Each of the two volumes of Namco Museum Archives offers a mix of arcade, NES-exclusive, and an original eight-bit ‘demake’. Many of the games are still great, but the museum’s interiors are a bit too desolate.
Platform: Switch, also PlayStation 4, PC
Developer: B.B. Studio
Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment
Release date: June 18th, 2020
Price: $19.99 per volume via digital download
Switch Availability: Volume 1, Volume 2
PlayStation Availability: Volume 1, Volume 2
Steam Availability: Volume 1, Volume 2
Increasingly, it’s becoming easier to enjoy yesteryear’s classics. Releases like Atari Flashback Classics, SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, and two compilations of Psyiko shooters, have each delivered a delightful dose of nostalgia to experienced gamers. For those who missed the original releases, these anthologies are often a great way to appreciate a publisher’s vintage works.
But these collections are not equivalent. Some publishers treat the original games with reverence, offering supplemental materials that give a glimpse into the developmental process. Another approach is found in M2’s SEGA AGES line. Their remakes offer painstakingly coded recreations of the original arcade titles, routinely adding new modes or difficulty levels. But others opt for a no-frills approach. The PlayStation Classic was deservingly berated for the use of open-source emulation and a slip-shod assemblage of games.
Don’t Expect the Original Arcade Versions
With the release of Namco Museum Archives Vol 1 & 2, Bandai Namco supplies a pair of mostly straightforward collections. Both flaunt mostly familiar titles. Volume 1 has Dig Dug, Dragon Buster, Dragon Spirit: The New Legend, Galaxian, Mappy, Pac-Man, Sky Kid, Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti, The Tower of Druaga, and Xevious. Volume 2 is comprised of Battle City, Dig Dug II, Dragon Buster II, Galaga, Legacy of the Wizard, Mappy-Land, Mendel Palace, Pac-Land, Rolling Thunder, and Super Xevious. Additionally, there’s a special treat in each collection with 8-bit iterations of Pac-Man Championship Edition and Gaplus. These can’t be found anywhere else, and the quality of these ‘demakes’ is impressive.
Although many of the games in each volume began life as coin-ops, both volumes provide NES games. As such, the versions of Dig Dug, Pac-Man, Mappy, and Rolling Thunder might not be the ones you remember if you never owned a Nintendo Entertainment System. Instead they are adaptations of the arcade cabinets, which aimed to recreate the experience. As such, the visuals and mechanics diverge slightly (Mappy) and in some cases (Dragon Spirit: The New Legend) wildly.
But that’s no to say that these are substandard. No, these ports deserve their own residence in gaming history. The programmers who worked on these ports often wrung a lot of processing power from the modest NES, and were often exceeding successful in reconstructing the feel, if not the exactly the look of source material. Now Production’s Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti realized that Nintendo’s home console would struggle to depict the detailed viscera of the original Splatterhouse. Instead, they came up with a super-deformed parody loaded with pop-cultural references, from Michael Jackson’s Thriller to David Cronenberg’s The Fly. If you’ve never played it before, it’s a frothy but fun curio.
A Lasting Legacy
Originally known as the Nakamura Manufacturing Company, Namco became an industry frontrunner with the release of Galaxian in 1978 and solidifying that standing with Pac-Man two years later. The company didn’t rest on their laurels. A succession of titles like Galaga (1981), Dig Dug (1982) Mappy (1983), Xevious (1983) followed. Each transported an easily understood set of goals and creative play mechanics, inspiring the industry to follow suit. Amazingly, many of the games remain engrossing, like Sky Kid’s breezy aerial dogfighting and bombing runs. Dig Dug II might showcase the simplicity of its predecessor, but the addition of a Qix-like mechanic is noteworthy. But they’re not all gems. Although Dragon Buster was one of the first games to employ a double-jump, the NES adaptation is pretty unpolished.
Each collection’s amenities are a bit lackluster. Sure, there are visual options for 4:3, zoomed, pixel-perfect, and full-screen perspectives, as well as anti-aliasing and scan line options. And there’s the ability to save as well as rewind games a few seconds to chase the perfect run. But Museum Archives doesn’t let players freely reverse time, which means you can get stuck in a situation where death is imminent. Another peeve is the on-screen text showing the button prompts for the system menu and rewind function. These cover part a small section of the playfield and is needlessly unintuitive to get rid of. (Go to System Menu/Settings/Wallpaper Settings/ and press “X” to toggle it off)
Lost in Localization
If you saw the trailer for the Japanese version of Namcot Collection (Namcot was the name for the company’s console publishing arm from 1984-1995), you might have noticed a few cool features. Not only could players purchase games individually, but they could also set up displays on a virtual shelving. Here, things like instruction booklets, standees, and box art could be arranged freely, mirroring the kind of display a collector might make. But it’s missing from the Western iteration. Color, illustration-filled instruction booklets are also truncated to a few lines of text.
But the bigger issue across regions is the lack of historical context in Namco Museum Archives. The best anthropologies reveal remarkable aspects about each game, and in a best-case scenario might offer interviews with the original creators. Given the age of some of these games and the early industry’s deficiency of record-keeping, some of this might be challenging to acquire. But when a collection lacks these materials, if can keep more like a money-grab than an effort to memorialize the titles.
But that’s not to say that volumes 1 & 2 of the Namco Museum Archives should be shunned. Despite the lack of accompaniments, M2’s emulation is spot on, allowing for one of the cheaper, legal ways to play these influential titles. Small details that other developers often struggle with, like the pitch of music and sound effects, is spot-on, flawlessly imitating some of the trademark shrieks of the NES APU.
Approach Museum Archives Vol 1 & 2 with tempered expectations. On the upside, stateside gamers received a simultaneous release with the Japanese version. And while the absence of the virtual shelf stings, it really doesn’t impair the playability of what’s inside the collection. Most physical museums supply a label next to each exhibit, providing perspective. This should follow form.
Namco Museum Archives Volume 1 & 2 was played
on Switch with review code provided by the publisher