Even though Bandai Namco makes sure to release Pac-Man, Dig Dug, and Galaga on virtually everything with a screen, it has been nearly seven years since we’ve seen a proper Namco Museum compilation. With this latest entry, Bandai Namco brings an interesting mix of their arcade classics along with the Nintendo-exclusive, Pac-Man Vs., to Nintendo Switch.
This Nintendo eShop exclusive offers some series standbys including Pac-Man, Galaga, Dig Dug, The Tower of Druaga, Sky Kid, Rolling Thunder, and Galaga ’88. Alongside these classics, new Namco Museum inductees include Splatterhouse, Rolling Thunder 2, and Tank Force (Sequel to 1981’s equally obscure Tank Battalion). Rounding out the collection is the Nintendo-developed Pac-Man Vs. that was previously exclusive to the GameCube and DS, but we’ll discuss that more later.
Before you can even Dig
Arcade enthusiasts, historians, hardware junkies, and preservationists, say goodbye to the arcade cabinet models and photos, printed circuit board photos, and game-configuring “dip switches” found in Namco Museum’s previous entries. Instead, this new Nintendo Switch version prioritizes simplicity, replayability, and worldwide competition via the new challenge modes and online leaderboards. If your goal is to embrace the culture and history of a classic arcade through cabinet and hardware renderings, concept art galleries, documentaries, arcade operator flyers, developer commentary, sound tests, music players, etc., you’re likely to be sorely disappointed with this release since nothing of the sort is included in this compilation.
However, Namco Museum on Switch brings back one of my favorite features, vertical screen orientation. Only a few of these titles, including Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Galaga, and The Tower of Druaga, originally supported vertical monitors in the arcade, but I was shocked to see that the entire Namco Museum, including the main menu, options, and every horizontally-oriented game, was laid out to support the vertical orientation. As if that wasn’t cool enough, every game includes two background options to fill the 16:9 Switch display, and each of these was custom designed to support each orientation. Typically, one background is composed of hand drawn artwork while the other is compilation of sprites from the game. My excitement for this feature ended in head-scratching disappointment when I realized that you can not play in vertical handheld mode with your Joy-Cons still attached to the system! Unlike the DS version of Namco Museum, you are not able to remap buttons to accommodate the vertical mode. You must disconnect a Joy-Con or use a completely separate controller in order to enjoy the vertical orientation. While it’s certainly not the most balanced or ergonomic solution, I would still enjoy playing vertically with the Joy-Con attached since I enjoyed a number of vertically-oriented games on the WonderSwan, PSP, and Vita. If the TV or monitor you use while in docked mode supports a 90° rotation, I recommend trying this feature for a unique and authentic arcade experience.
Outside of this (hopefully 1.0.0) blunder, Namco Museum has some great “quality of life” conveniences including optional in-game hints, gameplay manuals, and on-screen controller guides that are cleanly placed in the widescreen backgrounds. Perhaps the coolest convenience is the new “Change Game” feature available from any pause menu. In most game compilations, you typically need to return to the main menu to select a new game, but this “Change Game” option supports “suspend” or “save state” data to allow you quickly revert to your exact spot in another game. Thankfully, this suspended save data survives even after you’ve completely closed the game software, but the game warns you that scores can’t be registered to online rankings if you’ve used suspend data. #SwitchScience
I also found the sound options to be somewhat interesting since they allow you to adjust a game’s reverb and “Sound Quality,” a setting that allows you to cut high, medium, or low frequencies based on a number of preconfigured options. For the particular player, you’ll find a number of other adjustments, including scanline emulation, screen zoom options, and even the ability to adjust your joystick’s “dead zone” on a per-game basis.
I’m not an expert, but I found the compilation’s emulation to be quite good with gameplay and graphics as I remembered from the arcade originals. Nevertheless, I can’t help but miss the respect, care, and attention to detail that a developer, such as M2, would give to a retro compilation like this. For an arcade enthusiast like me, the M2-developed Namco Museum DS was a welcome return to the spirit that made the PlayStation-era Namco Museums so special.
Perhaps the most anticipated title is this compilation’s latest rendition of Pac-Man Vs. Originally released for the GameCube in 2003 and Namco Museum DS in 2007, Pac-Man Vs. allows three players to become a ghost while the fourth player controls Pac-Man. The original GameCube and DS versions could not be played as single player games, but this new Namco Museum version offers modes that support 1-4 players.
The new “Single Console” mode allows 1-3 players. These three players can be human or computer-controlled ghosts, and everyone is after a computer-controlled Pac-Man. The “Original” mode requires two Nintendo Switch consoles. The first Switch’s display is divided up to allow the three ghost players to have a private third while the second Switch allows Pac-Man to have visibility to the entire map. Outside of the new single-player option, this version of Pac-Man Vs. appears to be an HD remaster of GameCube original, including the same six stages. Also, since the Switch does not offer any kind of DS-like “Download Play” feature, Bandai Namco was wise to offer a free eShop app titled Namco Museum (Pac-Man VS. Free Multiplayer-only Ver.) that enables a second Switch to participate in the Pac-Man Vs. “Original Mode” without purchasing the full game.
When trying to test a multiplayer setup with two Switch consoles, we had serious trouble trying to connect the two systems for local multiplayer. Despite extensive troubleshooting, the game inexplicably started to work after our 8th attempt. At first, we found the game’s winner/loser rotation to be somewhat disorienting, but we eventually found our rhythm. Luckily, you never have to pass or re-sync controllers to the other system during gameplay. The main and app-powered versions of the game intelligently communicate with each other allowing your controller to work with Pac-Man’s system or the ghost’s system. Our setup had the ghosts docked in TV mode, while the Pac-Man system was passed around the coffee table. Outside of the initial connection snafus and some random frame drops on the Pac-Man system, the setup worked quite well, and I’d recommend it over the GameCube original.
As a compilation of mostly fun, pick-up-and-play games, Namco Museum brings timeless and unique classics to Nintendo Switch. Its quality-of-life conveniences, multiplayer options, online leaderboards, and challenge modes will likely breathe a lot of life and replayability into these old favorites. That aside, I can’t help but strongly miss some of this series’ previous inclusions that helped make them worthy of the title, Museum.
Oh, and thanks to Splatterhouse, this is the first Namco Museum to be rated T for Teen by the ESRB.
Explored every game and in-game option over the course of approximately 7 hours.
Namco Museum (Nintendo Switch)
Review Version: 1.0.0
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Bandai Namco
Released: July 28, 2017
Review copy provided by Bandai Namco