What can I say about Pac-Man? He’s as famous as Jesus, or John Lennon, he’s yellow, and he’s back. Not in anything brand new I might add, but in a remaster of 1999’s Pac-Man World, a game that part of me had always wanted to see the light of day again, but one that I wasn’t sure would ever prove itself worthy of the remaster treatment. Well, it’s had it, but it turns out I might want to be careful what I wish for when it comes to reviving retro video game icons.
Before I crack open my brimming file of Pac-Man World Re-Pac hot takes, it has to be said that the game’s audience is quite obviously children, and I’m not one of them. Everything from the music, to the level design, to the obnoxious neon colours of the post-level slot machine, is designed to attract kiddywinks like magpies in a jewellery store. So, if I sound like a cynical old man, it’s because I’m paid to be one, and because there will also be a small group of returning players like myself, and Pac-Man super fans, thinking over a return to Ghost Island.
In terms of storyline, the term narrative might be a bit of a push here, the premise is ripped from the pages of platformer design for beginners with Toc-Man, the big bad of Pac-Man World, and the ghosts we all know and love taking Pac-Man’s extended family hostage just before his big birthday bash. Our pizza-shaped protagonist arrives at his empty Pac-Man-shaped house to find a flyer for Toc-Man’s Ghost Island party, and the rescue mission ensues.
The island in question acts as a hub world for the individually themed areas, starting with pirate and space-theme worlds before branching out into the funhouse, factory, and more. Now I didn’t know it at the time, but on release in 1999, Pac-Man World was compared unfavourably by some to games like Crash Bandicoot 3 Warped, with people going as far to accuse the developers of lifting ideas from Naughty Dog’s classic, and this was something I picked up from my first moment in the hub world, and noticed more and more as I traipsed towards Toc-Man.
The gameplay is almost exactly what you’d anticipate from a Pac-Man 3D platformer, or any 3D platformer for that matter, but one benefit of the remaster treatment is that you don’t have to deal with the clunkier controls of the original, and Pac-Man can turn on a dime in tricky platforming sections. Although, in the same token, the way in which the classic Pac-Man ghoul gobbling mechanic falls into the game feels a bit more gimmicky than it did on release, and never really offers much besides a reprieve from the jumping and butt bashing.
The classic Pac-Man sections come in two different shades, for lack of a better term, with an in-level ghost chase that‘s usually bound by a time limit instead of a grid or map, or classic Pac-Man bonus levels that revert to the top-down ghoul-dodging mechanics of the original arcade title. Both offer a break from the Crash-inspired platforming, but they never really challenge enough, even for the little ones, or experiment enough with the iconic format to make you search out the arcade segments in each level.
Outside of the hit-and-miss Pac-Man sections, the platforming core of Pac-Man World might not be wholly original, but it is effective. Having played Super Mario 3D World between my time with the original Pac-Man World and this remaster, it’s surprising how similar the two titles feel in their approach to platforming, with a hybrid of camera angles that always make it feel as if things have a little more dimension than they actually do. Sure, it’s not as free-flowing as something like Mario Sunshine or the original Spyro trilogy, but the linear nature of the levels is clearly for the benefit of the intended demographic, and Bandai Namco manage to achieve some surprisingly enjoyable boss battles and platforming puzzle sections under the restrictions that were clearly set.
My one bugbear with the clean-up effort that is Pac-Man World Re-Pac is that the already tedious slot machine level bonus screen has seen a colourful reimagining, and while it looks nice, it adds nearly nothing to the playing experience. Sure, extra lives and bonus points are on the line, but the time spent pulling the lever with your amassed tokens at the end of a level had me so bored that I purposefully avoided picking up the redeemable items the further I went into my adventure, especially with how often Pac-Man finds himself picking up extra lives hidden away in levels, and given the fact I don’t know anyone keeping up with their score in 2022.
Pac-Man World Re-Pac also suffers from the usual lack of replayability that befalls more than a few platformers, with no real reason to fully complete and find the P A C M A N letters across each level that open up the bonus stage except for the pride that you take in completing them. The problem here is that, as I’ve said about forty times now, this is a children’s game, and there’s little pride to be had.
If you combine the lacklustre Pac-Man gimmick, the reliance on 3D platformer concepts done better by Crash Bandicoot, and the lack of replayability (especially when compared with titles like Crash, which had you searching for post-game gems, or Spyro 2 and its 100% completion theme park level), it’s hard to determine whether picking up Pac-Man World Re-Pac in 2022 is such a good idea, or if even the development of the remaster was necessary in the first place.
That’s the lingering question that I take away from playing Pac-Man World Re-Pac, the millionth-or-so remaster of a classic 3D platformer I’ve seen in the last couple of years, where exactly does the remaster train stop? I loved Donald Duck’s Quack Attack, another classic PS1-era platformer, but does it warrant a remaster? Spyro and Crash, I get, but when we’re reliving Pac-Man’s mediocre-to-good 3D adventure, I wonder whether the time and money might be better spent on a new IP (though maybe not a platformer, if the fate of Balan Wonderworld).
Still, we get what we get, and for kids looking for a way into the Pac-Man series with a bit of variety, those desperately searching for a slice of nostalgia, or just a game you can play with your brain in off-mode, Pac-Man World Re-Pac has something to offer. However, if you don’t fall into that category and you’re craving a classic platforming experience, it might be best to turn back to Crash, catch up with Klonoa, or master triple jumps with Mario, rather than regress with a gaming icon who might be better left in the realms of the second dimension.
While acting as a steady starting point for kids who can’t tell their Pac-Men from their Space Invaders, Pac-Man World Re-Pac is a remaster that struggles to make itself feel necessary, with no improvements outside of graphics and mechanics to enhance the original Pac-Man World’s formula. There’s some fun to be had, but perhaps not enough to warrant a remaster when including a port of the PS1 title in a collection might have made more sense