Given the deafening silence surrounding plans for the Virtual Console service on Nintendo Switch, Namco Museum could not have arrived at a better time on the Nintendo eShop.
This classic games compilation comes packed with arcade hits that stretch back across 23 years in Bandai Namco Entertainment’s illustrious past, presenting the perfect throwback to a time when we repeatedly slung coins into arcade machines to pursue local infamy for racking up a score that was high enough to make a mark on the leaderboards.
Namco Museum is not the first time that the publisher has looked to repackage their history, that effort having first started way back on PlayStation with Namco Museum Vol. 1. Since then, a collection has appeared in every console generation, although, on Nintendo Switch, there is still more than enough reason to be excited.
There are 11 games to choose between, that are cleanly presented in chronological order on the main menu screen: Pac-Man (1980), Galaga (1981), Dig Dug (1982), The Tower of Druaga (1984), Sky Kid (1986), Rolling Thunder (1987), Galaga ’88 (1988), Splatterhouse (1988), Tank Force (1991), Rolling Thunder 2 (1991), and Pac-Man Vs. (2003).
Namco Museum is unashamed in playing on your nostalgia, a move that will quickly see players drift to old favourites that still linger in their memory banks.
Guzzling down Pac Dots as you navigate a maze at increasing speed in Pac-Man lends another chance to recognise how timelessly addictive Toru Iwatani’s iconic creation remains to this day. Galaga scratches that Space Invader itch as it once did, challenging players to obliterate increasingly aggressive swarms of alien forces before they have a chance to gun down your spaceship. Whereas Dig Dig has you killing monsters that live underground by inflating them with an air pump, or, if that inefficient method proves to be too slow, dropping a rock on them.
The Tower of Druaga, which challenges players to fight their way up 60 floors to rescue the maiden Ki, and Sky Kid, that sees you soaring through the skies in a biplane to bomb specific targets, are weaker choices in Namco Museum, even if I can predict that there are those that would argue against me.
Those, for me at least, are the only duds. Next, we’re recruited into the World Crime Police Organisation in Rolling Thunder, taking out marauding enemies with a pistol as you set out to save a captured female agent. Galaga ’88 sees the arcade shooter return with slicker presentation but far more challenging gameplay, while Splatterhouse marks one of the earliest games with plentiful gore – seeing players, as Rick, carve their way through a mansion to save his girlfriend.
Tank Force is a game that I was less familiar with, a top-down shooter that sees steering a tank around a cityscape doing your best to protect your headquarters from enemies. And, nearly there, Rolling Thunder treads the same run and gun action seen in the original game, although was far more graphically impressive and introduced the chance for a second player to get in on the action.
Nearly all games present the player with Normal and Challenge modes, the second option daring you to compete for high scores or tasking you with an in-game mission. Your success, whether that is short lived or not, can be posted to online leaderboards that let you compare your gaming skill to players around the world. Those that are willing to dedicate their time can certainly look forward to getting plenty of mileage out of this.
I cannot fault the emulation quality across the board, with each game boxed in a window in an effort to make it feel like you are playing on an arcade cabinet. The display options present a great amount of flexibility in letting you adjust the aspect ratio, zoom, fixed dot size and scanlines to mimic a CRT monitor, each hoping to make it feel like a more authentic arcade experience as possible.
But, the greatest trick that Namco Museum can perform is to let players rotate the screen. This can suddenly let your Nintendo Switch become a miniature arcade cabinet, a transformation that becomes far easier if you buy the HORI Compact PlayStand (£9.99). Those that long for the classic arcade experience will certainly want to take a look.
However, Namco Museum‘s pièce de résistance is Pac-Man VS., a game that Nintendo had developed for GameCube under watchful supervision from Shigeru Miyamoto.
That had seen one player control Pac-Man after hooking up their Game Boy Advance to the console with a link cable, with up to three players working together as the Ghosts on the GameCube trying their best to hunt the Pac Dot muncher down.
It makes a triumphant return on Nintendo Switch, presenting two options in which to play. Single Console mode will let up to three players become Ghosts, looking to catch Pac-Man as many times as they can to reach a target score. Whereas Original mode will require another Nintendo Switch console to play, seeing up to three players become Ghosts on one console with the Pac-Man player on the other.
The Ghosts have a narrow porthole view in a 3D perspective, while whoever is playing as Pac-Man sees all the action in the same classic top-down perspective that many have come to love since the character first chomped his way into our lives. The resulting experience is sensational and chaotic multiplayer, and I am overjoyed to see it resurface again – the first time that it has been re-released since Namco Museum DS on, well, the Nintendo DS.
Even more so, in that Bandai Namco is keen to let more people enjoy PAC-MAN Vs. with a free downloadable application on the Nintendo eShop meaning that, rather generously, you only need one full copy of the game to play it across two Nintendo Switch consoles. Marvelous.
Namco Museum is a compelling throwback to the glorious coin-op era, boasting a library that presents many shared experiences that are a perfect fit with the Nintendo Switch mantra to let you play anywhere, at anytime, and with anyone. Some duds detract and, maybe, the price is slightly too high, but Pac-Man Vs. alone soon easily makes this a retro collection that you won’t want to miss out on.