Pac-Man World 3 (DS) review
"When you’re not grabbing dots (which I’d imagine could just as easily be acorns or gold coins), and when you’re not running from ghosts in the infrequent maze puzzles (which make up only a minority of the game’s events), you’re 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. There’s a reason for this: the game just isn’t particularly noteworthy. Its one shining accomplishment—amazing visuals and a large adventure that all fit on a tiny cartridge—won’t 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. It’s 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 there’s a fairly competent camera system coded into the game, it doesn’t really work on the DS. Pressing the “L” and “R” 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 doesn’t, though, all of the button mashing in the world won’t 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, it’s 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 aren’t very interactive. Rather than rely on different ‘bad guys’ to keep you busy, the developer went with puzzles. However, they’re challenging only because you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. If you miss a sign, or if you do things in the wrong order, it’s not uncommon to spend hours just going back and forth through the stages, frustrated because you don’t want to have to turn off the unit and start over later.
The Gogekka Central zone illustrates this point perfectly. Early on, you’ll find yourself running around, tripping switches and slowly riding elevators along a towering collection of lean-tos and moving platforms. There aren’t 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 it’s time to backtrack. There is no point where the game says “Hey, turn around.” You just look out over a vast space and you realize you can’t go any further. Along the way back, you’re supposed to trip some switches. Again, the game doesn’t tell you this. Since you’ve already hit them once, it probably won’t even occur to you that you must do so again. If you don’t, you’ll spend hours wandering. If you do, you’ll 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 wouldn’t be much more to the game than a few stupid puzzles. The notion may strike you as ludicrous, but it’s actually true: collecting a bunch of random items is one of Pac-Man World 3’s highlights. Yes, it’s sad. And yes, I’m actually serious.
That leads into another problem, which is that the game just doesn’t feel like Pac-Man was even necessary. When you’re not grabbing dots (which I’d imagine could just as easily be acorns or gold coins), and when you’re not running from ghosts in the infrequent maze puzzles (which make up only a minority of the game’s events), you’re 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. There’s precisely one reason this is Pac-Man instead of a game about a bodacious skunk or a loveable gopher: people like Pac-Man. He’s cute.
While I’m focusing on the negative, there’s 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, you’ll 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 it’s better than a poke in the eye, right? Frankly, the game would’ve been better if the developer just pretended that second screen didn’t exist at all!
With everything I’ve 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 you’re in a three-dimensional world, surrounded by towering mountain peaks or windmills or whatever else. It’s pretty darn cool to fit all of that in your hands.
Unfortunately, such moments can’t 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 gamer’s collection. Approach it cautiously.
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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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