Taking Another Trip to the Museum
It’s hard to believe Namco’s Museum series has been keeping our thumbs tapping buttons for over 20 years now. Since its first iteration on the PlayStation way back in 1995, players have been graced with 5 volumes, an encore, a remix, a megamix, and multiple other different installments on almost every home console and handheld known to man. What gamer doesn’t love having a handful of arcade classics (and some duds) conveniently rounded up and packaged together on a single piece of media?
Namco Museum on the Nintendo Switch is a “best of” of sorts. The newest iteration doesn’t have a volume number or a catchy tagline, and it doesn’t need one. I believe this is Namco’s way of letting Switch owners know that this is something new and somewhat different. This collection features a multitude of new options and (thanks to the Switch) more ways to play than ever before. I’m sure you’re already aware of the Switch’s multiplayer advantages, but I feel it’s still necessary to at least mention the ease of use. I still get a kick out of (looks both ways) being at work and letting coworkers jump into some Mario Kart by simply detaching Joy-Cons, and now I can do the same with classic arcade games such as Rolling Thunder 2 and Sky Kid.
Namco’s newest Museum features eleven titles that will keep retroheads busy for a really, really long time.
Dig Dug: Released in North America in 1982, this arcade game requires players to dig tunnels in search of monsters called Pookas and Frygars, which when caught must be pumped full of air until they explode. I can’t believe this violence got past the censors! Dig Dug can be killed if attacked from the back, lit on fire by a Frygar’s breath, or have a boulder dropped on him. Dig Dug has been featured in many Namco Museums and is one of Namco’s most beloved titles.
Galaga: Jump into the cockpit of a Starfighter and destroy swarms of colorful bug-like enemies in this 1981 vertical fixed-shooter that is the sequel to Galaxian. Enemies take several different formations and attempt to trap the player as they fly toward their ship. Certain enemy ships can capture the player’s Starfighter, but if the player is successful in destroying the captor, their ship will combine with the captured ship, ultimately doubling their fire power. In 1989 the world record high score for Galga was set by Stephen Krogman. He scored a whopping 15,999,990 points! Good luck beating that record!
Galaga ‘88: Galaxian’s 3rd sequel (following Galaga and Gaplus) can be considered Galaga on crack. Unleashed in 1987, Galaga ‘88 once again tasks players with piloting a Starfighter, but the enemies are now smarter, faster, and deadlier. Another new gameplay element is the different dimensions that players can travel to if they collect dimension warp capsules. Traveling to a new dimension will yield a nice bonus to your score, but will also increase the game’s difficulty. Galaga ‘88 was ported to the Turbografx 16 in 1989, but the name was changed to Galaga ‘90.
Pac-Man: The iconic Pac-Man (circa 1980) that you know and love. Get chased by ghosts in a maze that contains 4 power pellets. Eat the power pellet and you can eat the ghosts. If you’re reading this review, you’ve most likely played Pac-Man.
Pac-Man Vs.: This 2003 GameCube original took advantage of the GameCube’s link cable by letting a player who used a Game Boy Advance control Pac-Man while up to three other players took control of the ghosts on the television screen. Two Switch consoles are needed to take full advantage of this new iteration of Pac-Man Vs. Three players can sync three Joy-Cons to one Switch console while a fourth player takes control of Pac-Man on another console. If a 2nd Switch is unavailable, a computer-controlled Pac-Man will try to avoid up to 3 human-controller players. If playing on two Switch consoles, a free app must be downloaded on the console that doesn’t have Namco Museum installed.
Rolling Thunder: Players must save missing agent Lelia Blitz from the dangerous Geldra in this 1986 side-scrolling action game. Armed with an upgradable gun, World Crime Police Organization member Albatross will blast away Geldra soldiers while dodging bullets and hand grenades as he travels through multiple floors. Rolling Thunder was released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989 and published by Tengen. The cart was unlicensed and produced in the matte-black rounded style that Tengen games are known for. Curiously enough, Rolling Thunder did get a licensed release by Namco on the Famicom.
Rolling Thunder 2: The dangerous Geldra organization returns and is now destroying several of the world satellites! Players can now work cooperatively in this 1991 sequel that features Lelia Blitz (the female WCPO member rescued in the first game) as the main character. The 2nd player will take control of the returning Albatross, and together they will attempt to destroy the Geldra organization once and for all. This game features more of the same of the first game but in a more futuristic setting. Also, working with a buddy is always a welcome feature. I hate to break it to you but both Lelia and Albatross both fail at their mission. The Geldra organization once again returns in Rolling Thunder 3 on the Sega Genesis. Man, the World Crime Policed Organization sucks ass!
Sky Kid: A neat little 2-player simultaneous side-scrolling shooter that has players taking to the sky as “The Sky Kids”. Released in 1985, Sky Kid features both Red Baron and Blue Max weaving their way in and out of bullets while attempting to bomb a specific target. The gameplay is simple, but that’s why it’s so much fun! There are a lot of hidden secrets scattered throughout this game. Do a barrel roll near the Pac-Man billboard to find out what I mean.
Splatterhouse: The game that started it all! Take control as Rick and strap on the Terror Mask to enhance your monster killing abilities in this 1988 side-scrolling gorefest! Jump, punch, and kick your way through the West Mansion to save Rick’s girlfriend Jennifer as grotesque goopy monstrosities attempt to tear Rick apart. This game is not for the squeamish! Well, it wasn’t back in the 80’s anyway. The Turbografx 16 version of this game had quite the warning for prospective players on its front cover: “The horrifying theme of this game may be inappropriate for children…and cowards.” I too associate children with cowards.
Tank Force: Take control of, you guessed it, tanks. This 1991 sequel to Battle City has players shooting enemy tanks to protect their headquarters. A 2nd player can join in for some cooperative gameplay. Destroy all the enemy tanks in a round to progress to the next round. If you make it to round 17 you might notice something a little familiar. The battleground is made to look like everyone’s favorite Namco mascot – Pac-Man!
The Tower of Druaga: Much more popular in Japan, The Tower of Druaga is a 1984 action role-playing arcade game that can best be described as Gauntlet with a dash of Pac-Man. The game is really tough and I couldn’t get very far at all. This game is known to inspire several other action role-playing games; The Legend of Zelda being one of them.
How Do You Want to Play?
Whew! Like I said, there are a whole lot of games here! As someone who goes from game to game very often, I came to really appreciate the “suspend save” feature. If you decided that you’d rather kill monsters in Splatterhouse instead of shooting down planes in Sky Kid, a simple press of the right bumper will bring up the options menu. From here you can exit your game and jump into Splatterhouse. Ready to go back to Sky Kid? Just choose it from the game selection screen and you’re right back where you left off! Every single game will remember exactly where you were when you quit. If you’d rather start from scratch you can do that too!
After selecting what game you want to play you’ll be asked if you want to play in either Normal or Challenge mode. Normal mode is just that. The arcade game you know and love, exactly as you remember it. Challenge mode takes things to a whole other level. Every game has a set of challenges that the player is given to complete. For example, score as many points as possible on stage 5 of Splatterhouse or crush as many enemies as you can with a single rock in Dig Dug. Some challenges are easier than others, but I found most to be…well…challenging. Your scores will be saved and available for you to admire or scoff at whenever you like. I didn’t realize how much I suck at arcade games until I tried to complete the Galaga challenges. I really embarrassed myself when I compared my score to everyone else’s on the online leaderboard. Oh, yeah. Now’s probably a good time to mention that every single game in Namco Museum has a dedicated online leaderboard!
So Many Options!
So let’s jump into all the options that are at your disposal. Strap in because there is a lot! To pull up the options menu simply press RB at any time.
Rotate Screen 90°: This is more for the vertical shooter games that utilized monitors with TATE configuration. It’s an option that’s available for every game, because hey, why not?! Even though it’s nice to have this option, the Switch’s kickstand becomes useless when the console is vertical. Meaning that you have to have a DIY stand or keep the Switch in your lap.
Display: It’s here where you can configure the screen size by changing things like vertical and horizontal positions as well as the aspect ratio. There are plenty of options here. There is even a scanline option that actually looks good! Another nice little touch is the option to change the game’s border. Every title in Namco Museum has 2 dedicated borders to make the open spaces on your Switch screen emulate the feel of an arcade cabinet. A 3rd border is also available but it’s simply a grey screen. I guess that’s good for people who enjoy being boring.
Sound: Seven different sound quality types are at your disposal! This is insane, but very welcome. Boost high frequencies, reduce mid frequencies, and cut excess frequencies. There are lots of options for audiophiles to get lost in.
Game Settings: This is where all the good stuff is located. In here you can turn on options to select whatever level to start on (as long as you’ve reached that level), change the number of points needed to gain an extra life, and also change the difficulty. Another cool option is to turn “Attract Mode” on or off. Attract mode is what arcade owners used to draw customers to their games. If on, the arcade cabinet (or Switch in this case) will play sounds while waiting for credits to be inserted. The Switch’s HD rumble feature can also be turned on or off here.
Controls: This is your basic control configuration screen, except a nice little stick deadzone option is available. Choose this if you wish to increase or decrease the Switch’s stick sensitivity.
Also nestled in the options menu is a “How to Play” section. Each and every game gets a dedicated manual with story descriptions along with a hints/tips section. I absolutely love this!
An Arcade in the Palm of Your Hand
So, you’re probably wondering how well the games play. Well, they’re perfectly emulated as far as I can tell. I’ve played most of these in the arcade back in the day, but can’t attest to the sounds being exactly as they should be. If I did have one thing to complain about, it’d have to be the Switch’s stick when playing Pac-Man and Pac-Man Vs. I can’t put the full blame on the Switch here. This is more of my own personal preference of using a real joystick when controlling Pac-Man. The HD rumble is another feature that I had to turn off immediately. The rumble was too strong and felt out of place in most games. Again, this can be turned off.
In closing, this is an amazing package that Switch owners of all ages should not pass up! There are a few games that I feel should have been swapped out for different titles (The Tower of Druaga, Tank Force), but that’s just my own personal opinion. I still can’t get over the amount of options Namco crammed into this package. I mean, come on! Who is out there reducing mid frequencies?! Either way, there is something here for everybody. As for me, I’m strapping on my Terror Mask and searching for that diabolical Dr. West.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch; Publisher: Bandai Namco ; Developer: Namco; Players: 1-4 ; Released: July 28, 2017 ; ESRB: E for Everyone ; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a Nintendo Switch review copy of Namco Museum given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.