Waka waka waka waka.
There’s a lot to like about the Nintendo Switch, but the lack of Nintendo’s Virtual Console service is still a very sore spot for some, including myself. Thankfully, some publishers are stepping up to fill the gaps in between major releases with ports and digital releases of older games. Not content to drop a title or two, Bandai Namco has resurrected its Namco Museum brand to place a new collection of arcade-era titles on the platform. It’s not a perfect solution, but it is something.
Comprising this edition of the collection is your standard Pac-Man, Galaga, and Dig Dug, along with Tower of Druaga, Galaga ‘88, Rolling Thunder 1 & 2, Splatterhouse, Sky Kid, Tank Force, and the Miyamoto directed Pac-Man Vs. While there’s a pretty good chance you didn’t get to play any of these in their original cabinet forms; they are faithfully replicated here, including a button to simulate inserting a coin in order to play the game. With quick switching built into the software, it wasn’t hard to jump between titles and see what the past had to offer; especially Splatterhouse.
However, that faithful recreation has a couple of faults. Because most of these games were in large vertical cabinets, the games display in a narrow vertical display. They are surrounded by cool art reminiscent of the cabinets, but might be jarring in a widescreen era. Even in handheld mode on the Switch, they may seem too small to the near sighted or even people spoiled by modern gaming’s resolution wars. Either way, the best way to play most of these games is probably in handheld mode due to this nature of display; and included is an interesting feature that turns the entire display 90 degrees in order to fill the Switch’s display in full. When doing so, all the menus within the software calibration as well. At first, I thought this was a great solution to the problem even if it doesn’t help with paying Splatterhouse, but I’ve yet to find a way to prop up the Switch that also feels like it’ll hold my $300 investment securely. There are reliable tablet stands, but it seems like a lot to set up to play a single collection of games.
Some choices here are better (did I mention Splatterhouse) than others (did we really need two Rolling Thunder titles) but as a collection, these ten games give a decent overview of at least one publisher’s older history before it became better known for anime games. What other commentary could I offer on Pac-Man, for example? It plays exactly like you expect Pac-Man to. Galaga is exactly as you remember it. That isn’t to say there aren’t noteworthy things within Namco Museum. Picking up Tower of Druaga, an adventure game that predates even The Legend of Zelda by a couple of years, feels like another world entirely. In fact, Namco Museum includes accessible hints for each stage, something unique to Druaga. I also mentioned this collection has Splatterhouse on it, right? Because Splatterhouse is in this collection and that must be made clear.
Special attention should be paid to Pac-Man Vs., a very special version of the classic created not by Namco, but by Nintendo’s internal development team EAD. Originally made as a bonus game to show off the Game Boy Advanced connectivity to the Nintendo GameCube, Vs. is a four player version of the arcade classic. Three players fill the shoes of the enemy ghosts, and one player takes on the Pac-Man role. In the original, the ghosts would play on the TV, with Pac-Man playing on the GBA screen. The game can be played by yourself or with a couple of friends, but with a second Switch (only one copy of the game is needed), you can replicate the original gameplay by having a Switch in handheld mode as Pac-Man. Any other times, you’ll play as ghosts. It’s a unique collaboration-Super Mario voice actor Charles Martinet appears providing the announcer voice as Mario-and exists as one of the earliest attempts at making an asymmetrical multiplayer game. There’s not enough of the game to stand as its own release, but feels like a crown jewel in this collection, right up there with Splatterhouse.
But that’s about it when it comes to Namco Museum, sadly. There’s no extras like some collections contain such as concept art or other behind-the-scenes documentation that can be educational and enduring to go over. The only other feature is an online leaderboard that’s more annoying than fun as it insists on asking to connect and upload even when on the go and not on wi-fi. The inclusion of Pac-Man Vs. also creates a massive gap in time when compared to Splatterhouse and the other titles in the collection that could be filled with more games and give a large look at Namco’s history. No Ridge Racer or Pole Position? Time Crisis, with the joy cons acting like light guns? Why not another GameCube call back with the GC version of SoulCalibur II, complete with Link as the guest character? All pipe dreams, sadly.
I’m not opposed to game collections, any attempt to preserve classic games is better than none, and the game industry already forgets classic games exist more often than not. We’ve had better than this version of Namco Museum, but we’ve also had worse. If anything, I have Splatterhouse on my Nintendo Switch, and it’s hard to be mad about that.
Developer: Bandai Namco, Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Released: July 28th, 2017
Copy Purchased By Reviewer