When Toru Iwataru created Pac-Man, he did so in the hopes that it would broaden the videogame audience. "Back in the day, we only had arcade games that men liked to play," he says. "There was no game for women." He made something that fit neatly into the videogame formula of the time (the sadomasochistic love triangle between the player, the enemy and the high score), and yet shattered that very formula into a million pieces. While other games involved weighty issues like intergalactic war; Pac-Man was about a little yellow ball that ate things. Why? We didn't know, and didn't care. The game was so simple—requiring only a joystick, no "Fire" button to play—that it sucked us in completely, without making logical sense. 25 years later Pac-Man changes formulae again. Unfortunately, while his "new" style of gameplay is familiar to us, it is not at all exciting, innovative, or even executed well.
Pac-Man World 3 is the latest title in a series that drops the Munch Man into a 3-dimensional platforming world, where he swings, jumps and punches his way to glory. In the midst of his 25th birthday party, Pac-Man is teleported into a sewer by a friendly ghost named Ors. Ors tells him that some creep named Erwin is messing with the Spectral Realm; it's up to Pac-Man to save the ghosts, and, by extension, the universe. The story's pretty forgettable, and so is the game.
Pac-Man has all the skills conferred upon graduates of Platformer University: using a "rev roll" he can run really fast; he can butt-stomp enemies into oblivion; he can collect things, shock monsters with electricity and even, encased in chrome, become invincible for a short time. There are Pac Dot machines that spit pellets into the air which Pac-Man can follow to get to high places, but even these involve uninspired fetch-quests wherein the player must find crystals of certain colors to make them work.
The essence of Pac-Man is ghost-chomping, and Pac-Man World 3, to its credit, allows for some. Every so often a purple vortex appears and fire-red ghosts stream out of it, chasing Pac-Man until he eats a giant Power Pellet and turns the tables on them. But these sequences seem isolated from the rest of the game, as if the developers weren't sure how to integrate them into play. They tried to compensate by working them into the story—"The energy is increasing! Spectral ghosts can enter our world now!"—but it still feels like I'm taking time out from collecting things and solving puzzles to do something totally different. It doesn't help that the rusty camera gets stuck behind Pac-Man, slowing him down and making it difficult to see where the ghosts are.
For players who want more classic Pac-Man action, each level hides a pellet-filled maze that we can unlock by finding a "Galaxian"—a faux 4-bit orange spaceship. The mazes are fun, but they're also in 3D. Three-dimensional Pac-Man mazes always feel awkward to me, as if something gets lost in translation.
Aside from these problems I had with Pac-Man World 3, I hated the game's font with a passion. Captions weren't a problem, but when the game asked me to select something ("Would you like to save your game?") it was really hard to tell what I had selected. The type is very small, and either glows green or blinks white—the latter is what the player has selected, but I only learned that after losing my progress a couple of times. I'll admit my visual processing isn't stellar, but I never have trouble reading text in games. This is a problem in Pac-Man World 3, and is inexcuseable.
Handing a beloved franchise to a new developer can be a very good thing, taking a series into unexpected, creative directions—Retro Studios's Metroid Prime series, for instance, or Intelligent Systems and their Paper Mario games. But in the case of Pac-Man World 3, Blitz Games may have pointed Pac-Man in a new direction (for him), but they've blocked his path with so many windmills, floating blocks, collectible items and faulty camera angles that he can't move forward. It's sad when a gaming icon known for eschewing clichés gets mired in so many of them that he becomes part of the me-tooism he originally tried to combat.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.