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June 08, 2006

PREVIEW: Pac-Man World Rally

  • Release Date: Late July, 2006 (per Namco @ E3)
  • Platforms: PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, PSP, PC.

In recent weeks, I've posted some fun do-it-yourself efforts to celebrate the joy of Namco's Katamari Damacy. Today, I'm going right to the source.

First, here's Namco's delightful Japanese KD commercial.

Second, and more central to the point of this preview, is the fact that our intrepid starmaker, the Prince of All Cosmos, has finally thrown off the shackles of his walk-everywhere, roll-everything workaday world, and hopped into his sweet ride.

In a few weeks, Namco will release Pac-Man World Rally, and Katamari Damacy notwithstanding, it's an old-fashioned Namco Museum hoedown, since many of your favorite old-school Namco characters are playable. From obvious choices like Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man and the ghosts, to classic Namco characters like Dig Dug, Frygar, the Pole Position car and the Galaga ship, the gang's all here.

The meat of the game is a Mario Kart-style multiplayer racing game, though you can certainly play it solo if need be.

And speaking of Nintendo's successful multiplayer racing franchise, I'm sure that many companies would love to borrow the successful Mario Kart formula for their own purposes. However, there are not very many that have the stable of fun, iconic characers to make multiplayer and unlockables a meaningful experience.

Many companies have lots of games...
...Fewer have iconic franchises...
...Even fewer have iconic characters...
...And fewer still have the kind of characters that would make sense in a cartoonish multiplayer racing game.

Namco is one of a select few companies (Sony Computer Entertainment being another) that can pull it off. Yes, I realize that Solid Snake (from Konami's Metal Gear Solid franchise) will be making a cameo appearance in the new Smash Bros. game for Nintendo's Wii console, but that's that's one of a few exceptions that prove the rule.

Don't believe me? Well, let's take a look at the rest of Konami's catalog. Sure, they've got Frogger and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I guess, but to achieve critical mass, they'd need a lot more than that. Would you be very excited about a Mario-Kart clone featuring the cast of Castlevania and the good townspeople of Silent Hill? Me, not so much. Yes, I know they have great games like Winning Eleven, But how do you propose we shoehorn the Real Madrid footballers into a racecar? What? Have Beckham drive the team bus? Actually, that might work... OK, now I'm getting sidetracked. You see my point, though...right?

But back to the game. In addition to the core racing mode, there's also a Twisted-Metal style Battle Mode, and despite the formidable title, is actually pretty fun and whimsical. In Battle Mode, you use several produce-themed weapons, but instead of mushrooms and banana peels, you employ the Banana Rammer, Watermelon Spitter and the Strawberry Guided Missile.

Bottom line, Pac-Man World Rally is a fun game that parents and kids will enjoy together. If you're a fan of Namco's characters and/or cartoony racing games, resist the temptation to dismiss it as simply a poor man's Mario Kart. I was ready to do just that before E3. Then I played it.


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