Version tested: PlayStation 2
Right, that's it. Enough is enough, Pac-Man. It's time for you to be packed off to Namco's Shady Pines Retirement Home for Rubbish Old Game Characters, where you can spend the rest of your days playing Bridge with the blokes out of Time Crisis and knocking back all the pills you like for all we care. Oh, and you can take that joke about pill popping in darkened rooms to the sound of repetitive beats with you, thanks very much.
Yes, it's time for another substandard 3D platforming adventure from our old yellow friend with the big cheeky grin and the soulless eyes that burn with the fire of a thousand nightmares. Pac-Man World 3 has been released to celebrate his 25th birthday, which doesn't really make us feel any better about the whole thing. Uncle Namco, if you're reading this, please take note: no one cares about rubbish old stuff. That is why we no longer have VHS tapes or Kenny Loggins or slavery. And that is why we could do without any more Pac-Man games, frankly.
But that hasn't stopped you churning out another one, has it? Ah, though - there's a new storyline! This time evil genius Erwin has created a machine that can enter the Spectral Realm, where the ghosts reside. Unfortunately, this has caused a bit of a problem - the Spectral Realm is collapsing into the real world, resulting in all sorts of chaos and mayhem that it's difficult to care about. Naturally it's up to Pac-Man to sort it out, but in order to do so, he'll have to join forces with a couple of old enemies.
Not the most original plot in the history of videogames, then, and sadly there's very little else that's remotely innovative about Pac-Man World 3. Once again your mission is to fight your way through a series of brightly coloured and often bizarrely lit environments, jumping across gaps, swinging on tree branches, hopping off floating platforms before they disappear and that sort of thing.
And once again, you need to collect all sorts of stuff along the way, from pills, pieces of fruit and health power-ups to keys, crystals and silver Pac-Man trophies. The most exciting pick-up is probably the Galaxian icon, which transports you to a classic 2D Pac-Man maze. There you can compete for more points and extra power-ups, and be thankful that videogames have come so far.
There's a bit of combat to be done, obviously - Pac-Man can pull off punches, spin attacks and rev rolls, which see him careering into enemies at speed. He can also do a butt bounce, which comes in handy for activating switches and jumping off trampolines as well as taking out baddies.
Then there are the various pill power-ups - the classic power pellet enables our hero to eat ghosts, while the electro-shock pellet allows him to fire off an electrical charge. The chrome pellet makes Pac-Man invincible, and the ribbon loop pellet lets him draw a circle of light which destroys any enemies caught in the middle.
Not a bad selection of power-ups or combat moves, then, and enough collectables to keep hardcore platform fans happy. So what's wrong with Pac-Man World 3, exactly? Well, for starters, there's an awful lot of repetition, to the extent that the game starts to feel like work. It's not very challenging, either. You're only likely to die because you missed a jump, or because the incredibly stupid camera decided to go all spatty again; so you end up just going through the same old motions over and over.
It doesn't help that there's too much backtracking, either. True, there are special devices which can take you back to previous points in the level by sending you soaring through the air, chomping a long line of pills along the way. But all too often this just serves to remind you how small and poorly designed the environments are.
To break things up a bit, there are points in the game where you get to play as ghosts Pinky and Clyde. Pinky can make transparent platforms solid, and Clyde can take out evil ghosts and create pathways. In other words, neither of them do anything particularly novel or exciting - but at least it makes a change from having to look at the back of Pac-Man's stupid yellow head.
Please understand, it's not that we've always hated Pac-Man - we respect the fact that he holds a well deserved place in the gaming hall of fame, and that once upon a time, he was an appealing character. But we do hate what they've done with him - in particular, the way that they've given him a voice so irritating it could cause eczema, and a series of wisecracks that make you long for Daxter's particular brand of sardonic humour.
It's to do with the way he looks, too. Pac-Man used to be a cute little space hippy. Now he's ugly and demonic and looks like he would creep in to your bedroom late at night, take off your big toe with a single bite and then cackle maniacally as he leapt up the duvet and started on your eyes.
The problem is, the original game was never about Pac-Man as a character full of personality with an arsenal of witty ripostes at his disposal - it was about the fact that he was a funky little icon in a game that was great fun to play, pure and simple. At the age of 25, he might have grown up, but he's grown into some kind of big, smug, hateful monster - imagine Jimmy Carr with jaundice and a giant obesity problem. A pleasing image in itself, obviously.
It's not that Pac-Man World 3 is intolerable to play; shonky camera and stuttering frame rate aside, it all works reasonably well, with plenty of elements from games like Jak and Daxter, Sly Raccoon and Ratchet and Clank making an appearance.
The problem is, it just can't compare to those games in terms of looks, or in terms of the amount of fun to be had - it has neither the charm, nor the innovation, nor the wicked guns, and therefore ultimately feels like a bit of a chore. And whenever Pac-Man opens his gaping maw to spew out yet another unfunny wisecrack, it feels like Uncle Namco is laying your gaming heritage out on the floor before you, tearing off its nipples and ripping out its lungs and stamping its face in. Happy birthday, Pac-Man, now go away.
4 / 10