Originally released for the Game Boy Advance in 2001, Namco Museum is part of a long-running series (which goes by the same name) that saw regular releases over a 15-year period all the way up until 2010. This game is a compilation, featuring five classic arcade games: Ms. PAC-MAN, Galaga, Galaxian, Pole Position and Dig Dug. These were big titles back the day, and while they’re no longer prominent in gaming (with the arguable exception of PAC-MAN), they each rightfully deserve to be remembered and honoured for their contributions to the games industry.
However, it’s hard not to be cynical when a company re-releases titles from within its retro library; these old games serve as an easy way for publishers to cash in on nostalgia without the need to invest much money or effort into development; it would seem that Namco Museum sadly falls very neatly into this category. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the arcade games featured on the compilation — these are as faithfully restored as can be, sans the luxury of a classic arcade cabinet — but rather the overall presentation of the package is incredibly lacking. This isn't a celebration of Namco's past successes, as the sterile presentation suggests; there’s no history or hidden extras or anything that remotely hints at why these now-primitive titles are worth remembering. Instead, this is essentially an uninspired ROM dump, and one which doesn't benefit from being blown up on to a large-screen TV via the Wii U.
Presentation woes aside, the arcade games on offer are nevertheless mostly entertaining. For example, Ms. PAC-MAN — the most successful American-produced arcade game to date — is still very much playable. This is the only title on the compilation that features some slight reworking; you can choose to play the game with the stage in full view or opt for a zoomed-in view that requires scrolling. The latter mode was clearly added to make it more suitable for the Game Boy Advance’s small screen, although it still comes in handy when playing exclusively on the Wii U GamePad.
Galaga is another game that stands the test of time, and will likely be fun and challenging enough for gamers who are less accustomed to the primitive design of yesteryear’s games. A scrolling Space Invaders clone, the game’s most successful element was — and still is — the movement patterns of its enemies, making them tricky to both hit and avoid colliding with. Galaxian, Galaga's older brother, is a slightly simpler affair and closer in design and feel to the 1978 masterpiece on which it’s based, and that arguably works in its favour. Both games are straightforward enough to pick up and play, and yet still manage to be remarkably difficult at the same time.
Pole Position is where the compilation falls down a bit, from a gameplay perspective. It’s a game that should be remembered given that it pioneered the racing game genre, but it’s one that’s not much fun to play today — or at least not when it isn't in its original arcade cabinet form. It’s rudimentary in virtually every way, especially when it comes to the visuals which are very unclear when viewed on the TV. Even the logo looks horrendous, although it’s fair to say that this has always been the case.
Thankfully, Pole Position is the exception. The final game, Dig Dug, rounds off the package nicely. Again, it’s crude by today’s standards — but then what game from the early 1980s isn't — but still highly playable. In fact, there’s a lot of charm to be found in the visuals, and it’s that rare breed of arcade game that serves up a hearty challenge in a way that doesn't feel unfair.
Namco Museum is a decent, if small, compilation of arcade classics, but that’s all it is. This doesn’t celebrate or divulge previously unknown information about these former arcade titans and how they came to be. Instead, it’s lifelessly presented, lacking the excitement typically associated with the world’s biggest entertainment industry. The arcade games themselves are all surprisingly playable today — with the exception of Pole Position — and the compilation’s asking price is small enough to warrant you to give this a go out of curiosity. It’s a title that won’t hold your attention for very long, bearing in mind that arcade games typically aren't designed to do that, but it nevertheless provides a window into a simple yet fun period in gaming, albeit in a rather sombre way.