Pac-Man’s wife has gone missing, and he doesn’t seem to care. His baby is gone, too – replaced by an imposter wearing a pink flower crown. In Pac-Man World Re-Pac, a remaster of the original 1999 game Pac-Man World, he seemingly holds a party for these interlopers, celebrating with cake and balloons. When they, along with Pac-Man’s closest friends, are kidnapped by the evil forces of Toc-Man, he seems devastated by their loss – and sets off on a grand platformer quest to save them.
In the original Pac-Man World, these imposters were not present. Instead, Pac-Man was working to save his real wife, Ms. Pac-Man, who’s since been caught up in a legal rights battle that has prevented her use in modern games. The result of this legal battle is that Pac-Man World Re-Pac is technically a solid remaster of a niche 1990s-era platformer – but one that also erases Pac-Man’s entire family tree. A minor foible, but one that should certainly be noted.
Thankfully, the brief family kidnapping only really serves as a loose narrative to keep Pac-Man searching through individual worlds, and it isn’t long before players are thrust into the Ms. Pac-Man-less action. Pac-Man World kicks off with a brief introductory cutscene featuring the noted imposters, and then sends players into a home world littered with challenging levels, each themed around a certain genre – Space, Ruins, Carnival, Ghost etc.
Pac-Man uses a range of attacks to traverse these levels – a Sonic-like spin-dash, an energy shooter, and a butt-first ground-pound. These are deployed to jump on floating platforms, swim through spike-filled rivers, and sail past great pits – each more dangerous than the last.
The first world, which consists of four pirate-themed levels, sets a fairly basic, linear tone for the entire game – a natural consequence of Pac-Man World being a PS1 classic. The limitations of this era are clear in every timing-based obstacle and challenge, with the game’s remastering only capable of freshening up the colours and atmosphere of the original tale.
In recreating the entire adventure from scratch, new developer Now Production has injected the action with a renewed sense of life – fountains ooze and fall gloriously, hit boxes are neat and tidy, and environments shine brilliantly – but the basic combat and level design make the entire experience feel bland – particularly without the aid of nostalgia.
Backtracking is the main feature that holds Pac-Man World back from excellence. As mentioned, levels are fairly linear – but if you want to find every collectible along your path, you’ll need to grab special fruits hidden around each stage, and then backtrack to find a cage that can be opened with that fruit, revealing more collectibles – like the letters ‘P’ ‘A’ ‘C’ ‘M’ ‘A’ ‘N’. If you find all the collectibles and unlock every stage, you can enter bonus rounds to win more points.
But that requires a lot of backtracking – sometimes, through entire 15-minute levels, at the risk of Pac-Man’s health and new enemy encounters. If you pull off a tricky jump, the satisfaction may be only momentarily as the game asks you to continuously loop back around, and around again, to find every fruit and unlock every cage.
If you miss any collectible, you’ll need to hop in and complete the entire level again – a process that encourages unfortunate tedium in gameplay. The first levels maintain a breezy sense of colour and fun, but even hours into the game, the repetition of fruit-finding and back-tracking wears thin. It doesn’t help matters that Pac-Man’s ground-pound uses the same buttons as a double-jump, so that those with platformer muscle memory will find themselves constantly hitting the floor, or falling down holes along the way.
What saves Pac-Man World Re-Pac from seeming entirely devoid of fresh ideas is the game’s boss fights and special stages. While the vast majority of explorable levels feature standard platforming ideas that feel naff and worn-out, every fourth level is a boss battle that breaks out of platformer bounds.
The first major boss, HMS Windbag, is a flying ship that flings constant cannonballs at Pac-Man. To defeat the ship, our hero must correctly time ground pounds with cannonball blasts to fling the projectiles back at Windbag. Later, the ‘Ruins’ boss, Anubis, must be defeated using Pac-Man’s run attack in clever ways.
Then, there’s the Clown Prix boss stage.
In the middle of Pac-Man World Re-Pac, you’re suddenly thrown into a Mario Kart-style racer, with your only goal being to nab that shiny first place. There’s no combat in this stage, just a frantic ducking, diving, and weaving car race filled with obstacles and dazzling colour. It’s a breath of fresh air that feels novel – particularly after hours of pulling off the same jumping, hitting and spinning manoeuvres.
Later in the game, there are also one-off wild chase levels, and a handful of new gimmicks that keep the action ticking along. One of these is the inclusion of classic Pac-Man stages, unlocked by collecting the PACMAN letters, fruits, and special items in cages.
There are dozens of original Pac-Man stages included as bonuses in Pac-Man World, with each being more frantic than the last. These rounds aren’t particularly challenging – as in the original Pac-Man – but they are very good fun, and maintain a real sense of classic charm. They’re a nice touch, and help to diversify the action of Pac-Man World Re-Pac.
When taken as a package deal, Pac-Man World Re-Pac is a fascinating relic from the history of Pac-Man, despite the odd wife exchange. It’s a glimpse at an era that’s long gone by, a time when platformers were the blockbuster games of the world, and when simplistic level design and cute set dressing was enough to make games classics.
While Pac-Man World‘s gameplay doesn’t quite shine in 2022 – an era where games have evolved far beyond the need for constant back-tracking and filler content, this remaster is still a loving ode to Pac-Man, and refreshes the original game with style, colour, and tight controls.
This franchise certainly hasn’t enjoyed the longevity of its nearest character platforming rivals – Crash Bandicoot, namely – but revisiting the original entry is certainly an illuminating and nostalgic experience. It’s a colourful reminder of simpler times.
3 stars: ★★★
Pac-Man World Re-Pac
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Windows PC,
Developer: Now Production
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Release Date: 25 August 2022