Just another franchise kart game.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Smart Bomb Interactive must have been trying very hard to flatter Nintendo with Pac-Man World Rally. The game certainly does have its moments, but compared to Mario Kart, it falls short.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the gameplay; it’s just that if you go to such measures to copy somebody else’s game, I expect it to at least be on par with the copied game. The biggest problem is that the tracks just feel too cramped for a kart game. Not all of the stages suffer from this, but many do. In addition, the AI just isn’t very good. I didn’t find much of a difference between the Normal and Hard difficulties. Without a challenge, racing becomes more of an unlocking chore than anything. Besides the standard grand prix and time trial modes, the game includes several types of battle including deathmatches and collect-a-thons, which can provide a diversion.
Control should be familiar to anybody that’s ever played a Mario Kart game. Power slides and turbo starts are even included and work just like Mario Kart, except power slides can be charged up several more levels. Pac-Man World Rally was passed off as the fastest kart game ever. However, in actuality it often feels like it’s just plodding along. Some tracks do feel faster, but they are nowhere near the likes of games like F-Zero GX. In addition, there are load times, something I’m not used to in GameCube games. While not extremely long, they really do knock the wind out of the action.
I can’t overemphasize just how much Pac-Man World Rally “borrows" from Mario Kart. You don’t often see rip-offs this blatant from major publishers. The game even has penguins that slide across ice on their bellies. Almost all of the regular attack items work the same as in Mario Kart, including running/flying bomb equivalents to all three (red, green, blue) shell types with corresponding colors working exactly like their Mario Kart counterparts, aside from appearance. Attack items are found in boxes on the track and other familiar powers such as lightning, speed boosts, and fake boxes are also included. Up to three items can be stored at a time.
The new features that were added to Pac-Man World Rally compared to Mario Kart are mostly superfluous. Tiny Guardian Pac-Angels and Devils can be activated, but there really isn’t a good reason to use them. Fruit can be collected to open shortcuts on the track, not that they’re really needed.
One interesting feature is the ability to turn into a Pac-Mobile. Eating enough dots fills up a meter, and the Pac-Mobile power may be activated once the meter is full. This power turns your character and vehicle into a munching Pac-Man on wheels and all opponents turn into blue ghosts on unicycles. For a limited amount of time, the Pac-Mobile can eat the other drivers just like in the original Pac-Man arcade game. While the power isn’t that useful in itself, part of the challenge of the game is to see how many ghosts can be eaten – this is required to unlock everything in the game.
I can tell the developers must have had fun developing the game – the atmosphere is there. The game is chock full of classic and modern Namco characters and references including Galaga, Dig-Dug, and even Katamari Damacy, for the first time on a Nintendo console. There are four standard cups with fifteen tracks overall. A fifth cup runs players through single lap runs of all fifteen tracks. The tracks feature a wide variety of settings from standard outdoor racing and pirate ships to haunted mansions and a setting in space. Some of the arcade- themed tracks are neat, albeit tedious, such as driving around a Pac-Man maze. The funhouse track is like Rainbow Road on acid, with crazy multi-level racing and teleportation.
If you’re looking for a great kart game, stick with Mario Kart. If you really have the urge to play a kart game featuring Namco characters, then by all means, pick up Pac-Man World Rally.