Review: Pac-Man Kart Rally (Xbox Live)
Oh dear. Last week's release of a comedy kart driving game in the Xbox Live store caught my eye, as it's a genre that I enjoy. It's got a huge amount of branding over it so you never forget that this is a Pac-Man game (no I'm not going to capitalise it all the way through the review), but it's missing many elements that could make it an acceptable game.
Version Reviewed: 220.127.116.11
I tend to look past whatever branding exercise goes on around a karting game, and look at four factors; basic driving, 'trick' driving, opponent AI, and the pick-ups. Get them right, the rest of the game follows. So how does Pac-Man Kart Rally measure up?
Let's start with basic driving, i.e. the user interface while playing the game, because if that doesn't work well then there's no point carrying on with the game. The basic controls in Pac-Man Kart Rally are adequate and no more. You can turn either using the accelerometer, or using two on-screen buttons at the left and right. Neither are particularly accurate, but that's more down to the design of how your kart turns.
On turning, you don't see any movement in your kart, the whole landscape rotates slightly. It's a disconcerting effect, providing you no feedback on how far you are turning the steering wheel. Other karting games will turn your kart a little as well as the landscape to provide this vital feedback. It's almost impossible to use the on-screen brake as well as the on screen turning controls because of the layout on the screen, so you're forced to use the analogue steering and restrict your thumbs to the brake (under the left thumb) and the power up activation button (under the right thumb).
Trick driving for me covers the specialist kart moves, such as drifting/power sliding your kart around the corner, getting power boosts from multiple drifts, drafting other Karts for extra speed... you won't find any of that here in Pac-Man Kart Rally. Your sole special move is to 'hop' up in the air.
With unresponsive basic controls and a lack of accepted kart genre special moves, Pac-Man is feeling a little bit rubbish so far. Unfortunately the computer AI and pick-ups don't improve the game. Even setting the difficulty level to expert, and giving the opposing karts half a lap head start, I was easily able to catch up to the other karts and overtake them. That's not the hallmark of a challenging game. It's also not helped that, of the many roadside obstacles, I felt like I was driving straight through them. Tree trunks should stop you driving, not act as a short cut!
Even the pickups are rather poorly thought out. There's the speed boost, the non-descript items you can throw at other carts, and the occasional cherry that gives you automatic steering for a short period of time, but there's nothing to make the game unique or stand out.
In fact the only effort that seems to have been made by the developers is to work in the Pac-Man theme. The sound effects are lifted from the original arcade game, the power-ups are based on items you can find in the maze, the different characters are either ghosts, Pac-Man variants, or pills (yes, you can drive as a pill).
Pac-Man Kart Rally has very little going for it. The controls are poor, the AI is weak, the course design is not interesting at all. It has all the trappings of a kart game, with different types of racing, from tournament and single races to time trial and multiplayer modes. It's just missing a certain something?
What is it?
Oh yes. Fun.
Pac-Man Kart Rally is not fun to play. And that, frankly, overrides any other concerns, however legitimate they may be, however much they damage the core game. If something is fun then I'll cut it a lot of slack. Pac-Man gets no slack here.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at