The twentieth birthday of one of the most recognizable icons of the entire videogame imaginary was celebrated by Namco with a lively platform game, very colorful and extremely fluid in the controls. It was the year 1999 when the first PlayStation flagship welcomed in its catalog that Pac-Man World that became a small commercial casethrowing himself with tenderness and fun into the hearts of many fans with his funny way of folding the two dimensions to a third when it suited him.
Another twenty-three years have passed, by now Mr.Pac-Man has grown up, and so too the group of fans who loved that nice title: Bandai Namco has therefore dusted off one of the most loved franchises of the past by working on a visual re-edition of the first Pac-Man Worldaiming to pluck the strings of nostalgia for all those who have never stopped thinking about this childhood gem.
You don’t ask the age of a yellow ball
Time passes for everyone, this is one of the hard certainties of life, but Mr.Pac-Man does not look bad with his 43 years old, even if he does not care to remind friends and relatives of his age, and here is that jovial 20 that stood out on the greeting banner in 1999 has been replaced with generic cherries. The being most feared by ghosts returns home hoping to be able to celebrate his birthday with his loved ones, but he discovers that there is no one waiting for himbecause the ghosts have kidnapped all the guests taking revenge for almost fifty years of abuse.
Adding insult to injury, the enemies of the yellow ball threw a party in his honor on Ghost Island, during which the fearsome Toc-Man will try to pass himself off as Pac-Man to win over its audience. The devouring sphere of ghosts then embarks towards the lair of its enemies to free the kidnapped relatives and put an end to the plan of its robotic clone.
A simple historical platformer
How do ghosts feel about Pac-Man? Hate, fear, dread, affection? It is not clear what transpires from the first animated sequence of Pac-Man World, but the introduction is only a mere excuse to immerse this icon of video games in an adventure finally free from the barriers of a labyrinthallowing him to explore linear maps in total freedom, reaping rewards, freeing his friends – some of them reinvented to avoid thorny judicial quarrels – and feasting on the hapless ghosts who find themselves in his way.
The game system plans to get to the end point of each level to destroy the statue of Toc-Man, setting itself up as a classic platformer in which the protagonist jumps over obstacles and avoids enemies along the way, but he can also eliminate them with a double jump or throwing the collected balls at them, earning points for the final score, while the finding of the fruits allows you to open certain doors and collect the six letters of Pac-Man, which guarantee access to a map bonus once the route is over. Although the presentation lets you imagine a context in three dimensions, the blocked camera and the conformation of the levels bring this Pac-Man closer to a simple side-scrolling 2Dconfined between visible and invisible walls except in the scarce sections where a movement in depth is implemented, used above all to vary the visual scenario and give greater breathing space to exploration.
Starting from the shores of Ghost Island, which acts as a central hub for the journey, Pac-Man visits six different worlds, each characterized by a different stage layout and with different enemies of increasing difficulty: each world has four levels (only one area consists of of three levels, because one was discarded and never replaced during the development of the original title) to be overcome to unlock the next area, and each zone ends with a different boss fight. Once the clash with Toc-Man has been overcome, the historic Pac-Man cabinet also appears on the beach of Ghost Island, through which it is possible to play the original version of those mazes seen in the distant 1980 (if the aforementioned cabinets continue to arouse in you irrepressible emotions you will be interested in reading the review of Arcade Paradise).
The visual impact that strikes players from the first level testifies to the care taken by Now Production in the modernization of this classic: the Re-Pac proposed in 2022 lets the scenarios that surround the protagonist shine with renewed colors, while the game has been recreated from new textures and polygonal models while remaining faithful to the reference title.
On the graphic front we certainly cannot compare this Pac-Man to other games released in recent years, given the honest visual simplicity that distinguishes its not very detailed levels, but considering that the proposal wants to refresh a 23-year-old title the glance does not look bad, although we’ve seen better remaster results (check out the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy review to see what we’re talking about). The sound sector includes the rearrangements of the original title, in turn taken from the soundtracks of other chapters of the very long Pac-Man saga, with cheerful music and ringing tones: the tracks are however very short and repeated until exhaustion within the levels, but their brevity prevents the audio from unnerving the player. The entertainment park has not been expanded, thus remaining faithful to the few movements already seen in the pastwhile the enemies follow their classic pattern by sporadically attacking the protagonist with a single action.
Some small visual gems stand out in their contrast with the age of the context, for example when you collect the large balls that allow Pac-Man to eliminate ghosts: in the original title it was only the presence of the iconic sound effect to testify the possibility to eat opponents while now the little protagonist turns into a gigantic ghost-devouring sphere which also destroys objects in its path.
On the playful front, the improvements made are reflected in small tricks useful to improve the overall experience, first of all with the removal of the camera which now – unlike the original title – lets us observe a more generous section of the scenario, but the structure remains identical to that already appreciated in ’99with the protagonist always clearly visible in the center of the screen with its bright tones that stand out from the rest.
The feature that has benefited most from the passage of time is certainly the fluidity of the game, because Pac-Man moves smoothly and it can be operated with extreme simplicitybut the whole experience is not without flaws, which manifest themselves in conspicuous stuttering phenomena that cause the camera to stumble when it quickly widens the field of view.
The worries of the future
The small micro-shots could become almost bearable over time, but there are other problems that in Pac-Man World Re-Pac are borrowed from the original title, clearly demonstrating the painful passage of time.
Let’s start with analyzing the disarming simplicity that distinguishes the adventure, which takes on almost childish game tones thanks to enemies that do not pose any problem to the user, as well as platform sections that are all too easy even in the final levels. The ease with which you reach the end of the paths is coupled with the small number of them, and the sum of these two characteristics translates into a longevity that settles around six hours, as long as you want to explore each map far and wide by unlocking the bonus levels (identical within the same world) and the new mazes of the proposal, otherwise it is possible to deduct at least a couple of hours from the previous account. This is because even the secondary objectives are easily reachable: each closed door hides its key just beyond and everything is on display on the screen, nothing is difficult to reach nor is hidden in secret passages. The only obstacle that could annoy the player is not wanted, but forced by the 2D soul that hides in the title, because the depth reading is not always easy due to the fixed camera, and could cause incorrect predictions on the distance that separates us. from a platform, especially if it is moving.
In terms of staging, the worlds built by Now Production (and by Namco long before them) return an acceptable glance, but slavishly follow the classic stylistic features already seen in other similar titles, like the island, the factory and the futuristic level, while you only take some risks with a couple of more colorful boss-fights, between a go-kart race and a space battle. Variety, however, is Pac-Man World’s true Achilles heel, because the playful proposal spends all it has to offer in the very first minuteslater repeating the same mechanics after changing only the background around them.
Pac-Man World Re-Pac Review: between colorful ghosts and nostalgia