Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Namco Bandai
Release Date: Q3 2006
Kart racing is one of the original quirky party games that tends to be fun for all ages and for any number of players. With Pac-Man World Rally, Namco has created the latest iteration of the kart racer based on their lovable characters, and from what I was able to see at this year's E3, it is a blast to play.
Pac-Man World Rally will feature various characters and tracks from Pac-Man titles and other Namco classics, such as Dig-Dug and Katamari. Each character will have his or her own unique vehicle; carts come in a variety of weight classes that can affect how they accelerate and handle, so the character you select will have some impact on how you play. Some of the playable characters on the E3 floor were Pac-Man and the blue ghost Inky (who drives the classic Pole Position car), along with Fygar from Dig-Dug and the Prince from Katamari (whose car consists of four Katamari balls and a steering wheel).
The standard racing mode is pretty straightforward and is quite reminiscent of Mario Kart, only with Namco-themed weapons and abilities instead. Cubes are scattered throughout the course, and you can choose to pick them up or steer clear of them. Blue cubes contain one weapon, while green cubes contain three, but beware of the red cubes, which contain traps. One of my favorite weapons was the ability to make a mini-Galaga ship fly next to you and shoot at enemies ahead. Similar to Ridge Racer, you can power-slide around corners to build up boosts and immunity in order to zoom ahead of the other racers.
Additionally, you can steer during jumps in order to pick up items or avoid obstacles in mid-air. Picking up fruit will unlock shortcuts, which will shave a few seconds off of your lap time. You can also pac away on pellets available around the track, and once you've chomped enough of them to fill up the meter, you change into a Pac-Mobile. This temporarily turns everyone else into blue ghosts that you can gobble up.
Level designs run the gamut. You start off in the peaceful Zen gardens, which help you get familiarized with the gameplay in calm surroundings; you navigate a wide racetrack, which has guardrails to prevent you from veering off course, and only one obstacle hinders your progress – a funeral bell. Later levels will up the ante by narrowing the racetracks, removing guardrails, increasing the number of obstacles, and introducing illusion-based challenges that will you're your eyes away from the track.
Pac-Man World Rally also has a battle mode, which features various fruit-based guns, explosives, and melee weapons such as the banana rammer, grape grenade, blueberry missile, cherry bomb, and strawberry guided missile. Players will pick up their favorite weapons and drive around trying to take each other out, until someone reaches a preset "frag" count. It looked like up to eight karts could be going at it at once, with the computer controlling the extras.
Graphically, this isn't going to be competing with the newest generation of consoles, but it looked perfectly fine. It's very cartoony, which is fitting for both the genre and the characters. I was very happy to see some of the Namco classic characters rendered in 3D, and the inclusion of sound effects from the original titles makes the nostalgic value of this game very high.
I'm not certain how the multiplayer modes will work on the PC version of Pac-Man World Rally, but the GameCube and PSP will allow up to four-player games, and the PS2 will feature a two-player split-screen mode. Four battle arenas will be available on the console versions, while the PSP iteration will feature five.
It's really difficult to go wrong with kart racing because it's simultaneously simple and competitive, full of cartoon violence and high-speed racing action. Pac-Man World Rally will be a blast at your next party, and it should be heading to your favorite non-Xbox systems this summer.
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