Since 1999, the Namco Museum series has been known for providing high-quality classic compilations at an excellent price point. The newest incarnation of the Museum gives you over a dozen games, with Pac-Man, Pac-Man Vs., Galaga, Galaga ’88, Dig-Dug, The Tower of Druaga, Rolling Thunder, Rolling Thunder 2, Sky Kid, Splatterhouse, and Tank Force available. Games like Pac-Man and Dig-Dug have been included in these collections on a regular basis, but the Rolling Thunder games are new – as is the cult hit Splatterhouse. Given how gory that game is and how controversial it was in its time, it’s a bit surprising to see it included here.
The overall variety of the collection is both diverse, and yet limited. In terms of sheer game volume, it’s a bit lean given how many games prior collections have included. Bonus content is also lean, and there aren’t things like virtual museums to explore or concept art to view. The lineup including a blend of regulars and rarities is nice, but one can’t play this and wonder why Ms. Pac-Man and other Pac-Man games aren’t included. The same holds true for Splatterhouse 2 and 3 – which haven’t been seen since they were downloadable extras for the 2010 Splatterhouse reboot. This collection does give you two Galaga games, so why not include more games from other franchises as well?
Omissions aside, what’s here is largely high-quality content. The Tower of Druaga is a game very much of its time, and while this screen-by-screen action RPG certainly isn’t bad, its concept and pixel-perfect collision detection for attacks aren’t going to elicit the most fun for many players. It’s a game requiring patience and definitely won’t be for everyone. Tank Force has a similar issue, where it’s an incredibly challenging game – but in a way that isn’t going to be for most players. It’s an overhead tank battle game and as one, it’s solid. However, you can’t treat it like a run-and-gun style game. If you do, you will die quickly. It’s you against an army of other tanks, and a single shot will take you out.
Now, there’s a recurring theme with this collection of mostly arcade classics and that is that nearly every game here is out to destroy you. These were originally meant to munch quarters and as such, they have pretty steep learning curves – usually regarding enemy patterns. Pac-Man is a classic that most have grown accustomed to, but going back to the original after playing the faster-paced and yet more forgiving Championship Edition games is jarring – but in a good way. You have to re-learn how to play the core game, and it’s definitely just as addictive now as it was over 30 years ago.
The Rolling Thunder games are some of the most fun offerings here. They’re difficult but challenging, and play a bit like a puzzle game in addition to just being a shooter. You have to think before you act and learn through trial and error. Some enemies will be downed in one hit, but some take more and you need to avoid taking damage at all costs. Sometimes, a single shot can end a life, so you need to learn enemy patterns and pay close attention to doorways. If you sense any movement, back up and give yourself some room. Doing so lets you have a free shot by kneeling and if you time everything right, you can take out an enemy coming out from a door and then take one out behind a barrel back-to-back.
The sequel is a bit more forgiving than the first, thankfully. Luckily, every game comes with an easy mode as well and gives you the chance to have more continues – but nothing gives you infinite lives and a restart from where you died. This means that there is no goofproof mode and if you want to beat a game here, you still have to earn it – they’ve just given you a slightly easier path to victory. Splatterhouse is easily the most violent game included, and one that has stood the test of time fairly well. Its level of gore is impressive even now, and the game’s deliberate but responsive controls evoke the best of the original Castlevania series.
Sky Kid is one of the true hidden gems in this collection. It’s a shoot ‘em up with a surprisingly high amount of strategy. Positioning is key as opposed to rushing in. Doing so is a great way to die quickly. However, if you make sure to carefully put yourself behind enemies using the loop-de-loop, you can not only survive, but excel. The core gameplay has definitely had time pass it by, but the overall experience is still surprisingly fun and no game since has really combined aerial daredevil antics with shooting quite like it.
One great thing about the Switch is that you can recreate actually having a game of Pac-Man on a tabletop. Now granted, it’s not quite the exact same thing as an arcade or more likely, pizza parlor experience – but it’s as close as we’re going to get nowadays. Similarly, the Switch’s portable nature and ability to have the screens either horizontal or vertical means that a pixel-perfect TATE mode is now available for vertical-oriented shooters like Galaga and Galaga ’88. Now, with just about every game here, you’ll want to tinker with the zoom level to get things perfect – but it’s great to just have the option to play in TATE mode so they can be played as accurately as possible to the arcade originals.
Arcade-style border art is available for the games to fill up real estate on the screen, and you’ve got a few different types to choose from. The default art for games like Dig-Dug and Rolling Thunder are perfect, while the Pac-Man ones make things a bit too busy. Fortunately, you can just have a grey border around the playing area. The grey does look a bit odd, but because it stands out from every single game you can play in the collection, it means that you will never have to wonder where the core game screen ends and the extra space begins.
Visually, everything is accurate and having all of that visual flexibility for things really helps the overall presentation. None of the games here are going to dazzle anyone now, but you can see a steady progression from things like Rolling Thunder 1 to 2 and Galaga to its 1988 follow-up. Within this one collection, a newcomer to gaming can get a sense of gaming’s early days, later-early days, and have a picture painted for them that shows a solid amount of eras being represented in one compilation.
Similarly, the sound effects and music for each game are represented well. Not having OSTs available does hurt things a little bit, but not much – it’s only something that truly benefits longer games and with these being arcade affairs, there really isn’t a ton of music to work with for each game. Of course, music from games like Pac-Man and Dig Dug are iconic and memorable, while games like Splatterhouse give you just enough spooky music to give off a horror movie vibe while offering up creepy sound effects to complete the package.
The latest incarnation of the Namco Museum does a great job of replicating every game in it – it’s just a shame there aren’t more games included. What’s here is largely good, with games like Splatterhouse and the Rolling Thunder games getting a showcase that they haven’t had in quite some time. If you already have existing collections, then the regulars like Galaga, Pac-Man, and Dig Dug won’t sell you on it, but if you’re missing out on the lesser-seen games, this is a great way to get them at a solid price point
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Bandai Namco
This review is based on a digital copy of Namco Museum for the Nintendo Switch provided by Bandai Namco.