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DFG: Namco Museum 50th Anniversary Edition

November 24, 2010, Author: Trent Pyro

We’ve visited Pac-man here at DFG once before, with mixed results. His 3D incarnation didn’t really match up to his humble arcade roots and most certainly didn’t inspire as much legend, praise and copycatting. Pac-man games are hard to come by these days; most of the machines are defective, destroyed or gathering dust in some über-geeks mothers’ basement. It seems any hope of playing the original legend has all but faded.

Never fear gamers of yesteryear, for Namco have the solution. The Namco Museum! This little disk crams lots of old Namco arcade games into a pretty digital interface and lets you play them all day long, for free! How exciting! This version is the 50th Anniversary Edition, so expect to have twice the nostalgia pouring out of every orifice within seconds of turning it on. Let’s go!

Okay, so first let me apologise for the sarcasm. I’m 21 and grew up with Spyro the Dragon, Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VIII so forgive me if the idea of playing loads of super-simplistic old games doesn’t get my heart going. Having said that, packages like this give old-school gamers the opportunity to play their childhood favourites once again, which is nice. Usually with these massive compendiums I’d give a brief overview of the interface and how the games have aged in general. In this case however, the interface is a bag of shit and there aren’t that many games, so I’ll talk about each one as I go. Before I do, let me just say that said interface is a ring of badly rendered arcade machines set to the most annoying 80’s songs imaginable. I suppose the music is designed to bring back memories but these were the annoying pop hits of the day. Imagine getting a PS2 Museum Compendium Thing in twenty years time and having to listen to the Spice Girls, Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys while choosing your game. Epic fail. Screw the interface though; this is about the games, so here goes…

Pac-man and Ms. Pac-man
I’ve bunched these together as there are negligible differences between them. I’d bet my Mac that you know what Pac-man is but I’ll explain it anyway. In Pac-man you play a yellow circle with a wedge cut out of it. You guide the circle around a blue maze, eating yellow pills and avoiding coloured ghosts. You can eat flashing pills to become invincible for a short while and eat the ghosts. This simply sends them back to base though, so only provides a temporary reprieve. Fruit appears sometimes and must be eaten for points. Eat all the pills to win the stage. Rinse and repeat. It may be legendary but it’s not exactly the most complex game in history. I got bored quickly but then that’s just me. Ms. Pac-man is the same, except the mazes are different and it’s a little harder. Oh and the circle has a bow on it. Well done Namco, you made people play the same game twice just by calling it something different.

Pac-man, Ms. Pac-man, Galaga and Galaxain. Notice the similarities?

What can I say? It’s a space shooter. Playing more like Space Invaders than R-Type, you control a ship that moves left to right and have to shoot anything that moves. You get power-ups and stuff too; again, points are the main goal here. There’s some fun when the boss tries to snatch you up in his tractor beam and you have to try to escape but that’s about it really. Solid, fun for a while but so limited.

It’s funny that the name should sound so much like Galaga because it’s almost the same game. Take away the tractor beam and the almost NES graphics and there you have it; Galaxian. Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea for Namco to bunch all these games together. It highlights how little they advanced back in the day.

Dig Dug
This is my favourite of the crop. From what I understand you play a little miner of some sort who has been tasked with clearing the underground of nasty monsters. You guide him through the dirt creating little tunnels and when you come across an enemy you hit him with a kind of bike pump and fill him full of air until he pops! You can also tunnel tactically and drop deadly rocks on the bad guys, as well as yourself if you’re not careful. It’s simple but works very well. It’s fun figuring out the best route to the enemies and heart-stopping when you realise they’re using your carelessly created tunnels to get the drop on you. This is the only game in the collection I could play for more than five minutes and the sound is cute too.

Pole Position I and II
There isn’t much difference between this F1 racer and its sequel. The first game gives you one track to blaze around, first in a time trial and then a championship against other computer controlled cars. It is bare-bones racing, hampered by the awful port controls. The arcade machines had steering wheels; a revelation at the time. It’s obvious that the sensitivity of the wheel has been omitted in this port, giving you two options; turn too sharply or don’t turn at all. I imagine it’s like trying to drive extremely drunk, with no control over basic motor functions. This single issue makes it almost unplayable. Pole Position II adds a few new tracks and better graphics but suffers from the same control issues that plague its predecessor.

Dig Dug, Rolling Thunder and both Pole Position titles. No, I can't tell them apart either...

Rolling Thunder
This is classic run and gun action. You play a bloke who, for whatever reason, must run around buildings shooting everyone and going in doors. All you can do is shoot and duck, which is fine. The issue is the difficulty; despite the presence of a life bar, two hits and you’re dead. Add to this the speed of the enemies and their bullets and you’ve got one tough little game. So tough that all but the light-speed-minded of us will fall in the first level, again and again. You start with a pistol but can acquire an assault rifle (apparently) later on. If you run out of ammo, you’re limited to one slow bullet at a time. This is awful; they might as well not have bothered. One miss and it’s pretty much game over. Rolling Thunder presents limited fun and a real challenge to those for whom winning sketchy, short-range COD gunfights is a regular occurrence. You may think you’re fast but are you Rolling Thunder fast?

Why X? That’s always puzzled me about old games, they think sticking ‘X’ at the end of a bland title like Trooper, Fighter or Rally will make it sound cool, which it does, and I don’t know why. Anyway, this is by far the most unimaginative game in the museum. Guide a little car around a top-down rally track and come first. Despite its mind-numbing simplicity it’s actually not bad. I cracked on through about five races before I got bored, which is four more than I expected.

This is basically Asteroids Deluxe X. You fly around a spacey map, shooting everything that moves. The goal is to take out space stations marked on your mini-map and not die, simple. It’s quite hard and has some neat, although shitty, digitised voices to tell you what’s going on. It’s nice to know when enemies are attacking or a spy ship is coming although much of the time the enemies are upon you before the voice wakes up and lets you know. Cheers digital voice. There’s some fun to be had here but unless Asteroids with more content is your idea of perfection, Bosconian is just another space shooter.

Rally X, Bosconian, Dragon Spirit and Sky Kid. For your viewing pleasure...

Dragon Spirit
Basically Galaga with a new shell. You’re a Dragon flying through fantasy worlds shooting everything. You can spit fire or drop firebombs to take out ground targets. The graphics surpass Galaga and it responds better but is essentially the same game. I’m starting to realise how limited the ideas were back then.

Sky Kid
Finally something vaguely original. You control a bi-plane with the sole task of bombing something. First you have to go and pick up the bomb, then drop it on the target. You can shoot other planes with a machine gun and do funny loops in the air to avoid fire. It’s side-scrolling but not exactly in the same way as other shooters. I can’t explain it but maybe ‘free-roaming’ would be the correct term. If you fly over the bomb the first time, you can double back and go get it. The only limitation to your movement is the ridiculous amount of enemy planes. One wrong turn or careless loop and you’re screwed. Also, actually getting the bomb to hit the target is nigh on impossible. The plane is moving too fast for one, giving you about half a second to drop the payload before you’re out of range. Secondly, there’s no indication as to where it will land and it seems random. One time it fell straight down from my plane, the next time it went to the left. I assume this is some ill-executed attempt at physics, which ruins the game. I’d give it a go though, just because doing loops is fun.

Again, a re-skinning, this time of Dragon Spirit. You’re a ship flying over land, bombing stuff and shooting other ships out of the sky. There’s not much else to say really, another top-down shooter.

Wow, this is shit. Control a police mouse around a house trying to find stolen goods. Use doors and trampolines to get around. You die by falling, getting hit by criminal cats or at the hands of the boss cat. It’s pathetic stuff, an attempt to cram some tactics and panic into a basic side-scroller. The piss-poor controls and erratic gameplay, as well as innumerable strange rules, make this unplayable. I literally played it for about two minutes and gave up. No wonder I’ve never heard of it…

Xevious, Mappy (ugh), Galaga '88 and Pac-Mania. Well that rounds out the Photoshopped picture collages...

A very strange taste of things to come. Remember I talked about the Pac-man puzzles in Pac-Man world 3? Well, this is a game full of them. Using a weird pseudo-3D viewpoint, keeping Pac-man in the centre of the screen all the time, Pac-Mania adds a few new features to the age-old formula. Pac-man can now jump, which aids in evading ghosts and actually works very well when stuck in a corner. Aside from the standard ghosts there’s a new purple one that chases you more doggedly than the others and green and grey ones that bounce whenever you do, making them hard to jump over. Power-ups are also added, spicing things up a little. It kind of works but I felt like they were trying to do too much with an old template. This looks to me like an attempt at a reboot, or at least the design team screaming for some better hardware so they could do one.

Galaga ’88
Galaga again, only this time it’s got a brand new bag with updated graphics and new, sexy backdrops… well that’s about it. It’s not the remake of the century but I suppose it’s a testament to the fans that Namco would release this, essentially the same game with a few touch-ups. Apparently it was well-received, which either means people really liked the original Galaga or there really was nothing better to play.

So that’s it; all of them. Before I defend myself from the inevitable barrage of ‘It was great when I was a kid!’ comments, let me first explain the purpose of this feature. The idea is to play these old games and see whether they’re still worth playing and if they can hold a candle to the games of today. We all know Pac-man was the shit in its day, I’m not disputing that. Many of these games will be firmly lodged in the memories of men older than me for the rest of their lives but as for the younger generation, I fear that many see them simply as precursors or retro classics. So, I’ll do two recommendations.

For those to whom Pac-man is the Holy Grail and guys who spent all their pocket-money at the arcade in 1985, there is some fun to be had here. Most of the ports are good, faithful representations. They are by and large the games you loved. Just beware of the f**king terrible interface screen, unless ‘Come On Eileen’ is your idea of nostalgic karaoke.

To those youngsters who have only read about most, if any, of these games, I’d say give them a shot. Chances are you’ll think the same as me. We’ve been brought up with games far advanced and more complex than these. We’ve always had better looking, sounding and solidly built games. For this one reason, I think it’s very difficult for us to connect with these older games. Taken out of context and time period, they limp along beside behemoths like Halo and Gears, quietly whimpering to let us know they were once as great. While we can appreciate them from a distance, they’re like WW2 heroes; we understand and respect what they did for the world but they’re no longer in fighting shape compared to the thick-necked marines of today’s open conflicts.

Sorry old-schoolers, but due to the nature of the feature, I can’t recommend Namco Museum 50th Anniversary Edition to anyone under the age of 25, its awful interface gives way to ancient games, many of which are close copies of one another, too simplistic for kids raised on MGS and Halo. If bringing back memories is your thing, go right ahead but if you have no memories to bring back, I suggest you stick with the latest releases.

Neil’s Deals Best Price: £9.97 at Amazon Market Place

No surprises there then. Next time we stare at breasts in BMX XXX…