Pac-Man Rally PS2 Review - 30/03/2007

If you’ve played any Mario Kart game then Pac-Man Rally will be glaringly familiar to you, but is that such a bad thing in a game aimed at children? Not really, but only as long as you pull it off.

And, for the most part, they have done. Namco-Bandai and Smart Bomb have produced a fun, charismatic racer that, while it may not be a patch on Mario Kart, is a good budget game to play with your children. Called Pac-Man World Rally in America and Japan, it's a lovable game that celebrates the history of both Namco, and Pac-Man himself.

Developed by fledgling studio Smart Bomb Interactive, the similarities to Nintendo’s racer series are so obvious, that anyone who has played both these games will notice it straightaway. When you start Pac-Man Rally, you have the choice of playing in Circuit Mode, doing a Quick Race, Time Trial, or Battle, with multiplayer options available inside all these sections. In the Circuit Mode, you race through various cups, but where Mario Kart usually has four, Pac Man has five, with four courses in each. While the final cup is just a compilation of the best races, it's a good showing for what you might assume would otherwise be a game with a lack of content. The courses range from desert, to ice, to jungle, and achieve a good sense of variety while playing through.

For adults, the AI opposition in the game are far too easy. But, there are a few difficulty settings, and they’re geared at children so they can start at the lower level and work up – providing replay value. Only the very highest difficulty level with prove a challenge for adults, but even then you'll probably be able to breeze past the majority of challenges each track throws at you.

Yes, it's surprisingly fun!

The 16-strong character list involves all the favourites from the Pac-Man and Namco universe, and while many will be oblivious to the majority of them, for fans of all things Pac-Man, it's a great selection, including Blinky, Ms. Pac-Man (as well as the man himself of course) and most of the enemies that have appeared in the series so far. Named Cherry, Grape, Watermelon, Classic and Rally, the 15 courses in each cup are just as diverse and fun-filled as the characters themselves. Many moving objects litter the tracks and they're far more exhilarating to race on when compared to Mario Kart. Huge spiders, roaming animals, gargantuan jumps, and wide roads promote action packed and exciting gameplay, but where Mario Kart relies on the opposition, weapons and skill of driving, Pac-Man ditches these in favour of the more breathtaking levels.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but you have to consider that the AI is very easy, and the weapons in the game are almost carbon-copies of Mario Karts, with Green unguided Pac-bombs, red homing ones, and blue, which take out the leader of the pack. With the busy environments, you wont really have time to plan like you do in other kart racers and will probably just end up relying on your speed, or the Red bomb, rather than thinking about it all and saving them, or using the Blue one on the last lap for example. You also get a dummy power-up box, an atomic pellet (which gives you bursts of speed), a snowman, which throws snowballs at other players and spins them out if hit, and finally, the storm cloud, which rains over all the other karts and slows them down while making the track slippery.

A nice touch also is the ability to pick up three of the same weapon by driving through a green item box, giving a real advantage in the closing stages of a race. It is certainly a shame however, that the more inventive of these weapons weren't replicated throughout, and some special power-ups which are unlocked, including the Galaga Ship, which acts as an automated turret on top of your kart and Siria the Ice Dragon from Dragon Spirit that drops ice blocks behind your car to protect you and potentially spin out opponents are just two examples to show that imaginative weapons are possible in this sort of game.

Collect the pellets to activate the Pac-Mobile, and attempt to gobble up all the racers ahead of you to unlock extras

These memories from other Namco games are a nice touch and similarly you can race around a Katamari Damacy themed course and unlock the Prince to play as in the game. It's a great touch, especially for someone who loves Katamari as much as me – the Classic Cup contains relics from many other Namco titles too, with the Galaga Outpost, a classic Pac-Man retro maze and a Dig-Dug level providing Namco themed fun on top of the Katamari extras.

Controlling the karts themselves is very easy, so as to give you full enjoyment from each course. This means there's no real skill to the game, although Namco have provided some content in there for adults. You have to collect fruit in order to open up shortcuts on each track, and finding and using these on each level will prove a challenge. Also, when you collect enough Pac-Dots, you can initiate the Pac-Mobile. This basically transforms your kart into a huge mechanical Pac-Man and turns all the other racers into blue ghosts, allowing you to chase them for a very short amount of time – gobbling them up and earning Ghost Currency, unlocking the special powerups mentioned earlier. It's really quite charming, and works brilliantly in the context of the game.

Another innovation is the Guardians, which protect your kart from attack after you fill a power slide bar. R1 causes your kart to jump, and you can then drift round corners, going through different colour slides until eventually gaining a boost if you can hold it for long enough – again, like Mario Kart. However, once you do enough drifts and fill up a gauge, you can then press Circle to use a guardian to block enemy attacks. You get a brief warning before an attack is about to hit, and at times in each race you'll be bombarded by many enemies at once, particularly if you're at the front, so this can often become a very useful tool providing you are skilful enough to fill it up in time for when it's needed. It's these little extras that give adults that extra bit to aim for, and while the whole game is clearly aimed at lower age groups, don't think that they haven't tried to add an element of skill and ability in there – for the mostpart it works too.

Rainbow Road? Don't be silly, that's in Mario Kart – oh wait…

The other stand out mode is Battle, which puts you in six specifically designed arena maps, based on some of the other courses. Unique weapons such as a banana ram, blueberry blasters and cherry bombs (or a battering ram, rockets and mines) make up the best part of this fun and in depth multiplayer. Health can be picked up and overall, it's probably more substantial than Mario Kart's, although perhaps not as polished. Playing with two people in the circuit mode is a great laugh and is of course much more challenging with a human opponent in the mix. It's disappointing you can't do four players matches, especially in Battle, but the amount of game types in this section: Deathmatch, Free for All, Last Kart Driving, Binge (collect the most fruit) and Classic (collect the most Pac-Dots) almost make up for it, and the AI in this section is a good deal better.

The graphics are pretty standard, with bright colours and fairly blocky textures – it looks like most children's games, but the atmosphere created on each level with these colours does make for an involving and exciting effect. Most of Namco's historic characters and locations are recreated brilliantly, and it's another fully packed title from the celebrated publisher-developers. Sound wise it's also good, with classic Pac-Man noises and background effects giving it real character throughout.

In all Pac-Man Rally is a fun game, aimed at children, but providing that little bit of appeal for adults, mainly from the unlockables, multiplayer and classic Namco characters and maps. It is too easy for older people, but is one of the best titles out there to play with a young one, with its charming fašade and options, probably thanks largely to using Mario Kart for much of its inspiration – but, who cares, the game works and is fun to play with young ones and is just right for that 20 minute party game as a laugh – racing round a Pac-Man maze as the Prince of All Cosmos was always going to be great fun, and is here.



Smart Bomb