Pac-Man World 3

Delectable treats adorned with fruit and tasty power pellets await. Just don't call him Big Poppa.

2005 marks Pac-Man's 25th anniversary and Namco, in typical Namco style, has been big pimpin' the little guy throughout the year, what with Pac-Pix, Pac N' Roll, and now Pac-Man World 3, the sequel to the best selling series, except this time the little guy isn't just going to make a splash onto the PS2. His adventure will also appear on the Xbox, GameCube, PSP, and the PC. I've been gobbling up ghosts and butt bouncing my brains out with the PS2 version, and I must say that the game is quite delightful.

To celebrate his 25th birthday, Pac-Man's wife and kids decided to bake big poppa a cake, a delectable treat adorned with fruit as well as those tasty power pellets, but before he can dive into it he suddenly disappears, then reappears dangling from a tree branch. Then he vanishes again, only to reappear high atop a roof. A couple strange sequences later and he disappears for good. Apparently, one of those pesky ghosts was messing with a classic Pac-Man arcade machine and that caused some rumblings in Pac-Man's otherwise peaceful (and possibly gated) community. But there's more to this mystery than just a bothersome spirit. There's this deranged yet ridiculously intelligent egg head evil scientist named Erwin lurking about, and by the looks of him (and he looks super slim shady), genius boy's up to a lot of no good. Being that this game is called Pac-Man World 3 there's only one hero who can stop him, and as Pac-Man, you must make your way through numerous worlds, beating up enemies, consuming tasty ghosts, and gobbling up as many power pellets as you can fit into your enormous jaws.

There are actually quite a few different environments in this game, each of which features a distinct theme. The first area, for example, is called the Bot Boatyard, a dank and horrible place full of toxic goo, busted up robot parts, and some enemies that aren't quite happy to see Pac-Man. Luckily, he's able to perform a few deadly maneuvers including a wicked punch, a burst roll attack not unlike Sonic the Hedgehog's, and finally, a very useful butt bounce that can be used to happily squash bugs and break apart wooden boxes. He can also swing on poles, ascend fences, slide along cliff edges, and unleash Force Lightning, which I'm still not used to seeing. At any moment, I'm just waiting for Pac-Man to scream UNLIMITED POWER!!!!!!

Other locales include the Wastelands as well as the Spectral Realm, the spooky dimension where those bothersome ghosts reside. All of these places are packed full of moving platforms, stuff to collect, ramps to burst along, and various puzzles to solve. Actually, Pac-Man World 3 is just your typical cookie cutter platform game. It feels like a billion other games that have come before it, yet the levels are so colorful and detailed and Pac-Man looks so adorably cute that it has a certain charm all its own.

It also helps that Namco's integrated the classic Pac-Man formula into the 3D gameplay. Collecting power pellets never gets old, and you can use the special ones to consume ghosts as well as perform attacks on the game's other enemies. Surrounded by non dead foes, all Pac-Man has to do is run a sloppy looking circle around them and that bottled up power will destroy his adversaries.

Pac-Man World 3 looks and sometimes feels deceptively simple, but don't be surprised if you get stuck on a puzzle or die several times in a row. His health meter, represented as a tiny Pac-Man located at the bottom right corner of the screen, is divided into three equal pie wedges, and each time he's hit he loses a piece, so it only takes three quick strikes to kill him. This includes being attacked by enemies as well as falling into the strange ooze that pops up in several of the game's levels, so you always need to keep an eye out for more health.

This game's most interesting draw is your ability to play as Pinky and Clyde. In fact, the game hints at Pac-Man and his mortal enemies needing to team up to defeat their common foe. I'm not going to spoil this for you, but it certainly raises some questions, the most interesting being, what happens after they defeat Erwin (providing they/YOU can)? Will this mean the end of a 25 year old feud, as the Pac family and the ghosts break bread and celebrate all of the major holidays, or will things go right back to normal? Whatever the outcome, it should make for an interesting conclusion.

Being that this game marks an anniversary Namco has included some bonus extras, the most obvious being the classic Pac-Man arcade game. There's also a pretty lengthy interview with creator Toru Iwatani, and then the best feature of all (or at least the best one that I've uncovered), special mazes that allow you to enjoy classic Pac-Man gameplay but in full 3D. There's actually quite a few of these boards and they're an absolute joy to play, especially since they feature some cool things such as speed bursts and this annoying little guy that drives onto the maze and replaces power pellets that Pac-Man's already eaten.

The game doesn't disappoint me, though I am a bit put off by the dialogue. While there's plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor, most of the jokes are far from being laugh worthy. However, at the very least Namco decided to make Pac-Man sound his age. Playing Pac N' Roll on the DS, I still cannot get past his "boo-ku-ku-ku-ku" language and his man child voice.

Since Namco is celebrating Pac-Man's first quarter century I would have thought the company would've given Pac-Man World 3 a little more oomph, but what's here is extremely enjoyable in part because it follows simple yet fun platform rules. The constant jumping, pellet consuming, and box breaking never gets old, and as I said, it's a charming title. Plus, it's an excellent game for kids. Pac-Man World 3 will not in any way revolutionize its genre, but it's just a damn good videogame, and because of that, I'm anticipating its November 1 release.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.