Review: It's a me... Pac-Man
I'll say this up front for people who like it short and sweet: If you've played Mario Kart 64 or Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, you won't find anything new or exciting about Pac-Man World Rally. What you'll find is an average knockoff of Nintendo's venerable series that feels like it took palette-swapping to new heights. Mascot kart racing fanatics might want to give it a go for completeness' sake, but most would have more fun sticking with Mario.
But for those who want a little bit more of a review, here goes. Pac-Man World Rally takes the basic feel of the Mario Kart series and pastes Pac-Man and other random Namco characters on top of it. Gas, brake, powersliding, comic weapons... it's all here. In fact, one might say too much of it is here.
The wholesale borrowing even includes poor man's versions of some of Mario Kart's best weapons. Running over item boxes will sometimes release Pac-Bombs, which come in green, red and blue varieties. When released, Pac-Bombs grow legs and go after their targets. Green Pac-Bombs bounce off the walls and basically run all over the track. Red Pac-Bombs will home in on the racer directly in front of you and a blue Pac-Bomb will home in on the racer in 1st place. Sounds very familiar doesn't it? Fake boxes, a speed burst and a lightning bolt that affects all of the racers on the track round out the available weaponry.
But World Rally does manage to go its own way with several tweaks to the gameplay. Powersliding will slowly fill a meter at the bottom of the screen. When this meter is full, the player will be granted a Guardian Angel. By pressing Circle, the Guardian Angel will create a shield around the player for a few seconds. It's a decent little option, but the much cooler addition to the Mario Kart formula is the Power Pellets. Eating Power Pellets will fill a different meter and pressing Triangle when it is full will turn all of the other racers into ghosts and the player into a souped up hot rod ghost-eatinger known as the Pac-Mobile. It's very fun, but doesn't come into play very often.
The final gameplay brings one of Pac-Man's signature elements to the racetrack. By collecting the pieces of fruit that appear, players can open shortcut doors that correspond to those pieces of fruit. By correctly using the shortcuts, a player can very easily dominate the competition. But even without these shortcuts, Mario Kart veterans will not be challenged by Pac-Man World Rally at all, even on the highest difficulty settings. So unless you're new to the genre, be prepared to completely blow through everything in an afternoon.
The game's refried play mechanics and lack of challenge are a shame because the tracks feature some interesting design. The rush of going downhill through a series of unconnected cliffs in Canyon Crusade and dodging axes slammed into the course by giant suits of armor in Spooky's Castle are awesome. And Smartbomb's psychotropic take on Rainbow Road with the Funhouse of Terror is simultaneously pure genius and obvious madness. But the game doesn't really come alive until you unlock the Classic Cup. In this short trio of tracks, Namco's history grows a set of wheels as tracks are created around Galaga, Katamari Damacy and a classic Pac-Man arcade cabinet (although it baffles me that a Pole Position inspired track wasn't included). These tracks show what Pac-Man World Rally should have been and certain little touches, like a Katamari on the King's Kourse, brought the a genuine smile to my face. You wouldn't think an exact recreation of the Pac-Man maze in racetrack form would be much fun, but if someone ever compiled a greatest tracks compilation of the mascot kart racing genre, it would have to be included.
The music and sound effects are mostly uninspired, but the remix of the Pac-Man theme in the Retro Maze is fantastic. The use of the famous wah-wah-wah sound effect when a racer flies off the course is also an inspired (and obvious) bit of fun. Otherwise, the audio is little more than an afterthought.