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Namco Museum Virtual Arcade

Go back in time and play with history
What's It All About:
As gaming technology steadily improves, gamers continuously look back at the industry's early days with a mix of nostalgia and genuine enjoyment, via the frequently classics compilations offered for each console, which utilize extreme computing power to emulate some of the simplest programming in video game history. Whether you enjoy these games for the classic experience they offer or just a chance to recapture the good-old days, it feels like history isn't leaving our consoles any time soon.

Namco, who can claim responsibility for a healthy slice of video-game history thanks to a round, hungry, yellow guy, has put out yet another "best of" collection, this time for the XBox 360, but this title has a twist, as it's not all "old" titles, thanks to the inclusion of several Live Arcade titles, complete with all the bonuses added to make them worth downloading. Considering these titles are basically tried and true, at this point, the question really is, are they the right titles for you?

If you love Pac-Man and don't own any of his many games, this title is your gaming nirvana. If there's a Namco arcade version of him not included here it probably shouldn't be played, as there are seven in all, from the original arcade version all the way to Pac-Mania and the Live Arcade Pac-Man Championship Edition. It's amazing to think that a game with such a simple concept could be reworked so many times. Of course, some are simply retreads, (or worse, as in "Pac & Pal") but even so, for the most part they tend to be enjoyable, as there's something addictive about moving around that maze, popping pills and chomping on ghosts. It only gets better in Championship Edition, the rare remake that takes everything that's good about the first game, makes them even stronger, and adds new bits that don't detract from the original fun. The changes, which include a new, shiny look, a timer, and mazes that don't end, but reveal themselves as you play, are just what Pac-Man needed to remain relevant with gamers.

A collection like this illustrates some thinness in Namco's library, as when you break it down, 18 of the 34 titles come from just four franchises, including five "Galaga" games and four from the "Dig Dug" family. While the strength of the subterranean crew is in it's first and last games, the classic digging action game "Dig Dug" and the related puzzle/action game "Mr. Driller Online," Galaga grew from a pretty weak "Space Invaders" clone to become the incredibly kinetic "Galaga Legions," which takes the same general shmup concept of taking a spaceship and blasting waves of space bugs, and makes it new by freeing your movement and taking the more-is-more path to filling the screen with bad guys (as well as enough fireworks to severely distract you from your mission, eliciting many oohs and ahhs.) I'm not a regular shmup gamer, but this is some serious fun, unlike the less engaging, and very frustrating "Xevious." If you're looking for more shooting fun though, "Dragon Spirit" offers a nice take on the genre, exchanging your usual plane/spaceship for a dragon you can upgrade with more heads and more firepower (literally.)

Part of the fun of these classic collections is discovering a game you've never played before. That's certainly the case with "Baraduke," a unique space adventure with an awful name. The most interesting aspect of the gameplay is the use of a recoil function on your gun, which affects you as you float in zero-gravity. It makes for some challenging play, and combined with the impressive graphics (for its age), you get a solid overall game. Better known, though less technically impressive is the platformer "Mappy," which utilizes a door-opening mechanism and trampolines to create a fun chase game, while "Metro-Cross" is probably the best video-game version of an obstacle course I've seen, even 20 years later. Of course, one of the frustrations of a classic collection is the need for a certain amount of filler, in the form of games that are better off forgotten. Here, we get a representative from the Pac-World, with the awful "Pac & Pal," an unnecessary buddy treatment for Pac-Man, the weak side-scrolling action game "Dragon Buster," which features simply awful battle systems (where bosses take one strike to kill, while foot soldiers will frequently take you out,) the terrible sequel "Dig Dug II," which, inexplicably, involves no digging, and the brutally bad "The Tower of Druaga," which deserves an award for difficulty taking the place of fun.

Of the entire collection, not much stand outs above the fantastic XBLA titles mentioned before, but "New Rally-X" and "Rolling Thunder" will probably get more game-time than the rest. It's certainly not because of the graphics, as though "Rolling Thunder" is nice for a game from 1986, "New Rally X" looks less impressive than some Apple II games. It's mainly because of how entertaining they are, a direct result of solid application of a simple, fun concept. "Rolling Thunder" is a nice-looking spy platformer that lets you shoot your way through hooded Johnny Quest-ish baddies, while collecting bullets to allow you to shoot more. It's a simple concept, though incredibly hard due to the ease with which you can be killed, but it's undeniable that killing the generic villains is a blast. "New Rally X" is even simpler, as you race around the course, avoiding enemy cars, dusting them with smokescreens and trying to collect all the flags. I've never been much of a fan of driving games, but this one is more like an automotive version of capture the flag than a driving game, and the responsive controls and simple concept make it a blast to just pick up and play. Add in easy to accomplish achievements on Xbox Live and you've got a quick, rewarding bit of fun.

Unfortunately, unlike many other compilations, there's none of the fun bonus material that adds value to the package. Worse yet, it's not easy to navigate through the game menus, as the nine XBLA titles are separate from the rest of the games, as the disc will remind you when attempting to access them on the disc. Then you have to go to the Xbox Live section and select them there. Want to play one of the classics now? Well it's back to

Games included:

  • Baraduke
  • Bosconian
  • Dig-Dug (XBLA)
  • Dig Dug II
  • Dig Dug Arrangement
  • Dragon Buster
  • Dragon Spirit
  • Galaga (XBLA)
  • Galaga 88
  • Galaga Arrangement
  • Galaga Legions (XBLA)
  • Galaxian
  • Grobda
  • King & Balloon
  • Mappy
  • Metro-Cross
  • Motos
  • Mr. Driller Online (XBLA)
  • Ms. Pac-Man (XBLA)
  • New Rally-X
  • Pac & Pal
  • Pac-Man (XBLA)
  • Pac-Man Arrangement
  • Pac-Man Championship Edition (XBLA)
  • Pac-Mania
  • Pole Position
  • Pole Position II
  • Rally-X
  • Rolling Thunder
  • Sky Kid
  • Sky Kid Deluxe
  • Super Pac-Man
  • The Tower of Druaga
  • Xevious
With 34 games in all, you're going to get a wide variety of experiences, but there's one definite, and that's the improvement in control as you move forward through time, with the Live Arcade titles taking full advantage of the analog stick to give you an excellent feel for games like Pac-Man: CE and New Rally-X. The D-pad can be used, but the stick gets you closer to the original joystick control (but not quite.) The majority of the games feature simple one or two-button action set-ups, but oddly, one of the oldest, "Pole Position," has one of the most complicated mappings, with triggers for gas and brakes and bumpers on the gear-shifts. Fortunately, you have the option of adjusting the controls for each game, to make them work how you'd like them to (though the default works fine on most of them.)

The way you remember games like "Dig Dug" and, unlikely, "Grobda," is how you'll find them here, in all their simple, brightly-hued glory, while the newer XBLA titles, like "Pac-Man:CE" and "Galaga Legions" look tremendous in high-definition widescreen. The great thing about the video is the ability to adjust the size of your play area, while not affecting the aspect ratio of the games, such as taller titles like "Mappy" or "Dragon Spirit." All non-XBLA or arrangement titles also have beautiful cabinet art in the background, filling out the sides of your screen. You're unlikely to have any issues with the way these games look, and the beauty that is the epileptic-fit-waiting-to-happen known as "Galaga Legions" will blow you away.

Obviously, you remember the classic theme to Pac-Man, and the sound he makes when caught by a ghost. Well, they are here is perfect shape. And while the older games offer up little more than the expected bleeps and tinny music they are fondly remembered for, the newer titles, namely the XBLA material, adds Dolby Digital 5.1 audio to the party. These more robust mixes pull the games out of the retro state of mind a compilation like this induces, but they pair nicely with the gorgeous visuals.

And in the End...
When it comes to classic video games, if you haven't heard about it, there's probably a good reason for it, as there are few old games that are unknown and excellent. With Namco's long history though, they can boast a few of them, with several titles in this collection likely to catch players by surprise. Though there's not much more to this release than the 25 classics and nine previously-available XBLA games, and the presentation isn't nearly as clean as it could be (likely because of technical requirements for the online play) there's a lot of fun to be had with these games, and with the XBLA games running five bucks a pop, this collection is a genuine bargain (if you like the XBLA games, that is.) If you have a taste for the old-school, this is an good choice (despite some rather mediocre inclusions) making it the best retro compilation on the 360 (at least until February '09 and Sega's Genesis collection.)