Man power-up. The level designs are surprisingly large, allowing for many different types of tasks in them. There are different terrains such as water, large gaps to jump and multiple paths to the same objectives. This non-linear feel makes the game more fun to play, but there are points when a more clearly defined objective would have made the game simpler, since itís frustrating to spend time figuring out where to go next. Unlike the previous games, there are other enemies besides the ghosts now, which include bears, scorpions, bugs, rabbits and other adversaries. They all react differently to Pac Man, and most of the non-ghost characters arenít affected by the power-pellets, meaning youíll need to use caution. Dispatching most of these requires you to bounce on them, though others need more elaborate strategies and some of these can be quite interesting in their techniques. As with most platformers, there are boxes and chests that when opened reveal hidden surprises such as fruits, health power-ups, extra lives and other goodies. The gameplay is excellent thanks to the smartly designed levels, which offer a nice balance of fun and strategy. The gameís learning curve is also excellent and unfolds at a good pace, slowly introducing the player to Pac-Manís abilities. To add even more excitement, there are several boss encounters, where one of the ghosts or other enemies will challenge you to a big battle. While the first few bosses arenít terribly difficult, some of the later confrontations can be quite a lot to handle.

In addition to the main quest, Pac Man World 2 also includes several mini-games. Players can unlock hidden Pac Man World Mazes, which are more elaborate versions of the traditional game. There are also hidden tokens scattered throughout the world. When you collect enough of these, you can also unlock hidden emulated versions of classic games. There are 4 of these: Pac Man, Ms. Pac Man, Pac-Mania and Pac-Attack. These are cool diversions from the main game and extend the gameís replay value immensely. To add even more, Pac Man World 2 also includes a multi-player mode where 2 players can collaborate and play together cooperatively. There is also a time-attack mode included, where you can race against the clock and earn a bonus token. Taken individually, this might not sound that impressive, but the big picture means that the game offers plenty of distinct actions, yet stays relatively cohesive throughout. Playing is pure fun, and while it may not have the pretensions of other titles, this formula has succeeded for Namco, and the minor changes and tweaks just make playing through itís levels that much more enjoyable.

While it may not seem like it from the screenshots, itís immediately apparent that the graphics in this title are excellent. PMW2 unfolds at a smooth frame rate and suffers little form the many technical issues that most modern platform games dol. You wonít find much in the way of anti-aliasing issues, pop-ins or jaggies here, what you will find is a brightly colored game that fits the spirit of the classic games. The animation is good and camera movements are mostly intuitive. Animation is excellent, and the variety of enemies is also nice. Levels are brightly colored and crisp, and the new mazes look solid with enough color to keep you interested but not enough to get in the way of the game. PMW2ís sound effects and music show a high degree of polish and the mix between classic and new sounds is seamless, making for great audio. The approach is successfully implemented, with the highlight being the classic Pac-Man musical cues and sound effects, such as the sounds when chasing ghosts. Itís background music is pleasant but a bit innocuous, though it keeps the same feeling. One of the biggest problems that have plagued these types of games are the camera angles, which can frequently get in the way of the action. This has been mitigated somewhat in this title because you can change the camera angle and other tweaks with the second d-pad, which really helps you along. Pac-Man World 2ís controls and interface are very impressive as well. Controlling the character is intuitive and requires little in the way of effort. Most actions require only a single button press and itís more a matter of timing and skill to proceed. Some of the more difficult areas might take a few tries to defeat, but for the most part, Pac-Man World 2 is surprisingly forgiving and gives you plenty of leeway. Overall, the gameís control and interface works well with the GCNís controller, making it fun and enjoyable to play.

This may sound like a bad thing, but itís really a compliment. In itís main adventure, the game resembles Crash Bandicoot with a similar feel to its presentation, level designs and structure. While its viewpoints change occasionally, the action mostly takes place from a behind the character perspective. In addition, there are also a bevy of switches and hidden areas to discover in the course of the game, which also increases its resemblance to Crash. However, the Pac characters and the mini-maze levels keep the game from feeling too derivative, giving it a personality all its own. Derivative might be the wrong phrase to be honest, there are only so ways to do this type of game, so there are bound to be similarities. A better word might be familiar, which more accurately describes how the game feels. However, this is not bad, since the conventions of the title make it a fairly enjoyable experience. While Pac Man World 2ís gameplay might seem a bit clichťd to some, sometimes, something familiar is exactly what players want. And in this case, the combination of a nostalgic character and standard settings works perfectly. In addition, the many extra modes are a lot of fun, thereís more than enough to keep you busy for quite some time. Surprisingly, the main game is almost as good as the classic games that inspired it, which is a rarity these days. While it might seem a bit juvenile to some, PMW2 does an excellent job of staying just far enough within your expectations, yet surprises you often enough to keep things interesting. While itís not flawless, this an excellent example of how to update a classic title, adding new elements while keeping the best parts intact. Pac Man World 2 is both a nice throwback to the original games, and an outstanding platformer that can stand with the likes of Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter as far as sheer contemporary play value is concerned. This makes it an excellent addition to any Gamecube library and is highly recommended to classic gaming and platform-game fans.





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