Interestingly, for a shiny modern piece of technology, one of the most appealing things about Nintendo’s Switch is the amount of retro gaming funtimes that can be had on the platform.
While at the time of writing the system is yet to launch a Virtual Console service similar to that found on its two predecessors the Wii and the Wii U, some of the disappointment over this is mitigated by the fact that the Switch eShop plays host to a wide variety of excellent arcade ports, including a number of wonderfully enjoyable (and monstrously difficult) Neo Geo games as well as the bundle package we’re concerned with here today.
Namco Museum is a compilation of 10 classic arcade titles from Namco that roughly correspond to the 8- and 16-bit eras of home video gaming, plus a new version of 2003’s Pac-Man Vs., which originally appeared on the Gamecube as a game that made use of the Game Boy Advance link cable for dual-screen asymmetrical multiplayer. There’s something here for everyone to enjoy!
The complete list of games in the collection includes Pac-Man (1980), Galaga (1981), Dig Dug (1982), The Tower of Druaga (1984), Sky Kid (1985), Rolling Thunder (1986), Galaga ’88 (1987), Splatterhouse (1988), Rolling Thunder 2 (1990), Tank Force (1991) and Pac-Man Vs. (2003).
While not a complete lineup of Namco titles by any means — it notably lacks classics such as Galaxian, Pole Position, Rally-X, Mappy, Xevious and numerous Pac-Man spinoffs and variations — it’s still a nice selection, including a number of slightly lesser-known or Japan-only titles we don’t see in compilations like this all that often, most notably Sky Kid, Rolling Thunder 2 and Tank Force.
The emulation of all the games is spot-on, featuring smooth gameplay, crisp sound and a customisable interface as well as the addition of HD rumble for tactile feedback alongside the audio and visuals. The default screen size is a little small — particularly when playing in handheld mode — but it’s easy enough to zoom it in using the in-game options menu, and the display expands without any use of filtering, making for lovely, deliciously sharp high-definition pixel edges.
The horizontal-aspect games such as Rolling Thunder appear to have an issue whereby making them fill the screen on a TV means that they’ll spill over the edge of the Switch’s display in handheld mode (or in some cases vice-versa), but vertical-aspect titles don’t seem to have this problem, and it’s simple enough to resolve anyway.
Perhaps most pleasingly for arcade purists, the entire compilation provides the option to rotate the screen by 90, 180 or 270 degrees from its standard orientation, allowing for play in a vertical “TATE” style with the system in either handheld or docked mode — although disappointingly, in handheld mode this still assumes your Joy-Cons are in their usual upright orientation. In other words. you’ll have to detach them from the Switch to play vertically (or use an external controller); no self-contained Atari Lynx-style vertical-orientation handheld play here!
Each game in the collection includes its standard arcade incarnation as well as a special “Challenge Mode”, which varies in specifics for each title but which generally requires you to demonstrate your skills in some way against a strict time limit. In Dig Dug, for example, you only receive points for dropping rocks on enemies, with significantly greater amounts being awarded for killing several enemies with a single boulder. In Rolling Thunder, meanwhile, you’re tasked with completing the final stage as quickly as possible; you have infinite lives, but dying will cause you to be much slower.
A number of the games also have helpful extras to support your play, too; this is perhaps most notable in Tower of Druaga, where you can get hints on how to uncover each floor’s hidden item at the tap of a button. You still have to accomplish the task itself, of course, but it saves pausing and looking at GameFAQs between every level.
The inclusion of Pac-Man Vs. is interesting. Offering the ability to play either using a single Switch (in which case up to three players can play as ghosts to chase down a computer-controlled Pac-Man) or with two Switches — one for the three ghosts, a second dedicated to Pac-Man — there’s some flexibility for fun here, and pleasingly if you have a Switch-owning friend who hasn’t bought Namco Museum, they can download a free app for their console that allows them to join a local multiplayer Pac-Man Vs. match.
You can even play the game by yourself, though it’s a rather dull experience without the social aspect and the amount of trash-talk the multiplayer incarnation tends to draw out in people. If nothing else, though, it shows that the Switch has the potential to offer asymmetrical multiplayer games similar to many of the best Wii U titles — although the fact two Switches are required to achieve what the Wii U could do straight out of the box adds a little more of a barrier to entry here.
Elsewhere in the collection, the games on offer — which we’ll explore individually in more detail in the coming weeks — are all a lot of fun and show how Namco has experimented with a variety of different play styles over the years. The original Pac-Man, Dig Dug and Galaga are still as good as they always were, and the slightly more “modern” (for want of a better term) games still look, sound and play extremely well, even if now-notorious aspects such as the inability to fire up or while jumping in Rolling Thunder are as frustrating as ever!
Combine these solid arcade ports with unobtrusive online functionality for leaderboards, the entire collection’s strong degree of customisability and the additional Challenge Modes, and you have yourself a decent set of retro games to enjoy. While perhaps not quite as good value as some of the Namco Museum packages we’ve had in the past — perhaps most notably the very comprehensive Xbox 360 package from 2008, despite its bugged version of Tower of Druaga — it’s an absolute joy to be able to take some of these games on the go with you. And while it’s a bummer the game hasn’t had a physical release at the time of writing, it’s also very nice indeed to have 11 great games ready and waiting to play at the drop of a hat, wherever you are. (So long as you have your Switch with you, obviously.)
For fans of retro gaming in particular, then, both a Nintendo Switch and a copy of Namco Museum are worthy purchases. Now howsabout you think about adding some of those missing games through free content patches if you’re going to go digital-only, hmm, Namco?
More about Namco Museum (Switch)
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