If there’s one company that knows how to make money out of their franchises, it’s Bandai Namco. They’ve ensured that there hasn’t been a mainstream system launched that doesn’t have at least one version of Pac-Man, Galaga, and Dig-Dug available for it since the wildly popular 1995 release of Namco Museum Volume 1 for the original PlayStation. Outside of those Museum collections, they’ve also released a few of their classics individually via various digital stores, or for your smartphone. If the originals don’t float your boat, there are DX versions, remixes, remakes and Championship Editions to blow your money on. Like I say, they know how to make money out of their franchises.
The compilations are usually somewhat lightweight in terms of the number of games that are included though and sadly, this Nintendo Switch version is no different. 11 games make up Namco Museum for Switch. Dig Dug, Galaga, Galaga ’88, Pac-Man, Pac-Man Vs., Rolling Thunder, Rolling Thunder 2, Sky Kid, Splatterhouse, Tank Force, and The Tower of Druaga are the exhibits on show this time around. Each game (barring Pac-Man Vs.) is a faithful emulation of the arcade original, right down to having to insert coins by pressing the left bumper. Customizations are included for each title, which allow you to add scanlines and alter pixel sizes, as well as being able to rotate the screen through 90 degrees. This is particularly useful for Galaga’s portrait-mode action, but you probably won’t use it elsewhere. No matter how you alter things though, you’re still going to be left with a marquee on either side of the game window, since no option is present to allow you to stretch the strictly 4:3 games to take advantage of the full 16:9 real estate of either your TV or the Switch’s screen. To do so would usually be thought of as being tantamount to blasphemy anyway by arcade purists, but it’ll no doubt be a notable absence for some.
Each game takes the chase for high scores online by providing full leaderboards for the standard coin-op version. A challenge mode is also included for each title which mixes up the rules to provide more high-score chasing action. In Splatterhouse for example, you have five minutes and an infinite number of lives to try to rack up the numbers on a boss level. Pac-Man tasks you with eating as many ghosts as you can within a time limit. Rolling Thunder starts you halfway through the game and – again – gives you a time limit and infinite lives to try to get those numbers spinning. These challenge modes vary in terms of quality and addictiveness, but do provide a nice alternative to just throwing in some coins and starting a run from the beginning each time.
Pac-Man Vs. stands next to the arcade bunch as the most modern game included by far (being originally released in 2003 for the GameCube), and unlike the other included titles, supports up to four players. However, for a foursome to get the most out of it, you’ll need to have two Switch consoles. On one Switch, three players play as the ghosts, while the other console is for the lone player who is trying to avoid them as Pac-Man. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean you need two copies of the game, since you can download a free multiplayer-only app to allow that second Switch to be brought into play. If you don’t have two consoles kicking around, up to three players can play on one system, with the CPU taking control of Pac himself.
While some will find Pac-Man Vs. to be a great party game, others will find that it only provides limited entertainment value in the long run. The only variations to each round involve being able to select your score target and which map you want to play on, so it becomes repetitive very quickly.
Fortunately, a large percentage of the included arcade titles are as fun to play now as they were back in the day. Series debutants Tank Force, Splatterhouse, and Rolling Thunder 2 are personal highlights, with the latter being a game of surprising depth that provides a tough-as-nails challenge that is sure to send a few controllers – or consoles – flying. Returning classics such as Galaga never age, either. Once you hear that tractor beam coming down for the first time in a decade or two (or since the last time you bought as Namco Museum collection), you’ll be hooked all over again.
Ultimately the success of the compilation comes down to how much time you’ll spend either reliving the games of your youth or discovering games that you’ve never played before. With only ten arcade titles included, the hours you’re liable to pour into Namco Museum are likely not going to be as numerous as they should have been. When you consider that Galaga ’88 is a remake of the already-included Galaga, and that Rolling Thunder is a prequel to the far superior (and present) Rolling Thunder 2, it’s a little baffling why Namco decided to pack in these games specifically.
Given that Namco released 150+ arcade games before the turn of the century that realistically could have been included in a compilation like this, the lineup on offer seems lacklustre at best. Even as a cheaper release, it feels like a step backward when you consider that a collection from eight years ago – Namco Museum Virtual Arcade for Xbox 360 – contained three times as many games. Even titles that we’ve seen in previous compilations such as Pole Position, Bosconian, Ms. Pac-Man, Xevious, and Rally-X are missing. Where are the likes of Pac-Land, Final Lap, Dragon Spirit, or Suzuka 8 Hours? Surely, with console hardware being where it is now in terms of processing power, is it wrong to expect some later and more technically demanding games too? Arcade hits such as Air Combat, Alpine Racer, Mr. Driller, Ridge Racer, Soul Edge or the strangely compelling third-person soccer title Libero Grande wouldn’t go amiss.
But, what you get here is ultimately unsurprising if you’ve ever seen a Namco Museum collection before. There are some nice touches, such as the inclusion of save states, which are essential for on-the-go play. Being able to grab your Switch out of your bag and fire up a bit of Splatterhouse to pass the time for a few minutes without losing your progress is a definite plus. Regardless, whether that and the challenge modes are enough to warrant the purchase price depends solely on how much love you have for the included games.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version, which we were provided with.
Namco Museum for Switch is about what you’d expect if you’ve played any of the other packages that the company has put together over the last quarter of a century. What’s here is decent, but there just isn’t enough of it.