Namco Museum (Switch) Review
Namco is an old hand when it comes to the world of retro game compilations, for over 20 years they have been bringing their classic arcade titles back to the masses in various collections. From Namco Museum 64 on the N64 to this latest version on the Nintendo Switch they have brought their collections to every Nintendo platform (barring the Wii U) for near on 20 years. Namco Museum for the Switch is the latest offering of theirs and it brings in a couple of new faces showing up on Nintendo Hardware for the first time.
Going into this I’d never been a huge fan of Namco’s classic arcade titles – most of them came out just before I started venturing into arcades in the early 90’s. Sure, I’ve played the likes of Pac-Man (who hasn’t, really?) and Galaga, but they weren’t a company that I thought of when I would think of classic arcade gaming action. I’ve always been more of a Capcom and Konami guy when it comes to arcades. Titles like Splatterhouse, Rolling Thunder, and even Dig Dug were completely unknown to me until the last 10 years or so. So it’s always fun diving into collections like these and getting to experience titles I’d never seen before.
The collection comes with 11 titles, 10 of which represent some of the very best of Namco’s 80’s and 90’s arcade action. First up you have the seminal Namco classic that really put them on the map – Pac-Man from 1980. We all know what Pac-Man is, so there’s no real need to go in-depth about it. Next up is Galaga, the sequel to the 1979 title Galaxian, arguably one of the most popular Space Invader clones from the era. Much like Pac-Man this really needs no introduction. Following hot on the heels of Galaga is 1982’s Dig Dug which is a game I knew of but had never played before this collection. In Dig Dug your goal is to progress through a series of screens eliminating all the monsters that inhabit the underground. You do this by either inflating them with an air pump until they explode, or crushing them underneath falling rocks created by the path you dig in each stage. I actually found this to hold up very well in this day and age and it was easily the game I put the most time into.
The Tower of Druaga from 1984 is quite the divisive game, it plays almost like a Fantasy RPG take on Pac-Man. You control your knight and move through a series of mazes, defeating various monsters lurking within, and make your way to the final floor and defeat the evil Duraga. From a historical standpoint this game Is very important and introduced a lot of elements we would see in later titles like The Legend of Zelda, but it has a lot of random and obtuse elements that may be off-putting to some. Next up is Sky Kid, a fun side-scrolling shooter from 1985. Your goal on each level is to collect a bomb located on the stage and use it to destroy a target, all the while shooting down the fleets of enemy planes. It’s about what you’d expect from a shooter of the era but I found this a lot of fun. It also features simultaneous co-op play, should you and a friend wish to play together (worth noting most of the games here do feature some form of multiplayer, be it alternating or simultaneous).
Next, we roll onto Rolling Thunder from 1986, it’s Namco’s early take on the Run & Gun genre (although it’s more Walk and Run here I guess). You control a Spy named Albatross tasked with rescuing a missing fellow agent who has been kidnapped by a villainous secret society. As with most games of this type you have to shoot down hordes of nameless goons. While your movement speed may not be that of Contra you can jump between levels on the stages or duck into various doors to dodge your enemies. The doors also contain extra ammo and different weapons to help you on your quest. It’s a tough as nails romp and one of the many highlights of the package. Next we have Galaga ’88 from 1987 (I guess sports games weren’t the first to launch next year’s version a year early). It’s pretty much a souped-up version of Galaga and easily outshines the original with better graphics and action.
Making its Namco Museum debut is Splatterhouse from 1988. This is an incredibly solid horror-based side-scrolling beat ’em up. It places you in the role of Rick who was murdered at the start of the game, only to be resurrected by a mask that is totally not based of Jason from Friday the 13th Hockey mask. You have to fight your way through a haunted mansion and the surrounding grounds in order to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend. The game is incredibly gory and hard as nails, even using save states you’ll have a hard time getting through this. Rolling Thunder 2 from 1990 is pretty much more of the same from the original just with better visuals and is a better title all around. Wrapping up the classic arcade games is 1991’s Tank Force. It’s a fun little maze game that sees you having to clear the screen of all the oncoming tanks and stop them from destroying your HQ. It’s a fairly simple game but fun to play with friends.
The final game of the package, and for many the highlight, is Pac-Man Vs. Which was originally released on the GameCube in 2003. For those who don’t know, Pac-Man Vs. is a fun multiplayer twist on the classic Pac-Man formula. For games with 2-4 people, you can connect to another Switch, one person will be in control of Pac-Man while the remaining players will be one of the ghosts. As the ghosts, your goal will simply be to try and catch Pac-Man. Each time you catch him you’ll be awarded points and the game will start again. The first player to reach the point target wins. As Pac-Man your goal is as it’s always been – eat all the dots and clear the maze. Now the fun trick to Pac-Man Vs. Is that Pac-Man is played on one screen and can see the whole board. The Ghosts will all be on a different Switch and only be able to see a small area around themselves and each other, so it becomes a fun game of trying to find Pac-Man and catch him before one of the other ghosts can or Pac-Man gets a power pellet. The awesome thing with this is you only need one copy of the game to play this over multiple Switches as long as the other player has downloaded the free app from the eShop. If you only have one Switch up to 3 people can play all being ghosts trying to catch Pac-Man. There is also a single player mode that’ll see you competing against 2 other ghosts.
All the games featured (with the exception of Pac-Man Vs.) have all the usual options you see these days for ports of classic games – adjusting the screen size, scanlines, and even the rotation of the screen should you want to take full advantage of the Switch’s screen width for games best displayed in portrait orientation. The emulation itself is perfect – they play and look just as good as they did back in the day, if not better due to the HD upscaling. All the pixels look sharp and the colours super vibrant. Also present are save states for those of us who need some help finishing some of the harder games (looking at you Splatterhouse) and a variety of backgrounds to have as borders for the games.
Another neat feature for the Arcade games is the addition of a challenge mode, giving you 2 ways to play each of the games. There is the Normal mode which will see you playing the games as they were originally made, trying to get the highest score possible. The Challenge mode though will present you with a certain goal to complete under a time limit, such as with Pac-Man you’ll have 3 minutes to try and eat as many ghosts as you can, or Dig Dug will have you trying to crush as many monsters as you are able to under the rocks placed around the stages. They add a fun little mix on the traditional gameplay of the titles and give those who are masters of the games something extra to do. Both the Normal and Challenge modes will allow you to upload your score to compete with others on the global leaderboards.
My one complaint is that I do wish Namco would have included more titles than just the 11 they have given us. Namco Museum Megamix on the Wii came with 20+ titles which were both a mix of old and all new titles. Now I do get that Megamix was a full title retail title and not a premium priced Digital Download, and the selection of titles here is pretty solid and represents some of Namco’s best. But I can’t help but wish that maybe they had chucked in a couple of extra games from Namco’s later arcade works, like maybe Soul Calibur or Mr Driller. Hopefully this is the first of many Namco Museums on the Switch and those other titles in their backlog will get their time on the system before too long.
All up, Namco Museum on the Switch is a solid bunch of games – 11 really fun titles that will have something for everyone. A lot of care has gone into presenting the titles and giving you extra ways to play them. If you are chasing the high score or looking for something fun to play with friends you cannot go wrong with Namco Museum.