Namco Museum: Virtual Arcade Video Game Review

Namco has been in the game for a very long time, and has amassed quite the collection of everlasting arcade titles. Classics like Mrs. Pac-Man, Dig Dug, and Galaga are still popular 25+ years after they first hit the scene, and since that time, Namco has found numerous ways to re-release these games on every available piece of hardware, from consoles to cell phones. Namco Museum Virtual Arcade is the latest revision in their series of compilations, this time for Xbox 360. With 34 games, including several 3D remakes and a few completely re-imagined titles, this set seemed to be an arcade enthusiast’s dream come true. Unfortunately, things aren’t always what they seem.

Once you boot up Namco Museum Virtual Arcade, you will be given 2 choices: Live Arcade and Museum. The Live Arcade menu houses 7 direct arcade ports and 2 re-imagined titles, all of which had been previously released on Xbox Live Arcade. The ports are:

  • Dig Dug
  • Galaga
  • Mr. Driller Online
  • Mrs. Pac-Man
  • New Rally-X
  • Pac-Man
  • Xevious

All of the above include their own set of 200 achievement points, online leaderboards, colorful menu art, “How to Play” notes, and, in the specific case of Mr. Driller Online, Xbox Live play for up to 4 players. The Live Arcade menu also contains 2 new takes on old classics: Pac-Man Championship Edition and Galaga Legions.

Pac-Man C.E. takes away the multi-level structure of the original and throws the yellow dot-muncher onto a single non-scrolling screen. You pick from one of 6 different modes at the outset, each with a unique level layout and a preset time limit of either 5 or 10 minutes. Once in the game, you see the familiar structure of dots all over the place, maze-like corridors, power-pellets, and 4 ghosts piled into a centralized box, but this is where the similarity ends. Pulsing techno music starts up, the ghosts jet out of their pen, and you notice that, as you clear certain areas of dots, new patches of dots appear elsewhere. The goal of Pac-Man C.E. is to stay alive, collect as many dots as possible, and take down ghosts as often as you can before the timer runs down to 0. The character sprites for Pac-Man and the ghosts are all taken from the original arcade game, but given some beautiful visual touch-ups that make them fit in with the neon, Tron-like world that the characters now inhabit. The gameplay is lightning-fast, way quicker than the original arcade titles, and the difficulty ramps up as you narrowly escape the ghosts’ path trying to last until the clock hits 0. Whether you survive the time limit or not, you get to compare your score with the others in the online leaderboards, and you will feel constantly challenged to do better and ascend the ranks. Highly recommended to any gamer, regardless of how you feel about the original.

The other re-imagining, Galaga Legions, is similarly updated with the graphics from the arcade classic brought together with stunning neon visuals and throbbing techno beats. The gameplay here is broken up onto 5 planets, each with several different areas. While the game still feels similar to Galaga, in that you are a space ship who must take down the approaching alien crafts, the experience is blown open in Legions by having the enemies attack from all angles instead of the linear path they followed in the original. You are given a preview of their attack pattern before they come onscreen in the form of a warning line, and you have to move your ship into a position that would be able to take down the oncoming enemy threat efficiently. The gameplay area is then flooded with dozens of enemy creatures, who follow the warning line around the screen as you try and take down the flock. To keep things more interesting, each group includes a “master” ship that is slightly larger than the rest, and taking down that ship destroys the entire wave of enemies, clearing the screen. To aid in your heroic attempts, you can either fire your standard missiles or you can use the right analog stick to drop up to 2 turrets on-screen wherever you choose, which automatically fire in the direction that they were placed. If you are a fan of Galaga, or shooters in general, I highly recommend you try Galaga Legions

While these 2 titles are fantastic fun, figuring out how to play them is not. The apparent lack of effort put forth into this collection is immediately recognizable as soon as you try and load a game, primarily because you can’t actually load anything from the Live Arcade menu on the disk. To play any of the 9 included titles, you have to exit out of Namco Museum, go to the Xbox Dashboard, go to the Games Section, and choose the game you want to play from the Xbox Live Arcade menu just as you would a game that you purchased online. The actual Live Arcade menu on the disk is nothing more than a static screen that tells you how to access the titles. What makes this even more frustrating is that you can’t install these games onto your Hard Drive or Memory Card, so you must always have the Namco Museum disk in the drive when you want to launch a Live Arcade title. It’s a clunky and confusing system that makes these games feel almost like bonus additions rather than the core element of the disc.

The slightly more functional half of this set, the Museum section, actually does let you play its games from the in-game menu. Museum includes 23 arcade classics ported directly from their quarter-munching counterparts, and features titles such as Dig Dug II, Mappy, Pole Position, Galaga ’88, Tower of Druaga, Rolling Thunder, and Pac-Mania. Museum also houses 3 “Arrangement” titles that were originally built for the PSP compilation Namco Museum Battle Collection. These “Arrangements” are remakes of Pac-Man, Galaga, and Dig Dug that feature similar gameplay to the original games but with new 3D graphics, extra power-ups, and remixed music.

Of these Museum titles, only Galaga ’88, Mappy, and Pac-Man Arrangement will hold your attention for long. While it is fun to take a stroll down memory lane and play some of Namco’s more obscure arcade titles, their simplistic gameplay and frustrating difficulty will keep most people from coming back. The ports of all of the above are visually and aurally identical to their original arcade counterparts, which can either be a good or bad thing. If you grew up in the era and remember when games used to look and sound like this, you will find the beauty in what is offered, but newer gamers used to complicated 3D graphics might be instantly turned off by what they see and hear.

The problems with this package begin not with what is included, but with what they failed to include. Each Museum game’s menu lets you change a few options, but doesn’t offer a “How to Play” section, which, if you have never played the game before, will either send you in search of the instruction manual or force you to figure out the mechanics on your own. Each game also has to load twice: once to get to the game’s main menu and then again to get you into the actual game, totaling about 15 seconds. Once the game loads, you can’t watch the “attract mode” of the original title as you are immediately thrust into gameplay, which might upset purists, like myself, who would have enjoyed watching the classic intro sequences. The Museum titles also lack any kind of written history concerning that title, updated in-game graphics, original art from the time of release, video segments, online leaderboards, or achievement points, leaving you with a barebones package that has nothing new to offer.

Perhaps the most shocking omission in the Museum section is any kind of multiplayer. Many of the included games featured turn-based 2 player support in their original arcade incarnations, and that option isn’t offered here. I even checked with Namco Customer Service to make sure that I wasn’t missing it, and they confirmed my suspicions: the multiplayer options had been removed for this release. While a lack of Xbox Live play would be understandable, disabling all of the previously available multiplayer options is completely unacceptable and takes away a huge element of what made the original arcade experience so popular.

Another consideration that keeps this set from being ideal is the controls. While all 34 games play decently with the Xbox 360 controller, they don’t feel as tight as they should because most of the included games were meant to be played with a joystick and arcade buttons. There are several Xbox 360 arcade stick options available, and my testing of these games with a Hori arcade controller provided a much greater sense of authenticity and accuracy. As it stands, the stock 360 controller is fine, but don’t expect an arcade-perfect level of control when using it.

A final issue worth mentioning is that Namco failed to include any of their more recent arcade hits on the disk. At this point, many of us have played Pac-Man and Dig Dug an uncountable amount of time in numerous ways. Where are games like Tekken and Ridge Racer? Aren’t these games worthy of the “arcade classics” moniker that adorns all of the titles found here? Also clearly missing is Soul Caliber, the only Namco Xbox Live Arcade release not included in this collection. These titles would have added some much needed variety, and brought some newer, fresher games to the stale lineup that Namco has sold time and time again.

Overall, Namco Museum Virtual Arcade has a lot of great titles in it, and is worth grabbing if you have an affinity for “old school” gaming or don’t yet own Pac-Man C.E. and Galaga Legions. However, the lazy production, lack of extras, removal of multiplayer, and dearth of newer arcade titles keep this from being a “must-buy” set, and anyone who has already bought a number of Namco Xbox Live Arcade releases shouldn’t bother.

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