Pac-Man World 3 (DS) review
"When youíre not grabbing dots (which Iíd imagine could just as easily be acorns or gold coins), and when youíre not running from ghosts in the infrequent maze puzzles (which make up only a minority of the gameís events), youíre just solving genereic puzzles and making a lot of tricky jumps through lifeless environments while the camera looks anxiously for an opportunity to get hung up in tight quarters and frustrate you."
Five years from now, I doubt anyone will play Pac-Man World 3 on the DS, or even remember that it exists. Thereís a reason for this: the game just isnít particularly noteworthy. Its one shining accomplishment--amazing visuals and a large adventure that all fit on a tiny cartridge--wonít mean much before long, and then the game will be relegated forever to those dusty bargain bins. Certainly, its fate would be different if it was actually fun to play. Itís not. In their haste to capture the feel of the console versions, the people at Blitz Games forgot or chose to ignore a few unfortunate facts that make the experience dull and frustrating at all but the very best of times.
First, you have the camera. While thereís a fairly competent camera system coded into the game, it doesnít really work on the DS. Pressing the ďLĒ and ďRĒ buttons to rotate your perspective on a console might work nicely, but here it requires awkward contortion. As the camera pans, it also tends to get hung up on things with disturbing frequency. Oddly enough, it usually finds just the right angle for the action all by itself. When it doesnít, though, all of the button mashing in the world wonít let you see what you need. In a few areas, this can lead to you standing right next to a wall, unable to see where to jump next.
Another issue I had with the game was the expansive but mostly empty nature of the various zones. Early on, itís to be expected, but even later stages find Pac-Man just dodging a few environmental hazards and the occasional foe while wandering through locations that look pretty but arenít very interactive. Rather than rely on different Ďbad guysí to keep you busy, the developer went with puzzles. However, theyíre challenging only because you donít know what youíre supposed to do. If you miss a sign, or if you do things in the wrong order, itís not uncommon to spend hours just going back and forth through the stages, frustrated because you donít want to have to turn off the unit and start over later.
The Gogekka Central zone illustrates this point perfectly. Early on, youíll find yourself running around, tripping switches and slowly riding elevators along a towering collection of lean-tos and moving platforms. There arenít many enemies here, just a lot of bottomless pits and the occasional breathtaking view of the level below. Well into the stage, you reach the top and itís time to backtrack. There is no point where the game says ďHey, turn around.Ē You just look out over a vast space and you realize you canít go any further. Along the way back, youíre supposed to trip some switches. Again, the game doesnít tell you this. Since youíve already hit them once, it probably wonít even occur to you that you must do so again. If you donít, youíll spend hours wandering. If you do, youíll progress just fine to a few more enemies before the stage ends.
If not for the fruit scattered throughout the stages--and the pellets you can grab--there wouldnít be much more to the game than a few stupid puzzles. The notion may strike you as ludicrous, but itís actually true: collecting a bunch of random items is one of Pac-Man World 3ís highlights. Yes, itís sad. And yes, Iím actually serious.
That leads into another problem, which is that the game just doesnít feel like Pac-Man was even necessary. When youíre not grabbing dots (which Iíd imagine could just as easily be acorns or gold coins), and when youíre not running from ghosts in the infrequent maze puzzles (which make up only a minority of the gameís events), youíre just solving generic puzzles and making a lot of tricky jumps through lifeless environments while the camera looks anxiously for an opportunity to get hung up in tight quarters and frustrate you. Thereís precisely one reason this is Pac-Man instead of a game about a bodacious skunk or a loveable gopher: people like Pac-Man. Heís cute.
While Iím focusing on the negative, thereís also the DS touch screen to consider. There are only a few cases where you ever have to do so. None of them feel necessary. For example, youíll have gathered a shard of some diamond. When you reach the gem it came from, the game stops and forces you to connect the two on the bottom screen. This disrupts the gameplay and is slightly less enjoyable than putting together two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. At least itís better than a poke in the eye, right? Frankly, the game wouldíve been better if the developer just pretended that second screen didnít exist at all!
With everything Iíve said, you might wonder why anyone would willingly buy the game. Again, it all comes back to the fact that this really is an impressive effort. The draw distance, while far from perfect, definitely allows for those breathtaking moments where you really feel that youíre in a three-dimensional world, surrounded by towering mountain peaks or windmills or whatever else. Itís pretty darn cool to fit all of that in your hands.
Unfortunately, such moments canít last forever. Eventually, you have to start moving again, along those narrow ledges or up a twisting trail with poisonous mushrooms or wire gratings or whatever. It gets boring all over again. While I have to commend everyone for taking such a massive world and putting it together on a tiny cartridge so that players can experience it on the run, the game belongs in a museum more than it does in any serious gamerís collection. Approach it cautiously.
Staff review by Jason Venter (January 08, 2006)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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