I’m an enormous old school arcade fan. Having been born in 1976 and raised in the 80s by a nerdy father and mother, whom trusted arcades as babysitters, anytime Namco comes out with their museum collection I’m always game (pun intended). On top of this, I teach a video game history course at the University of Kentucky (it’s a real course at a real university) and it just adds more fuel to the teaching fire when I can show arcade ports to the young minds that have never experienced them.
In a nutshell, I like old arcade ports for various reasons.
When Bandai Namco Entertainment announced in April/May that they were bringing a new museum to the Nintendo Switch I was probably one of the few reviewers out there that was giddy. If you didn’t grow up in the heyday of arcades, then you wouldn’t fully understand why its neat seeing a version of old games retained on a new system. It’s nice to keep the originals alive through the decades.
If that wasn’t enough, then they added more value to the package. A few weeks later they also announced they were bringing Pac-Man VS to the same game and instantly there was no stopping the excitement train. If you’re not familiar with the title, it was featured on the Nintendo Gamecube in 2001 at its E3 booth. Believe me, folks, it was a crown jewel at that show. It was one of the more entertaining games from that year, definitely a memorable one, and made the Gamecube out to be a fascinating new system for Nintendo with a lot of innovative possibilities. You would actually hook up the Gameboy SP to the Gamecube to play it. Three ghosts, one Pac-Man — a brawler of Pac-Man sorts. Anyway, it was a good addition to sell the museum package.
So, how is the new Nintendo Switch Namco Museum? Well, let’s break each game down:
Galaga — I put this on the top of the list because it’s truly, at least in my mind, the best arcade game ever made. You’re thinking to yourself right now, “Surely, this idiot jests. What about Mortal Kombat? Joust? Donkey Kong? FREAKING AREA 51?!!” I would say to this nay-nay. While certainly that list of games provide some entertainment, there is something about Galaga that is timeless. The concept is simple, yet a more advanced version of Space Invaders. It contains various enemies with various attack patterns, something that was not entirely common back in the day. It also allows you to get your ship captured and then retain it for dual power, which was amazing back in the early 80s. It has everything you want from an arcade game and is absolutely the best.
Dig Dug — It’s represented well on the Switch. The game is fun, intense and just as tricky and challenging as it always has been. You dig through your garden to cast out the bad bugs and random fire breathing dragon (because those are always in your garden). It’s fun, unpredictable at times and will keep you on the edge of your seat.
The Tower of Duaga — Wherever Bandai Namco found this they need to promptly return it. While I will give them the benefit of the doubt that this is a unique arcade experience that I have never went through before, this game as a whole is absolutely awful. I played it twice and promptly stopped playing it. It’s slow, it’s clunky and there are better arcade games that could have been included instead of this one. You play a knight that has to move around a maze, find a key to unlock an exit door to the next maze, while slowly battling baddies on the way through. It would have been a nice easter egg, but as an actual included game in the bunch it’s probably the weakest. I had no enjoyment from this one. Not one bit.
Skykid — This was another game I had never played, but enjoyed the complexity of it. You fly a World War I biplane that has to bomb certain areas, fight off other planes and take care of ground attacks. You’re also given missions/objectives to complete. In addition, if you’re shot down the game gives you a chance to recover by pressing a button rapidly. It was very innovative for a game released in 1985. It was a true gem in the bunch.
Rolling Thunder 1/2 — Okay, so after playing so many action titles over the years, revisiting Rolling Thunder 1 and 2 was a bit painfully predictive. The game is tough as nails, yet the toughness comes from the repetitive enemies constantly being thrown at you. Color-coded enemies dictate their patterns (yellow/blue = walk towards you, orange/red = firing a gun from knee or standing, white/gray = throwing bombs at you), so there are no surprising enemies to be had; just cheap level design to kill you. Anyway, I laughed back in the day and still laugh now when enemies just gingerly walk through the doors into gunfire, which is neat since there are so many at a time. Honestly speaking, as bad as the years have been to the series, the gameplay is still fun as hell. Very James Bond type gameplay that has a good soundtrack and is fun in terms of action. I do like how they start off part 2 with you as a female character and ramp up the difficulty in the second game. *high five for progressiveness, Namco*
Galaga ’88 — While it doesn’t capture the magic of the original game, it does add some unique complication to how the original game’s structure went. You get more unique ships that break into smaller ships. You get the ability to have 2+ ships captured at once. The unique bosses, boards and backgrounds make this an upgrade in some areas. Sadly, the difficulty is up there too, as enemy attack patterns and speed can be downright brutal at times, but you can adjust enough in the game’s menu to alleviate that a bit. It’s a good game for this collection, but not nearly as fun as the first.
Splatterhouse — TurboGrafx-16 fans out there built this game as the Sega Genesis killer. Sadly, it didn’t happen. Nor did Bonk take over. Nor did It Came From the Desert kill the Sega CD’s hopes/dreams (it did that on its own). As games go for the early 90s, this was a bloody good game that may not have survived the test of time, but still tugs at the nostalgic heartstrings of this reviewer. The cleverness of this game is that it’s gross (vomiting enemies, I mean, c’mon!) and it’s a bit terrifying in some spots (some jump scares). Its controls aren’t overly enjoyable, though. Regardless, it’s neat to see it in a collection.
Tank Force — This is a more fancy version of Atari’s Combat game (1977). The concept is the same, where you play as a tank and go to take out other tanks in a maze. The controls are far better than Combat could have imagined. It’s a bit slow, yet colorful and fun. It’s certainly near the bottom tier of the game museum group, but the level design and bosses keep it from being the bottom.
Pac-Man — Classic. Great. Move along.
Pac-Man VS — Oh, my. While I will certainly miss the Gameboy SP hooked up to the Gamecube, the Nintendo Switch still captures the goodness of the game. You can play solo or with multiple Switch owners. It’s a crazy fun game that will have to be experienced to understand. Just be grateful and thankful Bandai Namco Entertainment has given it to the world again. Don’t even judge, just accept.
The new edition of Namco Museum for the Nintendo Switch is absolutely worth your time and money. The games are replicated perfectly from their original forms and it’s neat having some unusual games included in the mix (Rolling Thunder and Splatterhouse, I’m looking at you). From the moment you open the menu system and launch one of these beauties, you’ll understand that this wasn’t a quick cash grab from Bandai Namco Entertainment with another edition of Namco Museum. It’s sleek, stylish and there are plenty of old titles to fall in love with again.