With arcade hits such as Pac-Man, Galaga and Ridge Racer to its name, it's fair to say that Nakamura Manufacturing Company – better known as Namco – has a proud history behind it. Founded in 1955 with ride-on mechanical toys as its main focus, Namco would find global fame with the arrival of the arcade video game in the late 1970s. Pac-Man sealed the company's status as one of the industry's leading lights, and the rest – as they say – is history.
It's that amazing history which makes Namco Museum on Switch such a tantalising prospect. Sure, it's by no means the first of its kind – the series began way back on the Sony PlayStation – but it's the first "new" collection we've had in a while, and Bandai Namco (as the company is now known) has gone the extra mile in terms of emulation quality, options and new features.
Before we get stuck into details regarding the various games included, it's worth noting a few similarities between all of them. First up, the games are perfect replications of the coin-op originals. All of the titles – with the exception of Pac-Man VS. – play in a window surrounded by marquee-style cabinet artwork. It's possible to add scanlines and adjust the size or position of the window from the in-game settings menu; you can also tinker with the aspect ratio and even flip the image 90 degrees, something which comes in very useful with Galaga and Galaga '88, both of which were originally displayed on arcade monitors in a portrait "TATE" configuration. Pressing the L shoulder button inserts a credit, while pressing the R shoulder button brings up the aforementioned options menu, from where you can also peruse the controls and read the digital instruction manual for each game. Suspend points are included as standard, so if you have to exit a title for whatever reason it will allow you to pick up from where you left off when you next load it up.
Each game (again, which the exception of Pac-Man VS.) has two modes: Normal and Challenge. The first is self-explanatory, but the second is likely to be source of many hours of entertainment for dedicated players. It presents you with a specific goal to overcome which is tailored to the game – for example, in Galaga the objective is to allow three of your ships to be captured in the enemy's tractor beam before rescuing the trio in under three minutes. As is the case with normal gameplay, your performance in these challenges can be uploaded to online leaderboards, giving you the incentive to hone your skills and be the best in the world.
The 11 games included in this package give you a sample of Namco's enviable arcade output during the '80s and '90s. Pac-Man is of course included; Toru Iwatanu's masterpiece remains an iconic moment in the history of video gaming and, despite its advanced years, remains as addictive and compelling as ever. 1981's Galaxian sequel Galaga may be a riff on Taito's Space Invaders concept, but many consider it to be the superior game as it introduces additional complexity and challenge. Dig-Dug is a fine example of Namco's willingness to experiment in the '80s; you use a hose to inflate enemies, which is as fun as it sounds. The next two titles – The Tower of Druaga and Sky Kid – are perhaps the closest the package has to genuine bum notes. They're not especially bad by any means, and Druaga has quite a following with Japanese retro gamers, but both feel somewhat out of place in this collection.
Thankfully, things are put back on track with Rolling Thunder, an excellent platform action title which received an even better sequel in 1991, which is also included here. Galaga '88 takes the 1981 version and adds better visuals and sound, as well as more complicated gameplay – it's perhaps one of the best shooters of the period, despite its rather rough visuals when compared to other titles released around the same time. Next is the famous Splatterhouse, one of the first coin-ops to leverage gore and gruesome imagery to draw in punters. Thankfully, the controversial visuals aren't the only noteworthy thing about the title; the side-scrolling gameplay is tight and challenging, and this version has the bonus of being uncensored, unlike the NEC TurboGrafx edition previously made available on Nintendo's' Virtual Console service. 1991's Tank Force is another somewhat odd inclusion; it's not a title which is particularly famous, despite being the sequel to Namco's popular Battle City, which was ported to the Famicom in 1985. Imagine Pac-Man with tanks and destructible environments, and you're close.
Finally, we have a remastered version of Pac-Man VS. which features HD visuals and support for multiple Joy-Con controllers. The objective is simple - one player controls the famous pill-muncher while up to three other players attempt to catch them, at which point they become Pac-Man and the chase continues.
The original GameCube version made use of Game Boy Advance connectivity so the "Ghost" players couldn't actually see where the Pac-Man player was at any time; that's naturally not possible on the single-screen Switch (ironically it would have been ideal for the Wii U), so for the full experience you need two consoles. However, it's still possible for up to three players to use a single Switch, but they will be limited to playing as Ghosts. In addition it's also possible for anyone to download a free app that means if you have two Switch systems you can enjoy the dual-screen gameplay with only one full copy of the game. In one sense Pac-Man VS. is very nearly worth the price of admission alone; it's such a fantastic gameplay experience when you've got a group of friends around.
For the asking price, it's very hard to find fault with Namco Museum. You're getting 11 enjoyable games here (the jury is still out on Duraga, at least in the Nintendo Life office) for a budget price when you consider it as a few bucks per game. Were these games issued individually on the eShop, the total cost would be way in excess of what Bandai Namco is asking for this collection. It's only natural that there will be some disagreement over the choices made; why include Tank Force when Mappy, Xevious, Pole Position or Mr. Driller would have made much better inclusions? We imagine that Bandai Namco's selection process was based on the knowledge that this is the first of a series on Switch; fingers crossed that we see those other classics in the fullness of time, as well as later arcade hits like Marvel Land, Lucky & Wild and Nebulous Ray – we can dream, right?
Namco Museum does a great job of highlighting the illustrious lineage of one of video gaming's most famous arcade companies; not only is it packed with addictive games that will keep you glued to your Switch for many weeks to come, but it boasts excellent emulation, a host of options, online leaderboards, a special challenge mode for each game and a new version of Pac-Man VS. which is sure to become the go-to party title for many Switch players. While there are a couple of titles that we'd have swapped out for other, more worthy offerings from Namco's past, you're still getting an excellent selection of games for a reasonable price here. Fingers crossed Bandai Namco will pillage the vaults for a second collection in the very near future.