(Sony PlayStation)

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Ever since Pac-Man emerged as the king of video games in 1980, its countless sequels have had trouble living up to the lofty expectations that come with being a descendant of the most successful arcade game of all time. They ranged from the brilliant (Ms. Pac-Man) to the mediocre (Pac-Land) to the downright bizarre (Professor Pac-Man). Some games stuck to the original flavor of Pac-Man while others deviated greatly, merely using its namesake to spur extra sales.

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The development process of what is now Pac-Man World is a well documented one that would lead many to assume that it wouldn't turn out that great. It's been almost three years since Pac-Man World was announced as a title in development for PlayStation. At the time of its first unveiling at E3 in 1997, it was called Pac-Man 3-D and looked like a half-baked attempt by Namco to combine the popularity of its yellow mascot with the emerging 3-D platformer genre that was pioneered by Mario 64. I was very skeptical about the company's ability to pull it off based on the early preview of what I saw. Apparently, Namco agreed with critics and the team responsible for the development was kicked out and the game disappeared for a brief period of time. Pac-Man then went under the knife and emerged with a new name in the process: Pac-Man Ghost Zone. Following several more delays, Namco realized that timing was right to call it Pac-Man World 20th Anniversary to celebrate the birthday of one of gaming's most celebrated icons. How did it all turn out? Wonderfully. The result of this all is a game that ties in Pac-Man's old-school gameplay with addicting pseudo 3-D platform action. It's a mish-mash of different gaming concepts, old and new, but the execution is first-rate.

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Before I begin detailing the brand new elements of its gameplay, let's go over the extras that Namco has thrown into the mix. First of all, you get a perfectly emulated version of the classic Pac-Man, just as it appeared in Namco Museum Volume 1 on PlayStation -- but with a twist: it now has a very cool dual shock rumble feature. Chomp on ghosts or get eaten by one and you'll now feel it! It's a subtle but effective bonus, and reason alone for some die hard Pac-enthusiasts to rush out and grab this game. In addition, there's another slightly updated version with the familiar Pac-Mania-esque viewing perspective. In this one, you get a choice of two camera perspectives. The traditional close-up view of the action and a farther-away view where you can see the entire screen at once. Very nicely done.

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At first glance, it's easy to underestimate the quest mode and dismiss it as just another Mario/Sonic/Crash Bandicoot knockoff. But from the moment you witness the breathtaking opening cinematic sequences, you'll get the hint that Namco has put a lot of care into this game. The CG intro and endings are breathtaking and just as good as those seen in other Namco offerings such as Ridge Racer Type 4 and Tekken 3. The premise of Pac World is to rescue your kidnapped friends -- Ms. Pac-Man, Jr. Pac, Baby Pac, Professor Pac, Pooka (from Dig Dug, I LOVE Pooka!) and Chomp Chomp (Pac-Man's dog) -- from Toc-Man, an evil mechanical robot.

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Pac-Man is blessed with dexterity that he's probably never seen before. He now has the ability to jump, swim, throw, do spin rolls, hang on ledges and even perform a Mario 64-esque butt bounce. And of course, he still can chew on the power pellets to turn into THE MAN. You can certainly roam around mindlessly and enjoy yourself, the game is more puzzle oriented than your normal platformer. A lot of one's time will be spent jumping on buttons trying to find keys that open special doors as well as trying to find other hidden items. In many instances, it's prudent to think before acting. If you're good (and lucky), you can pick up letters and try to spell "PAC-MAN" and be warped to bonus worlds that include 3-D mazes that feature the familiar ghosts and other treacherous obstacles.

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Graphically, Pac-Man World is rich, bright, colorful and cute. Pac-Man is extremely lovable, too. His numerous facial expressions and goofy movement when running, swimming and jumping are perfectly matched to his image. The characters are very nicely animated and the frame rate is a non-issue -- it's rock solid. Control wise, it's are simple and easy to master. Unlike many platformers, you won't be cursing at the controller as a way of directing blame at something other than your own self. Likewise, the camera views are steady and solid, and do not at all detract from what you're trying to see and do.

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Complimenting this solid and polished platformer is a wide array of reminders of Pac-Man (and Namco's) illustrious history. Many of the sound effects are truly zany, and some of the sound samples seem to have been directly taken out of the original. You'll also see things like doors with Galaxian artwork -- nostalgists are sure to have tears in their eyes as they relive happy moments of their gaming youth.

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Pac-Man World is a triumph in the convergence of classic and contemporary gameplay. Namco has masterfully combined many of the classic Pac-Man elements into a new game that more than holds its own against the better platform games of today. Simply put, Pac-Man World 20th Anniversary is a classic update done right and a great present to all classic gaming aficionados and Pac fans alike. Happy birthday, Pac-Man!

Title Pac-Man World 20th Anniversary
Publisher Namco
System Sony PlayStation
Graphics 8
Sound 7
Gameplay 9
Overall 9
Reviewer Keita Iida

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