Not content with releasing just one compilation of vintage 8-bit goodies this week, Bandai Namco has given us a second helping for those not completely satiated with the first batch of 11 games. Much like Namco Museum Archives Vol 1, this isn’t your typical Namco Museum compendium containing a cornucopia of coin-op classics: instead, it’s another round of Namco’s NES and Famicom output, most of which are ports of said arcade titles.
With the first volume claiming the lion’s share of Namco’s more iconic titles – Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Xevious and the like – Namco Museum Archives Vol 2 features a less conventional array of titles, partly including sequels and spin-offs of those more famous games. Arguably the only real marquee game on offer this time is Galaga, the much-loved sequel to Galaxian, which got a typically solid NES port and as such feels very much like the arcade version.
The rest are a strange mix. Battle City is a Famicom-only release, made available in the west for the first time. It’s a top-down tank battling game similar to Atari’s Combat (or the Tanks game in Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics, if you’d rather have an example from this millennium), and the aim is to gun down a set number of tanks while at the same time preventing them from reaching and destroying your base. It’s not entirely without merit and may keep you busy for a while.
Pac-Land, meanwhile, is easily one of the more well-known games here: second only to Galaga, arguably. The original arcade version was a seminal release because it was one of the first scrolling platformers before the likes of Super Mario Bros. arrived on the scene. This home port (which was also a Famicom-only release and comes to the west for the first time, too) is a reasonable enough rendition, though it certainly suffers visually and its controls are bizarre: you move left and right with the B and A buttons respectively, and jump with the D-Pad.
Pac-Land shares some similarities with the next game in the compilation, Dig Dug II, in that both games are sequels that go in an unexpectedly different direction. Rather than making your way through a series of underground tunnels as in the first game, Dig Dug II moves everything to the surface and has you trying to rig together explosives to make cliff edges detonate and crumble, causing any enemies on them to fall into the sea. It’s not necessarily worse than its predecessor; it’s just different, and though it takes some while to get used to, it can become pretty fun.
The same perhaps can’t be said of Super Xevious, at least not to the same degree. This is less a sequel to Xevious (which was included in the first volume) and more an enhanced version, complete with new enemy types that raise the difficulty a tad. Like the standard Xevious, this feels fairly primitive compared to other vertical shoot ‘em ups (including the excellent Dragon Spirit: The New Legend, also found in Vol 1), and its high-pitched, looping soundtrack is what we’d imagine dog whistles sound like to canines. It’s perfectly playable – it just may not keep your attention for too long.
Then there’s Mappy-Land, the lesser-known NES-only sequel to the arcade hit Mappy. As in the first game, you control police mouse Mappy as he jumps his way through a bunch of trampoline-filled stages trying to collect various items while trying to avoid a gang of violent cats. Given its varied level designs, the addition of a jump button, the removal of the annoying door-opening system and the added ability to drop ‘distraction toys’ which will keep the cats busy for a while, Mappy-Land is a better game than the original.
Legacy of the Wizard is an interesting one. It’s an action RPG where you play as five different members of a family as they explore a massive underground cavern to try and find a magical sword called the Dragon Slayer. This is a Metroidvania game from a time before that was a known term: each of the five family members has unique skills that will get them past certain obstacles, so you’ll have to return home and swap to a different family member before returning back to the cavern. It’s something of a hidden gem, though it can take a period to get into.
Rolling Thunder is one of our favourites of the bunch (and usually is when it’s included in a Namco compilation). For those not familiar with it, it’s a spy-themed run and gun game where your needlessly lanky secret agent gets to gun down a bunch of hooded enemies while taking cover behind blocks, hiding inside doors and collecting machine guns for extra firepower. It’s proper cop show stuff, and it’s great.
Up next is Dragon Buster II, another Famicom-only game making its debut in the west. It’s an interesting action RPG where you have to reach the ‘dragon castle’ in each stage by fighting your way through a series of dungeons. The twist is that each stage has a bunch of different dungeons and they don’t all have to be beaten to reach the dragon castle; you’re free to choose which dungeons to take on and plan your own route to the end. Naturally, like everything else on here, it’s a tad on the basic side, but it has its charm.
Rounding off the ten standard games is a very curious addition: Mendel Palace, the first game ever developed by Game Freak (which was published by Namco in Japan). It takes place on a grid and your aim is to knock enemies off it by flipping the floor tiles they’re standing on and trying to push them to the edge of the screen. It’s a fun little game that’s easy to get to grips with, and some of the enemy designs are hilarious.
The first volume of Namco Museum Archives not only offers ten of Namco’s NES games – it also includes a brilliant NES demake of 2007’s Pac-Man Championship Edition that actually turns out to be the best game in the entire compilation. The second volume has its own brand new NES title, but it’s nowhere near as exciting: it’s an NES port of Gaplus, which hit arcades in 1984 but never got a home console release. It’s a perfectly fine port but it’s not a million miles away from Galaga, and is only really interesting as a curio.
What makes the NES version of Pac-Man Championship Edition in the first volume so exciting is that it’s a game that launched a decade and a half after the NES died, and it’s fun to see a relatively modern title getting reduced down to an 8-bit form but still retaining that crucial ‘one more time’ gameplay. Gaplus is far less exciting, because ‘80s arcade ports on the NES were ten a penny: indeed, the fact there was never a Gaplus port at the time despite Namco porting a bunch of its other coin-op games probably speaks volumes on how little demand there was for it.
The entire package is presented in exactly the same way as the first volume, right down to the same menu music and border options. As such, the same criticisms stand: the complete lack of background information or behind-the-scenes content is a real missed opportunity for a game that sells itself as a ‘museum’. Its absence is missed even sorer in this second volume, due to the fact that so many of the games are less well-known and this would have been the perfect way to educate a willing audience keen to learn more about them.
The second Namco Museum Archives compilation is far more eclectic than the first. Vol 1 had more of the typical classics you’d expect from a Namco collection, and while that may seem a bit boring and predictable the reality is that they were classics for a reason: most of them are more fun to play. While there are still some great titles in here – Rolling Thunder and Mappy-Land are highlights – the general quality is lower than that in the first volume. The only reason you should be opting for this one over the first is if you’re sick to the back teeth of Pac-Man and Dig Dug and are looking to discover some lesser-known NES games.