After his first couple of interesting DS outings, Pac-Man takes a nosedive with this bland, confusing 3D platformer.
One of the best features in Pac-Man World 3 for DS is an interview with the creator of the original Pac-Man game, Toru Iwatani. The interview is told through photographs and captions displayed alternately on the two screens, and it's set to cute Pac-Man music. Iwatani tells the famous pizza story, which by now should be recorded on a hidden tape player so he can just press "Play" and randomly move his mouth until the interviewer is satisfied. The veteran game designer also stresses, repeatedly, that the original game's lasting appeal lies in its simplicity. The developers of Pac-Man World 3 for DS should have paid closer attention to Iwatani's words, because this clumsy game is not simple at all, and many of its problems could be attributed to that one fact.
The game is a stereotypical 3D platformer, a weak imitation of Super Mario 64 (hint: also available on the DS...) in which the main character jumps, punches, and butt stomps his way through a series of levels, while facing moronic enemies, awkward camera angles, and arbitrary collectible items. The only notable references to the original Pac-Man games are a handful of mini-boss events in which Spectral Enemies (not the original ghosts…those are now your friends) chase Pac-Man until he touches a special pellet, which reverses the food chain and allows him to chase down the Spectral Enemies (not ghosts!) until they're all gone. These sections would be legitimately entertaining and challenging, except that collecting the normal pellets nearby is optional (and useless), and that the maze designs are half-hearted at best. Sometimes these battles take place not on a maze but in a generic square room with one power pellet, which has to be given time to regenerate so you can defeat the multiple waves of Spectral Enemies (okay, so they look like ghosts, and they behave exactly like the original Pac-Man ghosts, but I'm telling you, the ghosts are now friendly, whereas these guys are ornery as hell).
So, if Pac-Man World 3 doesn't have much to do with the original character or game, is it at least fun on its own merits? Sadly, no. The fourteen levels (which are strung together in random order) are chock full of platforms, lava pits, invisible platforms, and even aerial tramways. These elements are not necessarily put together in a clever fashion, but even so, they would provide for some platforming fun if not for the camera problems. There is zero vertical control of the camera, and it isn't smart enough to tip up or down at opportune moments, so many jumps are blind leaps, and even routine platform jumping is made difficult because you can't easily gauge the distance from ledge to ledge. A first-person viewing mode might have helped in some of these situations, but that common feature is also missing.
Perhaps even worse is the bizarre mission objective structure. Other than the introduction and ending slideshows, which make no sense anyway, this game has no cut-scenes. There are no flybys to show you where to go, no remote cameras to show that a particular door has been opened by the switch you just pressed. Some of the levels are quite complex, with series of switches that must all be activated, but often you'll have no idea what the switches do after you hit them. There are also plenty of keys and crystal shards to collect, but sometimes they pop out of crates and dead enemies so fast that you don't see them before collecting them, and there is no inventory for key items. More than once, I backtracked through half a level to look for an item that I had already collected by accident. Most enemies just get in the way and can easily be avoided, but occasionally, you'll have to defeat all of them to proceed…which would be fine if the game gave any indication to that effect. The level design is so confusing that progression seems to happen by accident more often than not, a point reinforced, hilariously, by the abrupt way that levels end, usually in mid-jump or as you walk through a door that looks like any other, with plenty of real estate on the other side that you'll never explore, because the next level is sure to dump you into a completely unrelated environment.
Sure, this is a game for kids, but there's more to that label than cute character designs and cartoonish violence. (Why is Pac-Man punching enemies instead of eating them?) Kids and adults alike will be frustrated by moves that only work in special, unmarked locations, like the ledge grab and wall jump. Players of all ages will get bored of clobbering the same old enemies, who never fight back and always spawn from the same places. And what kid has the patience to wait over a minute for a moving platform to circle back around?
If Pac-Man World 3 had a saving grace, it would be the "VR Maze" mini-game, which is an accurate enough recreation of the original Pac-Man game on the touch screen, while a zoomed-in 3D version shows on the upper screen. The included touch controls are garbage, but the control pad works fine, and all the classic sound effects are in place. It's too bad that "VR Maze" only consists of one level and doesn't keep scores, because it could have been a meaty diversion from the main game.
Overall, this game has plenty of content but simply not enough quality to be recommended, even to kids. The technical ambition is overcome by nonsensical design and a general lack of creativity. For your Pac-Man fix, both Pac-Pix and Pac 'n Roll are better options on the DS. As for 3D platformers, Super Mario 64 DS is still the only one worth playing.