Saturday, October 10, 2015

Things No One Cares About: Pac-Man World 20th Anniversary (PS1)

The transition of classic 2-D franchises to 3-D has the habit of going rather well if you're associated with Nintendo but otherwise tend to be choppy. This was especially prevalent in the PS1/N64 era which was often a company's first attempt. Thus while we had gems like Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time we also had garbage like Bubsy 3D. Pac-Man World,released to coincide with  his 20th anniversary, decidedly falls into the latter category and while having some creative ideas still doesn't excuse the mess.

The core problem of the game lies with it's controls and sense of space. In a good 3-D platformer you have this sense of where you are in relation to other platforms and objects. However when hopping around the levels here I can never quite grasp where I reside so I end up missing a platform that looks like it should have been easily landed upon yet is really a few feet out of reach. Luckily Pac-man's repertoire includes grabbing on to ledges if you can get close enough. Unfortunately his gloves seemed to be covered in butter as he fails to grab ledges sometimes leading to yet more trips to the dark abyss.

Jumping is also rather finicky in some regards. Sometimes the jump button just doesn't work work,though that could just be my controller. Any little piece of room geometry or an enemy looking at you funny stutters the jump and leads to many a death. The fact that the extreme foreground some times has an invisible wall blocking a jump you other wise could make is infuriating to say the least.

Enemies and obstacles also add to the frustration as they will often hit you from places that should be safe but just aren't. When dealing with enemies Pac-man can bounce on them which also serves as a double jump of sorts and that's all you really need. He has the ability to rev up and roll into enemies or shoot a pellet at them but they are more trouble than they're worth and will probably get you killed. Then again so will the butt bounce since it's lack of precision aiming will often put you in the exact place you don't want to be. Combat is better avoided if for no other reason to ease some of the frustration of cheap deaths.

Pac-man World was developed during that time when platformers had you collect truckloads of random doodads because they powered something or other. It's not a bad style of games by any means but here it feels like needless busy work. You collect fruit to open doors to gain access to various switches, collectible letter to spell out Pac-Man or keys to unlock cages. Usually fruit is hidden fairly close to the door it unlocks so it's less a challenge and more a tedious back and forth.

Despite the bile I've been spewing the game did do a few things right. The levels themselves are rather neat looking,nothing special but still cool. They draw from your standard video game locales:pirate ships,ruins,space etc. They all try something at least different to keep the level's interesting. I never felt like “oh this is another factory level”, no this was the area with all those spinning platforms or this was the level with the laser puzzles. By extension no two bosses in this game are tackled in the same method. They range from forcing open a temples hands to ram it's heart to a straight up homage to Galaga with Pac-man surfing in space blasting aliens. The fights are the highlight of the game and I kept me going despite the horrendous control problems. The only real bad fight was against the Khrome Keeper which ties back into the central problem of knowing where you are.

Mind you all of the problems are with the main story mode of the game. There are a whole two other modes to mess around with. The first is classic:which is the original Pac-man,nothing special there. The other is the highlight of the game:Maze mode. It plays like the original game but with the camera focused on Pac-man and more hazards outside the ghosts trying to eat you. It's rather challenging and a cool shake up to the standard formula.

The story is rather bare bones yet charming in a way. Some weird robot named Toc-man kidnaps all of Pac-man's friends and family by accident and Pac-man goes to save them. It works for a game about Pac-man. It's not the type of game that needed some crazy plot. The end reveals that Toc-Man is being used by a ghost whom Pac-man promptly eats with that same smiling face he always has. It's rather eerie to watch him devour the ghost that just wanted a friend.

As a kid I adored this game yet could never beat it,so coming back to it with my (arguably) adult brain I expected to be able to grasp it better. All I was able to grasp was that this was a poorly designed game that tried to make up for it's flaws with creativity and banking on your love of Pac-man. The maze mode is rather good but you're better off going with it's companion game Ms. Pac-man Maze Madness. With my rose tinted glasses shattered I leave you with one simple truth: Crash Bandicoot 2 is fantastic,so is Warped.

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