You know a video game character has faded from relevance when its "intellectual property" spits out a rally racing game in frustration. For every Mario Kart there are piles of pitiful cash-in dreck that go from the development cradle directly to the bargain bin grave.
Pac-Man World Rally, surprisingly enough, bucks this trend to a certain degree, by somehow managing to salvage archaic ideas like dot-munching and power pellets into elements that don't seem entirely out of place. Each character - Ms. Pac-Man, the ghosts, Pac-Devil and several others - drives a different goofy vehicle belonging to one of three weight classes. We don't recall Pac-Man having an ATV, but we're willing to look the other way when he's racing next to Katamari Damacy's tiny Prince.
Apart from a unique retro trip through the Pac-Man maze and a surprising Galaga crossover, the fifteen courses run the usual gamut from haunted house to factory to pirate ship. They're still quite well designed, however, striking a keen balance between challenging power-slide turns and no-brainer straightaway jumps, without ever losing sight of the decidedly younger target audience these characters appeal to most. The eye-catching art direction of the environments, and the high quality of the accompanying music, actually seem somewhat out of place, easily out-pacing the luke-warm expectations such a stale license warrants.
As you tear around each track you fill up a meter with the dots floating here and there. Collect enough and everyone turns into a ghost for you to chew through. Fruit bonuses even make a useful appearance: Grab a cherry, watermelon, or grape to open that track's short-cut, then pick up another piece of fruit to gain passage next time you pass. There's a predictable assortment of weaponry as well, mostly amounting to either bombs you drop behind you or bombs that grow legs and tear off in front of you. This stuff isn't going to set the world of fire, but it beats the usual "throw mascot A on track B and release to retail" crapfest.
Sure, there's absolutely nothing about the basic gameplay that'll knock your socks off, whether you're testing a time trial, running a circuit, or just getting in a quick one-off race, but navigating the pretty scenery controls well enough to be enjoyable in its anachronistic way. The only exception is the utterly half-assed Battle mode, with its endless circling and mindless firing, which is better off ignored completely.
You know, there's a little thing called the multitap that allows four people to play the same PS2 game. For whatever reason, you PS2 owners only get to hook up with one other gamer, as two-player split-screen is the option you're given. You may not be fighting over who gets to play anyway, but the feature would have been nice. Whatever platform you choose, Pac-Man isn't a stellar example of the genre, but it's not a shameless money-grab either. Perhaps there's still some life left in the elderly little yellow dude after all.