Pac-Man World Rally
Pac-man has hit the mascot big time: his own kart racer!
When I was a (much) younger man, I was the third-shift manager at an all-night arcade just outside of Detroit. We had a regular customer who would entertain the crowd by positioning himself between a Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man machine that stood across the aisle from each other, dropping a token in each and playing them simultaneously... often without looking at either one. He'd clear board after board without ever breaking a sweat. Let me tell you, that kid was the coolest stick-thin, greasy, pimple-coated dork ever to spend his entire allowance on the mastery of a series of patterns in an attempt to impress teenage girls who (unfortunately for him) wouldn't be caught dead with a guy who was a tenth-level Pac-Master. What does this have to do with Pac-Man World Rally? Simply this... whenever the little, yellow guy with the insatiable appetite for dots and ghosts reinvents himself for a new game, I imagine that dork (now a grown man) cursing modern games and the children who play them as he sits on a tattered, cheez-whiz-stained, plaid couch in his studio "apartment" (in his grandma's basement), reminiscing about his glory days as his wrists jerk, involuntarily repeating the sequences that made him a dateless superstar. It's exactly that sort of character history that makes kart racers such a fantastic genre.
So, Pac-Man World Rally is a kart racer. That being said, you can probably imagine most of what you're in store for: classic characters from the Namco family driving a wacky range of cartoon-a-riffic vehicles around equally kooky themed tracks while firing adorable weapons at each other in a delightful attempt to destroy each other in the cutest way possible. It's well worn ground, but Namco has added enough Pac-specific elements to carry the theme through in a way that actually makes sense.
As you race around, you'll find some familiar-looking yellow pellets. Gobble a large pellet and a dozen or more smaller pellets will appear, which you should then (and I feel stupid saying this as if you haven't already figured it out) gobble up with wild abandon. Eat enough and you earn the right to transform yourself into an oversized Pac-Man dune buggy-ish monster vehicle that lets you rip through your opponents like Star Jones at a Payless clearance sale. Also making an appearance from the original game is the collectible fruit, which now does more than make that cool noise when you run over it. Munching on the cherries and watermelon scattered around the raceways will open up shortcuts and speed boosts that make for some truly excellent jumps.
I've only played through two levels (on the PS2): an ice-covered mountain and a spooky-cute haunted mansion. While they were both a lot of fun and a pleasure to look at, I have to say that at this point, the play mechanics were less than solid. The drifting wasn't that drift-y and there was little difference in the feel of the two different driving surfaces. I was expecting to be sliding uncontrollably all over the frozen pavement on the ice level, but the fact is that the feel was remarkably similar to the dry roads of the spooky level. Granted this was a demo version on a different platform, but it left me with some concerns. There are so many driving games in the market (especially on the PSP) that the best thing you can do to distinguish yourself is to provide truly believable physics. However, I'm going to reserve judgment for the final build. After all, PMWR has multiple play modes, online play, and adjustable skill levels... and besides, I think our little, yellow buddy has earned the benefit of the doubt. Plus, Namco has promised some additional content for the PSP, including Katamari Damacy's Prince as a playable character! That alone could keep my interest level pretty high. I love that little cylinder-headed dude.
Pac-Man World Rally is due to be released by Namco sometime later this summer.