Pac-Man World 2 (PlayStation 2) Review

May 25, 2020

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again in the future: I love 3D platformers. For a multitude of reasons, the genre tickles my fancy like few others can. So, in the pursuit of more 3D platformers to play, I picked up Pac-Man World 2.

            Released in 2002 for PlayStation 2, Nintendo Gamecube, Xbox, and PC, Pac-Man World 2 is the action-packed successor to the titular dot-addict’s first 3D outing on the original Sony console.

            What makes this title particularly interesting to me is that it wasn’t developed by Namco Japan, despite the monumental legacy of the IP. But worry not: The team at Namco Hometek did what I consider absolutely phenomenal work bringing the series into the third dimension.

            Does that mean Pac-Man World 2 the next 3D platformer for you? Read on to maybe find out. I mean…I’m not here to tell you what to play.

Pac-Man World 2

Developer: Namco Hometek

Publisher: Namco

Release date: February 24, 2002

 

Gameplay

Pac-Man World 2 is a unique 3D platforming adventure set in the cute and colorful universe of everyone’s favorite pellet-muncher. As you might imagine, World 2 is a direct continuation of the trail its predecessor blazed—albeit somewhat grander in scope and scale.

            You’ll access the relatively brief levels from a sprawling map (not a hub world). Each level is a largely linear affair—more like Super Mario 3D World than Banjo-Kazooie—populated with a plethora of platforms, enemies, and items. Even though I straight-up hated some levels for their difficulty, I always appreciated the smart design nonetheless.

            What separates Pac-Man World 2 from its contemporaries is the titular protagonist’s set of abilities. Pac-Man’s “butt-bounce” functions more or less like a ground-pound (albeit one you can perform repeatedly with no lost momentum). Pac-Man’s flip kick is an aerial kick good for taking out enemies above you. And Pac-Man’s rev roll is a chargeable speed boost used for soaring over large gaps.

            This title employs a number of neat mechanics that go a long way toward spicing up the experience. There are switches, moving platforms and “helivators”, “B-doings”, chests and crates, and Pac-Dot chains, all of which affect your progression through levels in some way.

            Green switches, used only once, change something in the environment, such as starting moving platforms. Orange switches, used multiple times, are timed switches that activate items or other mechanics. I liked how the game implements switches, even if the use of green switches led to backtracking in some levels.

            Moving platforms are exactly what you’d expect. They move up, down, side-to-side—you get the drift. Helivators shake things up a bit in that Pac-Man must rev roll to power their movement. I thought Helivators were a pretty neat concept. Anything that makes good use of a character’s special attributes is appreciated.

            B-doings are the game’s trampolines. A standard B-doing launches Pac-Man a short distance into the air; an angled B-doing l uanches Pac-Man in a specified direction; and a super B-doing shoots Pac-Man farthest of all. You have to butt-bounce onto B-doings to use them, which was pretty cool.

            Chests and crates can be broken open with a butt-bounce, flip-kick, or rev roll to access collectibles, power-ups, or even enemies. (What a tease.) Crates can be opened at any time, but chests require a certain fruit to be unlocked.

            Pac-Dot Chains are the coolest mechanic by a long shot. The chain of dots starts with a red dot. Once you much that first dot, you’ll take a ride through the air to your next destination. It might sound kinda dumb, but I always found these chains to be such a thrilling diversion.

            Thanks to the interesting mechanics and solid level design on display here, I’ve gotta say that I really enjoyed the platforming. Not everything is totally perfect—as we’ll discuss going forward—but I’d be sorely lying to you if I said I didn’t have a good time.

            The core platforming is greatly enhanced the slew of collectibles scattered throughout the environments. Along the way, you’ll gobble up Pac-Dots, Power Pellets, Fruit, Tokens, Galaxian mazes, Extra Lives, Health Wedges, Power-Ups, and Golden Fruit to increase your score.

            The legendarily iconic Pac-Dots and Power Pellets are the game’s most plentiful pickups by far. A constantly gratifying collectible, there are often hundreds of Pac-Dots to plow through in each level. On the other hand, Power Pellets serve a tangible gameplay purpose, enabling Pac-Man to devour ghostly adversaries.

            Fruit and Tokens are the least essential but most valuable collectibles. Fruits provide purely a score bonus, albeit a rewarding one. Tokens do that in addition to unlocking classic Pac-Man titles in the arcade and opening up the museum in Pac-Village. (The Museum is where all the yummy extras reside.)

            You can also collect Bonus Tokens by completing time trials for levels. You unlock the time trial clock for each level after completing it, and from here, it’s your job to get to the end within the specified time limit to earn the token. (No dying, though, or else you start over.) The time trials in Pac-Man World 2 are very similar to those in Crash Bandicoot, and I loved having the mode available.

            Hidden throughout certain levels are Galaxians, which you can touch to access special mazes crafted in the style of Pac-Man’s classic outings. What you do here should be obvious: gobble up all the dots and don’t get caught by ghosts. I thought these mazes were a fantastic method of mixing up the core gameplay.

            Extra Lives are exactly what you expect, and Health Wedges replenish up your health meter. Power-ups, on the other hand, grant you some temporary ability. The Steel Ball power-up gives you a metal exterior; the Shrink power-up brings you down in size; and the Power Pellet, of course, lets you eat ghosts. These are the “survival set” of items, in a manner of speaking. They may not be as shiny, but they’re sure worth tracking down.

            I decided to save Golden Fruit for last because they aren’t a traditional collectible, per se, but rather something you earn as part of narrative progression. After defeating a boss, you’ll retrieve one Golden Fruit to bring back to Pac-Village’s Golden Fruit Tree. Once you’ve collected all Golden Fruits, you’ll be able to trap main antagonist Spooky in the tree’s roots and restore peace to the village.

            For the most part, collecting is a blast. And why wouldn’t it be? This is Pac-Man, the series that basically invented the collectathon. You’re bound to enjoy consuming collectibles, provided you have a strong enough resolve. (I do not—but we’ll get to that soon.)

            I had fun with the boss battles, as well. These range from fairly simple to irritatingly tense, but they all A) make use of Pac-Man’s unique attributes and B) enforce engaging completion criteria. My favorite fight by far was the final encounter with Spooky. Everything about it was wicked cool, dude.

            While some may disagree with me, I found the difficulty to ratchet up to a pretty ridiculous degree later in the game. Nothing was truly insurmountable—after all, I reached the end—but some levels frustrated me to the point of literal nausea. (The camera, as we’ll discuss later, didn’t help with that.)

            I think a big contributor to the overall frustration level is the game’s continue system. If you run out of lives, you have to restart the level completely. Although this was a very common design feature at the time, I’ve never been a huge fan of the practice. Even if the levels aren’t all that long to begin with, it was still infuriating to restart them again and again over really silly stuff.

            This arguably punishing continue system actively discouraged me from collecting items despite the fact that I really wanted to do so. Why, you may ask? Because, no matter how much I wanted to earn a higher completion percentage, no amount of struggle was worth gobbling up a few extra fruits. I just plain stopped caring once I reached the Lava world.

            (Fun fact: According to Wikipedia, in the Japanese release, the difficulty is drastically decreased, bosses have half of their original health, and a handful of levels are shortened. Lucky folks.)

            Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed Pac-Man World and all it had to offer. In short, if you love running and jumping through self-contained levels, you’ll probably get a kick out of this.

Content

Pac-Man World 2 is filled to the absolute brim with cool stuff to do—so much so that I’m not sure where to begin. How about we crunch the hard numbers first?

            This title boasts 25 levels spread across six distinctive worlds. While the levels isn’t particularly long—most might last approximately 10 minutes at most—I felt that the package was more than complete. Y’all know good and well I don’t like long levels. (Much to my dismay, the last level before the boss was a lengthy maze sequence. It was just so delightful.)

The sheer volume of pickups stuffed into each level is what really extends the longevity of the experience. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a whole lot of crud to collect, so if that’s your forte, you’re in good shape.

            In addition to traditional levels, there are also 16 Galaxian mazes to discover and unlock. I discussed earlier that I enjoyed these classic homages, and that certainly hasn’t change since I started writing this section. These mazes provide that much more content for you to sink your teeth into.

            From what I’ve read and seen online, it seems that most competent players can knock out the core story in about 3 to 4 hours. Because I’m an incompetent doofus, it took me just over 8 hours to reach the credits. Most of that time was spent fighting to overcomethe absolute horror-fests that are the Snow Mountain and Lava worlds. I truly loathed those worlds.

            On the bright side, I don’t have to be a decent gamer to enjoy all the phenomenal extras on display. (Well…I guess I have to be a decent gamer to unlock all of them, which I haven’t.) Depending on the number of tokens you possess, you’ll be able to play Pac-Man, Pac-Attack, Pac-Mania, and Ms. Pac-Man, as well as listen to the game’s soundtrack on the jukebox.

            With enough tokens, you can also “repair” the Museum, a happy hollow of concept art, deleted scenes, and a photo of the developers. Y’all know I love all that silly stuff—but I’ll admit that I haven’t unlocked it yet. What can I say? I’m a pleb.

            Did somebody say “options”? No, but I wanted to segue into that part of the discussion. Here, you can adjust the sound, screen size, brightness, and vibration. Configure that crud however you like.

            All in all, Pac-Man World 2 is a deliciously meaty package. Even though I haven’t been able to experience everything the game has to offer yet, I’m just so tickled to know it’s all there waiting for me.

Controls

Although I can’t say Pac-Man World 2 controls poorly, per se, something about it always felt “off” to me throughout the entire experience. I’ll try my best to put this vague sensation into words.

            Just to be clear, I really dig the simplistic and intuitive control scheme. You walk with the directional buttons or left analog stick, jump with the cross-button, butt-bounce by double-tapping the cross button, flip kick by pressing the cross-button then square-button, rev roll by holding and releasing the square-button, and interact with the triangle-button.

            All of these inputs generally hit the mark, but there were occasional goofs. For instance, the automatic ledge-grab became incredibly annoying while I was trying to stand on top of a tumbling platform and couldn’t get up—falling to my untimely death instead.

            There’s one thing I wanna be very straight-up about: I didn’t not like the camera—at all. While I hate to be such a Negative Nancy™ about this, the wonky camera was a very consistent issue. The camera had a really nasty habit of getting stuck in the worst possible places at the worst possible times, sometimes arbitrarily increasing the difficulty of navigating levels.

            Most of the camera’s problems come from the game’s frequent push-and-pull between fixed camera and free camera moments. Sometimes, the game wouldn’t let me move the camera at junctures I felt would be appropriate, and other times, the camera just wouldn’t just go the right way at all. I would leave a fixed camera section only for the camera to be in front of me, which was the last thing I needed.

            Honestly, if I just been able to manipulate the camera the way I wanted when I wanted, the entirety of Pac-Man World 2 would’ve been much more manageable. You have to be understanding of this fact going in or risk giving up on an otherwise very enjoyable game experience.

            My recommendation? Power through the mild jank. The game has so much to offer on a surface level and far beyond that.

Graphics/Presentation

Pac-Man World 2 is a gorgeous title in many respects. From both a technical and aesthetic perspective, I believe that this game hits all the marks—then runs back around and hits them again. (That’s my way of saying it goes above and beyond.)

            The visuals have a very real sense of personality to them. It’s clear to me that the artists took everything we know and love about Pac-Man and faithfully translated it in a new 3D world. Sure, this game may not be a series of pixellated blue lines and dots—but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel like Pac-Man.

            There’s lot of eye candy everywhere. The environments are cute, colorful, and littered a wide variety of enemies. When you collect items, you feel it not only in the burst of colors onscreen but also in the vibration of your controller.

            The story isn’t bad either. More than an excuse plot, Pac-Man World 2 sees Pac-Land’s balance upset when ghosts “unwittingly” steal the Golden Fruit from the Golden Fruit tree that keeps Spooky at bay. With the safety of the Pac-People in limbo, Pac-Man sets out to find the fruit and save the world. I genuinely like this narrative, no kidding.

            This wonderful narrative is enhanced by a colorful cast of characters, including Professor Pac, Pac-Ranger, Handy-Pac, and Sue. You’ll no doubt recognize Professor Pac, in particular, from his appearance in various other Pac titles. Something about the idea of one shared “Pac universe” is pretty amusing to me.

            And I can’t forget one of my favorite bits: the instruction manual. In short, it’s just beyond exquisite, man. This 32-page stack of paper—which I’m currently consulting to write this review—is darn-near bursting with useful (and fun) information. It’s manuals like this that remind how much worse off we are without them.

            If it’s not clear by now, I’m a huge fan of the presentation. Everything from the box art to even the heads-up display comes together in true visual harmony. 

Sound/Music

Pac-Man World 2 boasts a positively wonderful soundtrack. Unfortunately, I don’t possess a broad enough knowledge of music knowledge to explain it as specifically as I’d like, but I’m going to give you everything I can.

            The soundtrack is very, very fun. Each and every track is bursting with what I can only describe as “childlike glee.” While that may sound really weird, I think you’ll catch on to exactly what I mean the very second you pop in the game. This is such a happy flippin’ platformer, and the music makes the abundantly clear.

            I think this sense of joy is most evident in the menu theme, as well as the backing tracks of earlier levels like “Pac Village” and “B-Doing”. Heck, even the boss themes—all fantastic compositions, by the way—still radiate undertones of wackiness despite their more serious nature.

            I have to give the developers huge props for the expert sound effects, as well. This can practically screams “Pac-Man” at the top of its lungs—and you’re gonna hear it. By employing a finely-tuned selection of classic Pac-Man sounds and brand-new sounds, Pac-Man World 2 plays constant homage to its roots while simultaneously taking on a life of its own.

            This balance between new and old works beautifully in practice. I loved hearing the arcade sound effects back in action—like when Pac-Man chomps items or dies—in addition to new sound effects representing Pac-Man’s increased range of abilities—like when he revs up his roll or butt-bounces.

            The only criticism I have is the lack of voice acting. (I know that sounds weird, but hear me out.) The prerendered cutscenes at the beginning and end of the game have some voice acting. However, the in-engine cutscenes are text-only. I would’ve really appreciated it if there were voice acting throughout the entire saga.

            The audio design is, in a word, amazing, so there’s not I can complain about in this department. If delightful ditties and nostalgic nods are your thing, you’re in for one heckuva time.

I like Pac-Man World 2—I really, truly do—but something about it never fully “clicked” with me. While I was definitely compelled to see the credits, I was very off-put by the idea of jumping back in for 100 percent completion. Maybe it’s just me, but some of the game’s less-than-stellar elements can be somewhat grating after prolonged exposure.

            If you’re as big of a fan of 3D platformers as I am, you’re almost certain to enjoy this title just as much if not more than I do, so don’t let my inconsequential grievances steer you away. There’s a real gem buried here for those willing to do the digging. (Was that a suitable metaphor? I’m not really sure.)

            The bottom line is that I wholeheartedly recommend playing Pac-Man World 2, even if it hasn’t perfectly stood the test of time in every way. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide if you can look past all that and find the fun that lies within. 

            Keep it real, ya sweaty nerds. And join my Discord server, yeah?

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