With the Nintendo Switch’s Virtual Console service being continuously delayed and possibly being revamped completely, the wait for emulated retro titles has so far only come in the form of Neo Geo offerings. These titles are sure to tide many over with their classic necessities, but it’s hard to not say the variety from most third parties is quite shallow. But for now, Bandai Namco has jumped in with Namco Museum, an 11-game collection that includes titles from the publisher’s arcade heyday along with some noted surprises. But, is this collection worth your time and money on the Switch for a simple trip down nostalgia lane?
Namco Museum is unlike any of Namco’s previous retro game collections. Sure, the inclusions of Pac-Man, Galaga, and Dig Dug shouldn’t come as a shock as they’re essentially the backbone of Namco’s storied arcade history. However, it’s the likes of Splatterhouse and the 2003 Nintendo-developed Pac-Man Vs. from the Gamecube that are a welcome addition which give this collection a bit of new life. The other entries rounding out the game also include Galaga ‘88, Rolling Thunder (1986), Rolling Thunder 2 (1990), Sky Kid (1985), Tank Force (1991) and The Tower of Druaga (1984).
Many of these games you have certainly played before, and all of them (in their proper arcade form to boot), are emulated to great care and look fantastic in all their pixelated glory on a great HD screen. In addition 10 of the 11 games are accompanied with an arcade cabinet border to make the classic aesthetic feel a little more authentic. But what about the games that populate this collection? Well, Pac-Man is as timeless and iconic as it once was in the early 1980s; Dig Dug is still charming and a great example of Namco’s early days of thinking outside of the box in terms of development. In addition, Galaga continues to be an addictive sci-fi shoot-em-up even with the many homages it helped inspire.
Each game, with the exception of Pac-Man Vs. comes with two modes of play: Normal and challenge mode. The former is what you would expect out its namesake, whereas the latter has more up its sleeve. In challenge mode, you will be given the opportunity to take on achievement-esque specific goals in mind. For example, munching on a certain number of ghosts in Pac-Man in a given time frame or beating a level in Galaga with a set number of lives or enemies. Also, no matter what mode you play, your scores can be uploaded onto an online leaderboard for extra bragging rights if you dare. All in all, challenge mode offers more reasons to play through several of these arcade classics with the incentive of completing each and every task it throws at you. It’s both fun and slightly frustrating…in a good way, to be frank.
Other features worth noting are the obvious multiplayer modes, which come handy for the Switch and its Joy-Con controllers (and for the portability factor). There’s also the option to rotate the screen by 90 degrees to get the full arcade feel. Yeah, for some it makes no sense while in TV mode, but with the Switch undocked and placed on a table it makes for a neat visual option. It also helps that the entire interface and presentation of Namco Museum is clean and quick to access when wanting to suspend play in a game or change one on the fly.
While many of these classic Namco titles are sure to entertain those who grew up with them, I couldn’t help but find myself not too attracted to entries like Sky Kid, The Tower of Druaga, and even Tank Force. I’m not saying that these are bad games by any means (far from it, even if I’m aware The Tower of Druaga has a cult following among retro gamers), but they failed to hold my interest despite knowing they have their legion of fans — I guess I’m just weird about it altogether. One could argue that their inclusion is meant to add more variety to this collection. I’m inclined to agree, but one would figure that something like Xevious or Mr. Driller would’ve been an obvious choice to go along as well. Objections aside, that doesn’t take away from the collection’s surprise entry and crown jewel: Pac-Man Vs.
The remastered HD port of Pac-Man Vs. is both a joy and addictive experience, especially with the Switch’s portability. Now, for those who aren’t familiar with this version, the idea of Pac-Man Vs. was originally brought together by Shigeru Miyamoto and released on the Gamecube in 2003. The objective with Vs. is that three players control the ghosts, while another controls Pac-Man. The catch? Well, the Ghosts would be viewable on a TV and controlled with Gamecube controllers, whereas the person controlling Pac-Man would use a Game Boy Advance and a link cable in order to see the whole maze out from the other three’s view. On the Gamecube, it was a quirky, yet imaginative concept back then and now it finally gets some new life on the Switch. But, with some necessary changes, of course.
With Pac-Man Vs. being on the Switch, you are given two options to play considering the second screen mechanic of the original isn’t possible with one console. One is original mode (2-4 players) where will you need TWO Nintendo Switch consoles to have the full Vs. experience with friends. If one other person doesn’t own Namco Museum on their Switch, don’t worry. You will be able to download a free app from the eShop so that you can enjoy playing as either Pac-Man or the ghosts in all of its dual-screen glory. The second mode is Single Console (1-3 players), which allows three players to play as the ghosts but not as Pac-Man who is a CPU. The addition of this second mode is wise knowing that even playing against a computer-controlled Pac-Man is still fun and a tad chaotic with two other friends at your side.
Simply put, the presence of Pac-Man Vs. on this collection is practically worth it for the price alone. For those who either adored the Gamecube original concept or missed out on it due to its constraints with the GBA and link cable, you won’t be disappointed in this HD remaster when you bust this out at a party with friends. A game with this type of concept deserves a second look.
While Namco Museum may seem to be a tad pricey for the small amount of arcade classics it has (along with its egregious omissions), it makes up for it with a ton of options. The challenge mode for each classic game is great, the emulation is crisp, the presentation is smooth, it has a phenomenal port of Splatterhouse, and the mere inclusion of Pac-Man Vs. makes the entire package alone worth the $30 asking price. Sure, some exclusions of classic Namco titles like Xevious or Pole Position is a bummer if some of the included games don’t keep you entertained long enough, but you’re still getting a nice little sampling of Namco’s gloried arcade past. Whether it’s the timeless charm of Pac-Man, the pixelated bloody fun of Splatterhouse, or the massively underrated Pac-Man Vs, Namco Museum offers plenty of good-natured nostalgia on-the-go for Nintendo Switch even if one title almost overshadows the other.
Review: Namco Museum (Nintendo Switch)
While this latest collection of Namco classics may seem pricey at first given the amount of content, it’s the options, presentation, emulation, the inclusion of an HD remaster of Pac-Man Vs., and portability that make it worth Switch owners’ attention.