Resident old-schooler/codger Justin Nation gives a shout out on the new Namco Museum compilation. Is it worth your hard-earned quarters?
While some may characterize this newest installment in the Namco Museum series as yet another attempt to cash in on games long past their prime, I’d like to personally offer a firmly dissenting opinion. For those unaware of the games in this edition, there are a whopping 12 titles represented, though many of them are admittedly variations on one another. Beginning with the Pac-Man family, we have Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Pac-Man Arrangement, Pac-Attack, and Pac-Mania. For the shooter fans there are Galaga, Galaga Arrangement, and Galaxian. Filling out the rest of the roster are classic racers Pole Position I and II, and arcade spelunkers Dig Dug and Dig Dug Arrangement. For anyone familiar with the previous entries in the Namco Museum series for other platforms, this is actually an enormous offering. Not only would this number of titles usually span 2 or 3 editions, but the Arrangement titles are being offered for the first time on this disk as a bonus. While there is no doubt that there are other, some arguably better, means to play some of the classic titles in this compilation, at $30 I consider this a steal for old-schoolers lacking access to the games otherwise.
Getting down to the nuts and bolts of the games, I think the most difficult thing about reviewing this title is knowing just what I am criticizing. While at times it seems like the games truly may be emulated from the original arcade ROMs, at other times I know the originals never had some of the oddities and problems several titles exhibit. So either we’re dealing with a case of games running on an imperfect emulator, or the games have been recoded somewhat from scratch, and in a spotty manner at that. Either way, the greatest shame here is that on a modern system with so much power, these games aren’t as perfectly represented as they should have been. Sound effects and music are generally good, but the bass in some tunes and a few nitpicky blips and bleeps don’t come out quite perfectly. In terms of graphics the problems are a bit worse, with issues ranging from everything looking rather blotchy to weird visual problems in games like Ms. Pac-Man, where she sometimes chomps while slightly in a wall among other anomalies. You have the seemingly useless ability to make the screen slightly bigger or smaller, but I can’t say that there was any truly noticeable difference either way. Thus, in the end purists will find it acceptable but disappointing, while people who are less picky may not mind at all when it comes to sights and sounds.
As for the games themselves, the classic gameplay is all there, though the omission of the “speed cheat” for Ms. Pac-Man pisses me off every time. I want to play it fast damnit. Namco, you had units that did that, so why not put it in the Museum collections? Anyway, moving on to the games people are less likely to be familiar with, let’s go over the Arrangement and other titles. Pac-Man Arrangement, while not as fun as Pac-Mania, isn’t all that bad. While it starts out as little more than a graphical upgrade, as the levels progress it has some interesting variations in gameplay that make it worthwhile for Pac-fans. I put it next to Super Pac-Man, a little something different that won’t be appreciated by all but that tries to offer a solid variation on a theme. Galaga Arrangement is a much bigger departure from the original, with new enemies, new entry formations and patterns, new strategic elements, and some moments that will potentially churn your stomach as the screen rotates. Not for everyone… but it is worth a look if you like shooters. Dig Dug Arrangement is probably what I’d consider the least different from the original. It adds some new tricks which give the game a little more strategy at least, but I found it lacking. Pac-Attack, the first of the unlockable games (not that this is hard; any old-schooler worth their salt shouldn’t have to work more than 15 minutes to unlock either hidden title) is a Tetris variant that I found pretty dull, but my wife played for a solid half hour without blinking. There is a minor amount of strategy to it, but otherwise there have just been so many better puzzlers out there that it doesn’t offer much. Pac-Mania, on the other hand, is a game I have always thoroughly enjoyed. While people could be drawn to it being a 3D Pac-Man, for me the fun is in the jump feature and the ability for a good player to rack up outrageous scores in a hurry. All in all, there is probably something on the disk for everyone, and for many people, at least half of the games should have some appeal.
One element that some could criticize with this offering, perhaps rightly so, is that beyond what I’ve already summarized, there is nothing more to speak of. What you get is a collection of games… that’s it. While special features and extras may be the fashion for the DVD movie makers, apparently the trend hasn’t been picked up by the gaming industry just yet. How about history lesson or two for the youngins? How about a phatty recording of “Pac-Man Fever”? (“I got a pocket full of quarters and I’m goin’ to the arcade” – Shoot me now.) How about anything extra? Nope. If this is a big deal for you, maybe just pick it up with a copy of Game Over or something… remember that such supplements would have novelty value, but they also probably wouldn’t be why you’d be buying the compilation.
In the end, this review isn’t for younger gamers (unless you want to understand the proud origins of the industry that now has you in its claws), it is for people who get a giddy feeling whenever they hear a random tune or sound effect from an arcade as they pass by. If you already have one or two of the Museum collections, this may be a tough purchase as you’ll have to ask if the arrangements and locked titles are worth plunking down the cash. While they have some fresh new things to add, they aren’t superior to the games that inspired them, so it could go either way in that regard. But, if you’ve been waiting for Namco to start being more economical with their approach now is your time to buy in. At less than $3 per game on the disk I don’t see there ever being a better chance to own some games that absolutely dominated their generation.