Namco Museum (Switch) review

Bandai Namco

If there’s one thing you can definitely say about Bandai Namco, it’s that it bloody loves making retro compilations of its older games.

Believe it or not, Namco Museum on the Switch is actually the 19th game to feature the Namco Museum title, meaning Pac-Man, Galaga and chums have been dug up more times over the years than Walt Disney’s grave. Um… I’m guessing.

Still, here we go again with yet another helping of classic Namco arcade gems from back in the day, though this time – to its credit – there are at least a few in here that have never appeared in a Namco Museum title before.

These games – Rolling Thunder 2, Splatterhouse and Tank Force – are joined by a bunch of others for a total of 11 retro classics.

Allow me, then, to break this sucker down game by game, before rounding things off by looking at the package as a whole. Not like that, you filthy sod.

Pac-Man (1980)

Well, obviously. It wouldn’t be a Namco collection without yer (pac) man making an appearance for the umpteenth time.

If you really don’t know what Pac-Man is by now then you should be banished from this planet in a small satellite and made to slowly orbit the Earth, gazing longingly below at all the Pac-savvy people enjoying life.

What I’m basically saying is that this is an arcade-perfect port of the original Pac-Man game, complete with all the little interval bits and everything you’d expect. And it’s still as entertaining as it’s ever been.

For the most monumental Pac-Man nerds out there who are interested, the game’s options include the ability to turn off the level 256 ‘kill screen’ so you can continue to play the game past that stage if you want to keep building your high score.

Fun fact: Pac-Man used to be called Puck-Man until Namco realised the name could be easily changed to Buck-Man. Since he looks nothing like a deer, the name was changed to avoid confusion.

Galaga (1981)

Likewise, if Namco’s early space shooter wasn’t also present and accounted for, this particular Namco collection would feel rather unfinished.

For those not clued in, it’s a Space Invaders type affair with the twist that enemies fly in before taking their place in the formation, then fly out to attack you.

You may also remember it from some early PlayStation games like Tekken and Ridge Racer, where it appeared as a loading screen diversion.

It’s a little on the basic side these days, although it still kept me entertained for a wee while and the new autofire button is a nice touch.

Fun fact: Galaga was named after Oasis co-frontman Liam Galaga.

Dig Dug (1982)

The third and last of Namco’s ‘holy trinity’ of arcade classics, Dig Dug is another game that simply has to be here for fear of complete global extinction.

You play as a little chap called Dig Dug, who was later renamed Taizo Hori and retconned to be the father of Namco’s other subterranean star Mr Driller.

Your task is to kill all the enemies in each level by attaching your pump to them and pumping them full of air until they explode (or by dropping rocks on them, but that’s bloody difficult).

I was never a massive fan of Dig Dug because I found the inflating mechanic to be a little fiddly, but it has its following and they’ll be more than happy with what is a perfect arcade port here.

Fun fact: When excavators tried to recover the ET Atari cartridges that were buried in the New Mexico desert, they used Dig Dug cartridges to shovel the sand because they thought it would be ironic.

The Tower Of Druaga (1984)

You might not know this, but Japan fucking loved The Tower Of Druaga when it was released. Many Japanese gamers consider it just as important as Dig Dug or Galaga.

In the west it was roundly ignored, and you could argue it’s not hard to see why, at least initially.

It’s a sort of combat-based maze game where you have to guide the hero Gilgamesh though a series of mazes, finding the key in each so you can unlock the door to the next stage.

When it kicks off, the game’s obscenely slow, but the twist is that each level has a hidden power-up that appears when you fulfil a certain secret task.

In the Switch version, you can bop the X button whenever you want to bring up a hint that shows you how to make the power-up appear on that stage.

Suddenly, after just a couple of levels you’re armed with all sorts of shit, most important of which are boots that help you run faster and, as result, make the game more enjoyable.

Stick with this one, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Fun fact: The game was originally called The Tower Of A Guard, but someone accidentally shuffled the letters while designing the arcade cabinet and they reluctantly chose to stick with it.

Sky Kid (1985)

This one’s an acquired taste but it’s grown on me over the years.

It’s a side-scrolling shooter in which you play as either Red Baron or Blue Max, with the aim being to collect a bomb partway through each level and drop it on a target near the end of the stage, before landing safely.

The gimmick here is that you can fire diagonally as well as straight, while enemies regularly attack you from above and below.

It’s a little on the tricky side, but once you get used to the slightly odd mechanics it’s fun. There’s also two-player co-op which can lead to plenty of colourful language.

Oh, and as you can hear in the video montage at the bottom of this review, the music is fantastic.

Fun fact: The game was originally about a work experience boy working at a call centre selling satellite television packages, but Namco decided that would be too boring and a hasty redesign was ordered.

Rolling Thunder (1986)

I’m biased with this one because Rolling Thunder was the first American game I ever owned when I got my NES chipped back in 1991 to play US games. Yes, I was hardcore.

It’s a side-scrolling action platformer in which you play a needlessly lanky spy who has to take out an endless stream of hooded enemies by putting bullets into their bastard face.

It’s one of those vintage examples of an extremely difficult game where you get a feeling of real accomplishment for merely getting further than you have before.

Put up with its rock-hard shootouts and when you get the hang of the AI’s quirks you’ll enjoy what’s on offer here.

Fun fact: Rolling Thunder is also the name of the annual event in Columbus, Ohio in which residents gather atop a giant hill and roll DVDs of Tom Cruise racing movie Days Of Thunder down it.

Galaga ‘88 (1987)

Although Galaga is on most Namco compilations, its threequel (after Gaplus) rarely makes an appearance. It’s a shame, because it’s better.

The general idea is the same – blow the piss out of alien ships – but there’s a load more variety here in terms of scenery, enemy type and features.

Most notable of these is the option to begin the game with a double ship, something that can only be earned through a bit of trickery in the original.

In fact, the addition of Galaga ‘88 makes the presence of the original Galaga in this collection a little pointless: we could have done with something like Mappy or Pac-Land in its place.

Fun fact: Galaga ‘88 was named after the other Oasis co-frontman, Noel Galaga ‘88.

Splatterhouse (1988)

Making its Namco Museum debut is the controversial Splatterhouse, a delightfully grotesque action game.

You take control of Rick, a dead parapsychology student who’s been resurrected by the ‘Terror Mask’ which basically makes him look like Jason from Friday The 13th.

This mask gives Rick enormous strength, which he uses to punch the fucking heads clean off the various hideous monsters roaming the infested West Mansion.

That’s not an exaggeration, either: heads come off, stomachs are punched open and bodies are splattered against walls in a game that’s still hilariously disgusting nearly three decades later.

It’s difficult, but you’ll be laughing too much at how ridiculous it is to care.

Fun fact: Splatterhouse was named after its creator drank the tap water while staying at a Spanish villa and ended up having a bum accident.

Rolling Thunder 2 (1990)

If the first Rolling Thunder wasn’t enough for you, its sequel – released four years later – is also here too, appearing in a Namco Museum game for the first time.

At its core it’s similar to its predecessor: run through a number of stages shooting countless enemies (although this time they’re cyborgs, not hooded thugs).

Most of the changes are cosmetic: this time you’re playing as a female character, and there’s a greater variety in terms of background scenery.

It also adds a two-player co-op mode, which is bloody good fun when playing on the Switch with two Joy-Con controllers.

Fun fact: Rolling Thunder 2 is also the name of a counter-event set up by Tom Cruise in which Scientologists roll DVDs of the latest Columbus Rolling Thunder event down a hill.

Tank Force (1991)

Of all the games in this compilation, it’s fair to say that Tank Force is the least well-known.

It was the last game made with Namco’s System 1 hardware, which by this point was showing its age, and so didn’t get the mass arcade exposure that the others games here did.

It’s not too shabby, either: it’s a top-down shooter set over a series of single-screen levels in which you have to destroy all the enemy tanks before either your own tank or your base is destroyed.

Blasting through scenery to take out enemy tanks is surprisingly good fun, making this something of a hidden gem, especially in two-player co-op mode.

Fun fact: The 17th level in Tank Force is shaped like Pac-Man. What, you thought I was going to crack a joke? I’m a serious journalist, you cheeky prick.

Pac-Man Vs (2003)

Finally, as a pleasant little surprise, one of the best GameCube-era multiplayer games also makes an unexpected return.

In the original version, one player controlled Pac-Man on the TV via their GameCube while up to three others controlled ghosts, playing on GBAs connected to the Cube via a link cable.

The faff involved in sorting all this out meant very few people ended up playing this brilliant game, and so here’s another chance to try it out.

However, because of how it’s played, you’re going to need at least two Switches connected wirelessly: one for Pac-Man, and one for the three ghosts to play tabletop style.

In a nice touch though, you only need one copy of Namco Museum: the other Switch can download a free Pac-Man Vs app from the eShop to connect to it.

If you only have one Switch, there’s an alternative mode in which Pac-Man is AI-controlled and 1-3 players control ghosts trying to catch him. This mode is nowhere near as entertaining.

Fun fact: The ‘Vs’ in Pac-Man Vs is not short for ‘versus’ as many believe. It’s actually a passive aggressive reference to golfer Vijay Singh who once called Pac-Man “a stupid yellow fucker”.

So there you have it, that’s all 11 games. They’re all presented in a fairly basic menu complete with the standard options you’d expect.

There are different screen filters (adding varying levels of scan lines to the screen), a couple of borders to choose from for each game and the ‘dip switch’ settings menus that were available for arcade owners to tinker with (number of lives, difficulty, that sort of thing).

You also get the option to rotate the screen: while this may not seem like a big deal, the fact that five of the games – Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Galaga, The Tower Of Druaga and Galaga ‘88 – originally had vertical screens, playing the Switch by removing the Joy-Con and turning it on its side is actually a cool touch and makes the play area much bigger in handheld mode.

Gameplay sample of all 11 games (no commentary):

Ultimately, while most of the games on offer here are entertaining enough for retro gamers, there’s one major issue and that’s the price. Namco Museum costs £29.99 in the UK, which for 11 games (10 if you’re a single-player gamer) is a tad steep.

Granted, the ACA Neo Geo games on the eShop will set you back £6.29 each whereas in theory you’re talking about £2.70 per game here, but for the some price as 11 ancient Namco games – some of which you might not like – you could buy five Neo Geo games of your choosing that will look significantly better.

A word of advice: if you’re still sold on Namco Museum and want to buy it, try to buy it from a different eShop than the UK one if you can.

The multi-region nature of the Switch means you can access and buy games from different eShops (here’s my easy guide if you haven’t done it yet), and the game’s much cheaper in other regions.

It may be £29.99 in the UK, but it’s $29.99 (£23.19) in the US, and ¥3000 (£21.30) in Japan, meaning if you buy from the Japanese eShop you can save nearly a third of the price. Once you’re talking around £1.90 per game it suddenly feels a lot more reasonable.

If you’ve somehow managed to avoid all the Namco retro collections to this date, this one should keep you entertained for a while. The price (in the UK at least) is a bit steep for what you get, and I’m sure they could have got well more than 11 games in there, but it’s not a terrible package all round.

Namco Museum is out now, priced £29.99 / $29.99 / ¥3000 on the Switch eShop.

This review was not based on a free copy from a PR – I purchased it myself from the Japanese eShop. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way influenced by this.

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