For quite some time — particularly during the crossover from the 8-bit to 16-bit home computer and console eras — shoot ’em ups were regarded as the “dumb” side of gaming; critics often thought we could “do better”.
These days, of course, the more discerning gamers among us will, of course, be able to recognise that 1) there are a wide variety of different types of shoot ’em up out there, many of which are intricately designed works of mechanical artistry, and 2) they’re absolutely not as mindless as some people might like to make them out to be. And, moreover, they haven’t been for a long time.
Not sure about that? Look back on Namco’s Galaxian, originally released to arcades in 1979 and ported to a wide variety of platforms over the following years. The version we’re primarily concerned with today is the Famicom version from 1984, which you can now enjoy worldwide as part of the Namco Museum Collection 1 cartridge for the Evercade retro gaming system.
Continue reading Galaxian: The Thinking Man’s Fixed Shooter
Let’s take a moment to catch up. Star Luster is a space combat game by Namco, originally released for Famicom in 1985. Despite it being an obvious homage to an incredibly popular Western game — Atari’s Star Raiders — it never came West.
35 years later, Star Luster finally got a worldwide release as part of the Namco Museum Collection 1 cartridge for Blaze’s Evercade retro gaming system. This was my first contact with a game that I ended up absolutely loving — and after looking into it further, I was surprised to discover it got a sequel for PlayStation in 1999. A sequel which got a fairly middling reception because the press of the time compared it unfavourably to its rough contemporary Colony Wars — and, of course, because relatively few people in the West had any clue that Star Luster existed.
35 years after the release of Star Luster and 21 years after the release of its sequel, I find myself in possession of a copy of that sequel: Star Ixiom, a game I’ve been looking forward to playing since I was first blown away by Star Luster’s sheer playability. So let’s take a look at what this space-based blastathon has to offer — and how well it holds up today.
Continue reading Star Ixiom: Still Shining
Probably the best thing about Blaze’s Evercade retro gaming platform is the fact that the releases so far have specifically eschewed hugely well-known retro titles in favour of hidden gems, lost treasures and just plain previously unlocalised titles.
A great example of this can be seen on the Namco Museum Collection 2 cartridge. Have you ever heard of Warpman? Chances are, unless you collect Famicom games, probably not; it’s a 1985 Japan-only sequel to a fairly obscure 1981 Namco arcade game called Warp & Warp, also known as Warp Warp for its North American release.
Warpman (and, by extension, Warp & Warp, which it closely resembles in gameplay terms) is a particularly interesting game, because it introduces a specific mechanic that, today, is more commonly associated with a later game from a completely different company. But Namco did it first! So let’s take a closer look.
Continue reading Warpman: Another Lost Namco Treasure
Namco really were trailblazers back in the early days of gaming; so many of their titles were true pioneers.
Much of the vertically scrolling shoot ’em up genre as it exists today owes a lot to 1983’s Xevious, for example. Xevious established or at least popularised genre conventions such as making use of different weapons for different targets, regular confrontations with powerful enemies and dynamic difficulty scaling.
Namco’s port to the Famicom became one of the system’s first “killer apps”, selling a mighty 1.26 million copies — and it still plays great today. And wouldn’t you know it? You can play that 8-bit console version on the Evercade retro gaming system thanks to the Namco Museum Collection 1 cartridge. Let’s take a closer look!
Continue reading Xevious: Are You Devious Enough?
Dig Dug is one of those retro games that is an established classic, but which relatively few people seem to be aware actually got a rather enjoyable sequel.
Most of this is likely due to the fact that the 1985 arcade original was only released in Japan, and the game wouldn’t come West until the 1989 release of the NES version. And, well, good luck to any mid-’80s 8-bit arcade-style game releasing in the same year that gave us Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, Phantasy Star II, SimCity, Populous, Mega Man II, Golden Axe and an early incarnation of Windows Solitaire.
Still, that doesn’t mean Dig Dug II should be consigned to the dustbin of history by any means. It’s fortunate, then, that we can try it out for ourselves on the Namco Museum Collection 2 cartridge for the Evercade retro gaming system! Let’s take a closer look.
Continue reading Dig Dug II: Bring Out the Drill
One of the great things about the Evercade retro gaming handheld is its unofficial mission to bring a variety of overlooked, underappreciated or unlocalised retro gaming titles to a worldwide audience.
The publishing partners who have signed up to distribute their games on the platform are seemingly more than happy to jump on board with this philosophy too — and this is especially evident with the two Namco Museum Collection cartridges, which not only provide the classics we expect to always see on such compilations like Pac-Man and Dig-Dug, but also some lesser-known titles, some of which never officially left Japan on their original platforms.
Part of the reason for this is the Evercade’s initial focus on retro home consoles, whereas Namco’s own Namco Museum releases have historically tended to focus on the arcade side of things. And so, we come to Star Luster, a 1985 release for the Famicom that never came West. Until now!
Continue reading Star Luster: Namco Does Star Raiders
Rolling Thunder is a classic Namco title with good reason. Its slower pace, methodical gameplay and learnable patterns make it an obvious precursor to the stealth games of today.
Its 1990 sequel offers more of the same in many ways — but with considerably enhanced visuals, refined mechanics and presentation and an all-new option to enjoy the game with two players simultaneously.
It’s not nearly as well known as its predecessor, but it’s a great game in its own right. And, conveniently, it’s part of the Namco Museum collection on Nintendo Switch!
Continue reading Rolling Thunder 2: Leila Takes the Lead
Yes, yes, yes, I know it was Halloween yesterday and thus I was supposed to cover a spooky game then, but I was busy then, so you’re getting it now instead.
Splatterhouse is a classic 1988 horror game from Namco, and there are a variety of ways you can play it today — the most recent and readily accessible of which is the excellent Namco Museum on Switch.
It’s also a very interesting game to look back on from a modern perspective, given how popular horrific, gory games have become as the gaming medium has matured.
Continue reading Splatterhouse: Elements of Horror
At the time of writing, people are getting seriously excited for PlatinumGames’ next release, Astral Chain — and with good reason!
As the release approaches, we’re starting to learn more and more about the game: what we can expect from it, what sort of experience it will be and what its main inspirations are.
In the latter case, an interview by Polygon reveals that a particularly strong influence on director Takahisa Taura was an obscure 1983 release from Namco, developed by the creator of Pac-Man. I give you Libble Rabble.
Continue reading Namco Essentials: Libble Rabble
The Ace Combat series is a jewel in Namco’s crown that people sadly seem to forget about quite often — though hopefully the seventh installment due early in 2019 will rectify that to an extent.
The series mostly stretches across the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 eras, with a less well-received (but still enjoyable) spinoff installment in the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era. For most, the series’ peak was with its PS2 installments; opinion varies as to which one of these is really “the best”, but they’re all very much worth your time.
At the time of writing, we’ve already talked about fourth installment Distant Thunder (aka Shattered Skies), so today let’s take a look at the fifth game, known as Squadron Leader in Europe, and The Unsung War elsewhere. It’s a good ‘un.
Continue reading PS2 Essentials: Ace Combat: Squadron Leader