I can hear you now... "Another Namco Museum title?" Before you write this one off, consider what's included.
It seems like these arcade compilations are a dime a dozen these days, with every major company electing to re-release their classic (and sometimes not-so-classic) wares on modern hardware. Few developers, however, possess such a robust library of classic arcade titles as Namco. Maybe that’s why we’ve seen so many Namco Museum titles over the years—and yet each time one is released, we’re still eager to get our hands on it.
Namco Museum Virtual Arcade features a library of 34 classic and rearranged games—the largest collection of any Namco Museum to date. The classics all function as advertised, and the arrangements are simply ports of games released in the 90s along with previous collections. But what truly differentiates this from previous entries in the series is the inclusion of nine Xbox Live Arcade games (normally purchasable separately) which can be installed directly from the game disc for permanent ownership. At a price point of $30, it’s hard to deny the appeal of such a package.
What you get
Fire up the 80’s music and grab a handful of quarters, because there’s enough content here to take a serious trip down memory lane. Granted, some games are much better than others, but in totality, this is one collection well worth its price point. Keep in mind I am reviewing these games based on their current appeal—sure, many of them play host to a swarm of nostalgic influence, but admittedly, even your humble gaming connoisseur hasn’t played a large selection of them. Here’s a list of what you get:
Classic Museum Titles – These are games which have not been released on Xbox Live!.
Baraduke – Goofy sci-fi shooter, sort of resembling Air Fortress for the NES. It’s fun yet outrageously challenging. I found this game mildly entertaining… though perhaps the most amusing aspect of it all was the little yellow spherical guy who screams “I’M YOUR FRIEND” at you and the fact that you’re playing in a deadly alien-infested hell named… Kissy.
Bosconian – A free-roaming, space-shooting classic of its time I’m sure, but today, it’s honestly pretty crappy. Maybe it holds that Yars’ Revenge style of appeal where you have golden sweet memories of it but it really wasn’t all that fantastic.
Dig Dug II – The overground island-based successor to the popular digging game, this one features some additional cool mechanics involving drilling away parts of the islands to mass-kill enemies. This game is lots of fun.
Dig Dug Arrangement – An interesting remake of the original Dig Dug featuring a world map, single-use items, and even bosses that is fun while it lasts.
DragonBuster – Worst music ever in a game? It’s getting there. But what about the side-scrolling action gameplay? Well, let’s just say it’s nothing special… unless you’re into battling fire-breathing dinosaurs and bats with a retarded swordsman.
Dragon Spirit – A top-down shooter with catchy music that many people will remember from arcades twenty years ago. It features a steep learning curve, but it’s lots of fun once you get into it.
Galaga `88 – An enhanced version of the original. You might be aware that I’ve received plenty of death threats about my general dislike for the Galaga series over the years, though I can certainly appreciate its appeal. My sentiments remain the same about this version, but if you suck to a lesser degree than I do, you’ll probably find that it’s at least improved.
Galaga Arrangement – A souped-up version of the original featuring changing backgrounds, more varied enemy patterns, bosses, and more. I had considerably more fun with this game than the old-school Galaga titles.
Galaxian – The predecessor to the mighty Galaga, this game wasn’t shy about its Space Invaders roots. You fire upon a mass of moving enemies at the top of the screen just like in Taito’s classic, but the twist here is that they dive-bomb you, and there’s no source of cover. If you’re into the Galaga series, this will entertain you.
Grobda – Partially resemblant of the tank sequences in Tron, or perhaps even to some degree Berzerk (sans Evil Otto), Grobda sees you manning a tank and firing a satisfyingly solid and colorful laser beam at enemy tanks in an effort to destroy them all. They also fire back, however, and the only options for cover you have are various obstacles around each level and a shield which depletes when used, only to regenerate slowly. As you progress, the enemy tanks get tougher and more diverse. This game is very entertaining.
King & Balloon – Haven’t had enough Galaxian? Why not spend some time with this adaptation where you’re instead in charge of a medieval cannon defense firing upon balloon-borne invaders (Space Invaders even, in fact) to try and prevent them from abducting your king, who travels the width of the screen below your position? It’s actually not that bad of a game if you can forgive the fact that the premise is so similar to these other classic titles.
Mappy – You might have played this when you were young. It’s a delightful classic where you’re in control of a mouse cop who is tasked with recovering stolen goods from a band of evil cats. The multilevel trampoline gameplay is unique and addictive.
Metro-Cross – A 1985 gem that sees you running and jumping through a series of isometric environments riddled with all sorts of obstacles. The only way to lose is to fail to make it to the finish before time expires—but don’t worry; the game gives you plenty of opportunities for failure. Among the obstacles are giant rolling cans, holes in the floor, green “slow patches”, and exploding tiles. You can also take advantage of various aids, such as tin cans that add points or stop the timer and skateboards to whisk you through the tough parts. The gameplay is addicting and the game is a blast. This is one of the best obscure titles in the collection.
Motos – Initially amusing, but ultimately rather annoying, this game requires you to chase and bump off a number of opponents across a series of wall-less arenas. Their goal is the same, and in the later levels, your only hope of survival is through the use of enhanced-bumping and jump power-ups, as the enemies evolve and become more and more sinister. This game is a fun distraction, but not much more.
Pac & Pal – A twist on Pac-Man that involves moving across cards on the ground to open up certain areas of the game board which contain fruits and other items. Some of these items include power-ups which allow Pac-Man to fire a short beam at the ghosts to incapacitate them (scoring big points in the process). There’s also a new “helper” of sorts named Pal who strongly resembles Lolo from the Adventures of Lolo NES game and is little more than an annoyance; she roams the board in search of opened treasures and attempts to return them to the center, which sounds helpful—but if she has her way, you’ll receive no points for anything she picks up. Pac & Pal is more complex than its predecessors, but in turn it is also less satisfying. It’s enjoyable but nothing remarkably addictive.
Pac-Man Arrangement – Like the rest of the arrangements, this is an adaptation of the original that ads lots of new gameplay elements such as power-ups that create a Pac-Man doppelganger or turn all of the ghosts into presents. It’s fun, but nothing compares to the classic.
Pac-Mania – This is the most genuinely entertaining of the Pac-Man spinoffs, even if the idea is rather goofy-sounding from the outset. The design is the same as the classic original, except this time, the game boards and environments are considerably more diverse, the viewpoint is isometric, and—here’s the kicker—you can jump. This actually works pretty well considering the circumstances; rather than just four ghosts, now you’re up against six, which can be quite harrowing indeed. The biggest drawback to this version is that you’re no longer able to view the entire game board at once; everything is zoomed-in. Still, it’s very addictive and the best Pac-Man game since Ms. Pac-Man.
Pole Position – The classic racing game that nearly everyone remembers is faithfully ported here. The mapping of the throttle to the analog shoulder trigger (RT) works very well. Truth be told, however, there really isn’t much to this game… and it’s so difficult, it really isn’t all that fun—especially without a wheel controller.
Pole Position II – Second verse, same as the first. Now we get better visuals and three more tracks to choose from.
Rally-X – Strangely, this is closer to Pac-Man than anything else. You guide a car toward various flags, which are marked on a map, in an effort to collect them all while enemy cars chase you. It’s extremely difficult. Speaking comparatively, this game is actually quite terrible and is among the worst of the collection.
Rolling Thunder – A popular arcade game of the mid-eighties, this is one of those titles that you have probably forgotten about (though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing). It’s a side-scrolling action game where you’re tasked with killing hordes of masked terrorists in an effort to reach the end of each level. You’re granted a gun with a limited supply of ammunition, and you can take momentary cover from your adversaries in any of a number of doors throughout the levels, or hop up and down between the top and bottom level of many areas. Like some of the other quarter-burners here, it’s outrageously difficult, and unless you’re willing to practice at it or you’re already well-acquainted with the mechanics, you’re likely to grow tired of it quickly.
Sky Kid – A side-scrolling shoot-‘em-up that, oddly, scrolls to the left. In each level, you’re instructed to make your way to a bomb and escort it to a target at the end of the level. Along the way, you’re met with plenty of resistance, both grounded and airborne. You can maneuver through the skies, shoot at your enemies, and perform a loop-de-loop technique to make it through alive. This game truly tests your projectile-dodging prowess, and if you stick with it, it’s good for some fun.
Sky Kid Deluxe – This is the same as the original Sky Kid except it includes a more varied assortment of enemies and (apparently) a greater number of levels.
Super Pac-Man – The antecedent to Pac & Pal, this game is very similar except there is no Pal. The mechanics are also slightly different, with the various gates being opened via the collection of nearby keys and special pellets which enlarge Pac-Man and allow him to plow through closed gates. It’s fun, but hardly classic.
The Tower of Druaga – I don’t care what anyone says, this game is awful. There are apparently 60 levels, but I couldn’t pass just the first few. The premise is at least intriguing. You’re a legendary knight traversing a terrible tower in rescue of a maiden who’s been held captive by an evil dragon. Each level is a top-down maze of sorts featuring a variety of different mythical enemies. You must navigate the maze in search of a key first to open a door, at which point you can make your way to the door (and thus the next level). You actually have a sword too, but I’ll be damned if it actually works. You can swing it to and fro, but the timing with which you must move while doing so in order to successfully vanquish an enemy is preposterously picky. One wrong move and you’re toast.
Xbox Live! Classics – These are full-version games which have been previously-released on Xbox Live!. All of them feature leaderboards and achievements.
Dig Dug – One of Namco’s true classics, this game sends you underground in hunt of strange enemies, armed with a harpoon and a remarkable ability to dig. For the highest scores, you’ll need to drop rocks on enemies or dig the earth out from under them, though you can also resort to your harpoon in a tight spot. This is easily one of the best classic games included.
Galaga – The classic formation-busting, ship-shooting game as released on Xbox Live!. As you might have read above, for some obscene reason I have always despised this game. But if you’re a fan, you’ll find it untouched and ready for action here.
Galaga Legions – This is actually very mechanically different from Galaga (and as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing—hehe). Unlike its ancient ancestor, Legions opts for swarms of enemies which often fill the vast majority of the screen, but also which each contains a core that, when destroyed, takes out all of its affiliated ships along with it. The newfangled ship you control also can now fire more than one bullet per second (yippee!), and you can even command two secondary cannons via the right control stick to fire in different directions and position themselves independently. Other major differences abound, such as interesting power-ups and black holes that can turn throngs of enemies into allied zombies under your control. While insanely challenging, this game is vastly more rewarding than any of the original Galaga titles (if you ask me), and thus much better suited for modern enjoyment. (Please direct all hate mail to my inbox here at DigitalChumps—thanks.)
Mr. Driller Online – Another totally-reworked title in the name of Xbox Live! Arcade, you might recognize Mr. Driller Online for drawing sharp criticism from reviewers—IGN, Gamespot, and anyone else who got their hands on a review copy of the original earlier this year—due to a broken online mode. Good luck finding any online matches in which to participate here—but at least the single-player works. Unfortunately, it’s nothing special, so this is one game you’ll probably not spend all that much time with. Regardless, the presentation is nice, and the music is catchy.
Ms. Pac-Man – One of my personal favorite games of all time, it is my opinion that Ms. Pac-Man represents the epitome of the classic Pac-Man series. With its faster-paced gameplay, richer graphics, and better balancing, it’s easily one of the most addictive games ever created. Here, you can experience the timeless classic, complete with leaderboards and achievements. The only problem with it all is that you’re forced to control it with either the awful Xbox D-pad or the insufficient analog stick, and that results in plenty of missed maneuvers and creative profanities.
New Rally-X – Rally-X was already bad enough, but now you can revel in its inadequacy with the help of its Xbox Live!-ported sequel (which—honestly—is pretty much exactly the same game as the original).
Pac-Man – If you aren’t already familiar with the original pellet-munching, ghost-chasing arcade game, you probably ought to acquaint yourself before considering a purchase of a compilation of classic arcade games.
Pac-Man Championship Edition – This game is so much fun it’s ridiculous. If only we could control it with a PlayStation gamepad as opposed to the pitiful Xbox D-pad—it’d be a nigh-blissful experience. This is basically a version of the classic game with beautiful, high-res graphics and thumping rave-style techno music where you spend all of your time on the same game board. In order to progress and continue raking in the points, you’ll need to clear one side of the game board and then eat the fruit that then appears subsequently on the opposite side to resupply the other side with additional dots. This cycle continues—faster and faster—as you’re being hunted by the ghosts in the meantime, who are as relentless as ever. Consuming ghosts en masse by eating another power pellet before your previous one expires results in massive amounts of points and plenty of satisfaction. The risk/reward ratio is firmly emphasized here and exploited to great effect.
Xevious – The top-down shooting classic which harkened the beginning of the top-down shoot-‘em-up era is in full effect here on Xbox Live!... but apart from its leaderboards functionality, that’s really all there is to it. Still, if you enjoyed the original, here it is.
High scores are saved for each of the games (even the offline Museum titles), and basic dipswitch options are translated into simple, easy-to-read options menu items (just as with previous Namco Museum titles.
It’s not all gumdrops and lollipops, though; Virtual Arcade is plagued by several design issues which, whether by fault of its own or the Xbox hardware, lessen its appeal.
For starters, the sequence for installing and playing the Xbox Live! Arcade games is confusing and irritating. You do get a message when you enter the Live! classics menu explaining that you must play the games from the “Xbox LIVE Arcade Menu,” but this hardly rectifies the lack of clarity surrounding the installation of the games themselves. Upon entering the menu, you select a game, and then—what? The Virtual Arcade game resets and you’re dropped back at the main menu all over again. Little did you know that the game has in fact been installed onto your console’s hard drive and is ready to be played. To install all of the games, you must repeat this process nine times—once for each game. And the games aren’t even accessible from the game disc menu; instead, you have to exit the game entirely and enter the Live Arcade menu from your console to play them.
The rest of the presentation is very minimalistic as well. The menus are as simplistic as they come, with very few instructions and barebones functionality. Not much is needed, true, but it would have been nice to see the game tips in the instruction manual included alongside the controls breakdowns in the actual game, for instance. Having to break out an instruction manual repeatedly is never a fun experience.
Finally—and this really isn’t so much the game’s fault, but it’s an undeniable obstacle nonetheless—the Xbox controller is hardly suited to many of these classic games. Not only does it feature the worst directional pad in the history of gaming hardware, but today’s analog sticks aren’t up to the task, either; it’s difficult to tell which direction you’re pushing them at times when you’re rapidly switching directions with precision in games like Pac-Man. If you’ve got an arcade stick, rejoice; you’ll need it here.