Namco Museum on Switch is Money for Old Rope, Plus Pac-Man Vs.

By Rich Stanton on at

You don't want to be too hard on something like Namco Museum because, fundamentally, we all know who it's for. It's not the younger audience, but those who were either there in the arcades or grew up in their immediate aftermath — a time, let us not forget, when Namco was one of the real kings. Pac-Man would be enough to build any studio's reputation on, but Namco followed this up throughout the 80s with greats like Galaga, Dig-Dug, Rolling Thunder and Splatterhouse as well as minor hits like Sky Kid and Tank Force. All of those are included here, alongside The Tower of Druaga, sequels Galaga 88 and Rolling Thunder 2, and the package is rounded-out with 2003's Pac-Man Vs., a wonderful Gamecube title designed by Shigeru Miyamoto.

This all sounds pretty great, right? And to an extent it is, but Namco Museum and I got off to a bad start because the first thing it does is make you agree to an enormous EULA. Which you have to scroll through with the analogue stick to pretend you've read it, before clicking 'A' to accept. It takes fully 20 seconds or something, a complete waste of time, and the cherry on the cake is that there's another one afterwards. Why waste your players' time like this?

Once into the games, things get better, but here we come back to the problem of who Namco Museum is for. Essentially some of them are still great, and some have been ravaged by time. Pac-Man remains a fun experience, its central hook of being-chased-then-chasing still a delight, and the ghosts somehow retain their sinister threat after all these years. I'm not going to pretend I would sit down for hours with Pac-Man, but every time I come across it, whether in a collection like this or an old arcade, it's always good for 15 minutes of fun.

Galaga remains a visually striking and inventive arcade shooter, still a good blast although, at this distance, somewhat overshadowed by the pyrotechnics of Galaga '88 right next door. Sky Kid's very daft but a good laugh for five minutes, a game about a cartoon animal bombing military equipment and executing constant loop-de-loops (it does feel like Star Fox may have taken some inspiration from the execution of this move here), while Splatterhouse isn't such a brilliant game in terms of feel but contains some of the most fantastic spritework Namco ever produced. An important aspect of Namco Museum when it comes to titles like the latter is that you can restart the game from stages you've already unlocked (Splatterhouse is brutally tough).

That last point is often the distinction between the better retro collections and the ones that don't quite cut it. I'm a big fan of publishers taking the time to curate their older titles, respecting the fact that what was fun in the arcade in the 80s might not work so well for a modern sensibility — simple changes like adding infinite lives (here you have an 'insert credit' button to spam) are great, but going even further and adding options like stage selects and difficulty levels really makes the difference. The reason I might play something like Splatterhouse now is that, when I was a kid and playing it, I never got past the third level. So I'm going back to see what lay beyond, and I'm not so interested in the challenge.

Anyway forget Splatterhouse, the real gem here is Dig-Dug — an all-time arcade classic that would eventually lead to the superb Mr Driller games. Dig-Dug's great innovation was making the whole screen the play area and allowing the player to shape it, leaving monsters boxed-in until you could deal with them or setting up elaborate traps with dropping rocks. Even now it's a pure and simple joy, and I spent much more time on it than Pac-Man.

So why did Namco Museum leave me a little cold? It's probably because, after maybe an hour, I'd had my nostalgia glands massaged, and what's left is a handful of classic games and then a load that, with the best will in the world, you just don't want to play anymore. The Tower of Druaga may have been considered classic once, but now it's just far too plodding to retain your interest. The same goes for Tank ForceRolling Thunder's movement feels terribly stiff, and its stage resets after every death are infuriating. Even the good ones aren't going to hold your attention for long, because time has sapped their once-mesmerising appeal. Video games is a technology-led industry and, while that certainly doesn't mean we should disparage the achievements of decades ago, it's harder not to point out the flaws when they're being packaged-up and sold again.

So for the final time, we return to the idea of who is Namco Museum for? Not me clearly, but then I've owned various retro collections over the years (including Namco Museum on DS) so maybe I spoiled it for myself. The clumsiness around the edges doesn't help — one of the collection's nicer touches is that all games can be played with the Switch in portable mode displaying either horizontally or vertically. Obviously this works particularly well with the likes of Galaga, but whatever orientation you choose all the games have big art borders around them, some of which are of a simply dreadful standard (Splatterhouse is especially poor). It's got big loading times too, considering this is a cartridge playing arcade games from three decades ago.

Namco Museum is for those who were there, and have somehow managed to avoid these games in the subsequent decades. For those who are curious, there are many other ways to play the best games in this collection. Apart from one.

The reason I owned Namco Museum on the DS already is Pac-Man Vs. This is a brilliant re-imagining of Pac-Man as multiplayer sport, with three players cast as ghosts (who have limited vision, but can see what each other see) and one player as Pac-Man, who can see the whole maze. On the Gamecube it was played with the GBA link cable, on DS it was across multiple machines, and here it's played across two Switches — one for the ghosts, one for Pac-Man.

Pac-Man Vs is a brilliant game and, once again, it's hauling Namco's ass out of the fire. The whole Switch concept, all that trendy lifestyle cafe rubbish, cries out for these kind of bitesize local multiplayer experiences, and especially one that can accommodate four players across two consoles. And it's Pac-Man! Everyone knows how to play Pac-Man.

So it's a bit of a pickle. If you have the kind of situation where you'll get the use out of Pac-Man Vs., then that alone is going to be worth the £30. If not, then tread with caution. No-one would dispute the greatness of Namco's arcade history. But that doesn't mean you need to keep on buying it.