There has now officially been more Namco Museum games over the years than there are actual museums in the world (probably). There’s even one already on the Switch: simply titled Namco Museum, it contains 10 classic Namco arcade games as well as a port of the GameCube title Pac-Man Vs.
At first glance, then, Namco Museum Archives Vol 1 appears to simply be the umpteenth attempt to package Namco’s coin-op ROMs into a compilation and once again sell the likes of Pac-Man and Galaga to die-hards who’ve already acquired nine or ten versions of them in similar collections over the years. In reality, though, that isn’t actually the case; instead, what you have here is Namco actually bundling together a bunch of its old NES games.
There are 10 NES titles here as well as a bonus 11th one (which we’ll get to in a bit). Although most of them are still the sort of games you frequently see listed in other Namco Museum collections, the fact that we’re now looking at their home ports rather than the same old arcade versions lends the collection an interesting new twist that’s more likely to catch the eye of retro fans.
Anyone with even a slight interest in Namco’s retro past will likely already be familiar with Galaxian, Pac-Man, Xevious, Mappy and Dig Dug, and all five of them are present and accounted for in their NES forms here. Naturally, none of them look or sound quite as good as their coin-op counterparts, but as far as arcade ports of the era go, they’re all fairly faithful in terms of how they actually play, and as such there aren’t any real duds here (other than the obviously limited nature of the games themselves).
If half of the collection is well-trodden territory, the other half is less frequently visited by Namco. The Tower of Druaga and Sky Kid are still relatively known quantities: if you aren’t familiar with them, the former is an extremely slow-paced, maze-based action RPG that was doing procedural generation decades before it was cool, while the latter is a fun shoot ‘em up with cheery music in which you have to collect a bomb then drop it on a target further down the stage.
Dragon Spirit: The New Legend is an interesting one because it marks the first time this game has ever been made available to own in Europe. It’s an NES-only sequel to the original Dragon Spirit arcade game, but it only launched in America and Japan back in the day. It was worth the wait, too, because it’s a pretty fun shoot ‘em up in which you fly on the back of a giant dragon that can spit fireballs at enemies. It’s also got a very interesting gimmick where you have to prove your worth before you can play the normal difficulty level: the game opens with a quick prologue boss battle, and if you can’t beat it (which isn’t too hard, don’t worry) you’re forced to play the shorter Easy mode.
Dragon Buster is similarly interesting, if perhaps a little less exciting. This one was only released on the Famicom in Japan, though the arcade version has made its way onto some of the previous Namco Museum titles in the west. Playing as a swordsman called Clovis, you have to make your way through a series of side-scrolling dungeons, taking on various large bosses in order to reach and rescue Princess Celia. Combat is deliberately clunky in this one, and you’ll need to learn to hold back and wait for your moment to attack each boss. It’s a slow burner, but stick with it and you may be pleasantly surprised.
The last of the main ten games is perhaps the most interesting one, Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti. This is another title that was only released in Japan and was exclusive to the Famicom, and as such it’s been roundly ignored by many retro gamers over the years. It’s a shame, because it’s actually one of the best games in the Splatterhouse series: it’s a cartoon parody of the original game and is significantly more light-hearted than the usually grotesque franchise. The first boss, for example, is a groovy vampire, flanked by four ghouls, who all do Michael Jackson’s Thriller dance. To finally have this game legally available in the west is another big coup.
While all ten of these NES and Famicom titles are worthy in their own way, by far the best part of this collection is the bonus 11th game, Pac-Man Championship Edition. At this point, Pac-Man fans will be a little confused, because the Championship Edition was first released on Xbox 360 and PS3 in 2007, and was a hi-def, modernised version of Pac-Man. Amazingly, Bandai Namco has actually created a brand new ‘demake’ of Championship Edition, to show how it would have looked and played had it been an NES game. It’s an absolute treat to play: it’s lightning fast, the music is great and that ‘one more go’ factor as you try to beat your high score is just as strong as it was in the HD versions.
The only issue we have with this compilation is the general lack of frills. The emulation itself is handled by the retro experts at M2 and as such it’s absolutely flawless: considering what M2’s pulled off with other retro compilations, it must be able to chuck together a bunch of NES games in its sleep. All the basics you’d expect are there including four different screen settings (4:3, 4:3 zoomed, dot-by-dot and widescreen), anti-aliasing, scan lines and a handful of wallpapers. Each game, meanwhile, comes with a single screen showing you the controls, and once you’re into the action there’s a fairly basic rewind function as well as the usual ability to save your current state.
All of the above are considered the bare minimum these days, though, and there’s really nothing beyond all that. No box art, no behind-the-scenes stuff, no extra goodies. The Japanese equivalent of this package, Namcot Collection (Namcot was the name the company used for its domestic releases for a while), comes with a virtual shelf that you can decorate with game boxes and figurines, and also comes with the entire full-colour Famicom manuals for each game. There’s nothing like that here, which feels like a missed opportunity.
As long as you’re only in it for the games and nothing else, you’ve got 11 solid NES games here (including a brilliant never-before released demake of Pac-Man Championship edition) for roughly $1.80 / £1.45 per game. That’s a decent price given that you’ve got an interesting mix of classics and lesser-known releases, and none of them are real duds for once (although you’ll need a bit of patience to properly get into The Tower of Druaga).
NES and Namco fans will be happy with the titles on offer here. Some of them have never been released in the west before and the star of the show – Pac-Man Championship Edition – is an entirely new NES port created just for this collection. Each of the 11 games has at least some value, but the bare-bones nature of the presentation is a little disappointing: for a game with Museum in the title, we'd hoped each game would have been celebrated a little more with art and behind-the-scenes info.