Release Date: September 18, 2007
Once upon a time, there was a video game company named Namco. Video games were just starting to become popular, with Atari having dominated the home console market and Colecovision set to follow shortly thereafter. Namco decided to bring out a game where a circular character who looked very much like a yellow pizza with a slice taken out would gobble up little "dots" on a playing field, attempting to avoid multi-colored ghosts. "Puck-Man" was born in Japan, but censors feared what the title might become if vandals got a hold of the cabinets, so the title was changed to the more innocent "Pac-Man."
And so, a star was born.
Namco continued its successes with a string of hit titles, from the ever-popular Galaga and Dig-Dug, to the less critically acclaimed but still widely enjoyed Xevious and Galaxian. As time went on, these titles were released for home consoles, but it never quite felt the same. Would you really want to play full price for a cartridge that just had Pac-Man or Galaga on it? In some cases, the answer was a resounding "Yes!", but not often.
Fast-forward to July 31, 1996. The PlayStation was in full bloom, coming out with new games left and right and revolutionizing the gaming industry with much broader game experiences, thanks to the disc-based storage capabilities of the new medium. Namco Museum was released to an unsuspecting public, promising not one game, but seven games in one! Finally, one could purchase a disc with multiple games on it. Gamers gobbled up each compilation as it was released, both reliving their past glory days in the coin-operated arcades and discovering new titles that they'd never seen before. (Do you have fond memories of playing Gaplus, The Return of Ishtar and Toy Pop as a kid? Yeah, me either.)
In subsequent years, innumerable (okay, 13) iterations of Namco Museum have been released, with selections varying from title to title. The subject of this review, Namco Museum DS, contains eight titles: Dig-Dug II, Galaga, Galaxian, Mappy, Pac-Man, Pac-Man Vs., The Tower of Druaga and Xevious. Before you consider whether or not you should purchase this game, you must ask three questions of yourself:
- Do I own any Namco Museum titles?
- Do I own multiple Namco Museum titles?
- Do I need to own every Namco Museum title?
These questions will do a lot toward deciding whether or not you should purchase Namco Museum DS. The simple truth is that in virtually every case, these are not the cleanest versions of these titles you can get. Whether it's Pac-Man's slightly off-kilter hit detection, The Tower of Druaga's baffling control mechanism — I had to reference the game hints to figure out how to draw his sword, for crying out loud — or a reminder of just how unfair Mappy can be regarding what constitutes being caught by one of the cats, you'll definitely discover a better version of each game on one system or another.
If you answered, "I don't own any Namco Museum titles," then this game might fit the bill for you. The titles are basically intact, despite a few control quirks and minor glitches. Most of the games are playable enough, with Pac-Man, Galaga and Mappy providing the most solid gaming experiences, though others offer uninviting, tooth-grinding ordeals instead. The unfortunate truth is that there's simply no reason to include Galaxian on any cartridge that includes the ability to play Galaga, and the soundtrack to Xevious is so ear-bleedingly obnoxious that, despite my best efforts, I was forced to turn off the sound after about 60 seconds to avoid the risk of multiple simultaneous aneurisms.
If you answered, "Yes, I do own some Namco Museum titles," then it's time to consider your priorities. Do you really need your 17th copy of Pac-Man, your 28th copy of Galaga and your 11th copy of Galaxian? It may seem ridiculous — not even funny — to consider it, but if you have participated in the culture of the Namco collections for any length of time, it's likely you already have many of these games in some form or other. For you, the real reason to buy this game is to get copies of any of the following games that aren't already on one or more of your compilations: Dig Dug II, Mappy, Pac Man Vs. and The Tower of Druaga (see below). This means a diminished value for you when compared to someone who has never purchased Namco collections in the past, but it does give you the chance to round out your collection with some harder-to-find games.
If you answered, "Yes, I do need to own every Namco Museum title," then I encourage you to keep in mind that none of these titles is new to the series. Galaga, Galaxian, Pac-Man and Xevious are attached to a variety of collections for a variety of systems. Mappy has been on three compilations thus far, with the latest, Namco Museum Remix for the Nintendo Wii, released on Oct. 23, 2007. The Tower of Druaga (seriously, see below) was present on one of the PlayStation compilations, and Pac-Man Vs. was available as recently as the GameCube. Even Dig Dug II was part of the Namco Museum Battle collection for the PSP in 2005. Completionists, there is nothing new for you here, except a cash expenditure and a slightly fuller library.
It is important that anyone considering the purchase of this compilation for the seldom-seen The Tower of Druaga to understand why it is seldom seen. Wikipedia describes it as "difficult"; yes, I suppose that's technically true, in the same sense that repeatedly slamming your head in a car door is "difficult." The game is nigh-unplayable in any capacity, to be quite blunt. Your character is miniscule and walks like he has a elephant tied to each leg — not such a liability until you realize that each level is closely timed, with fast-moving fireballs released into the maze if you don't finish the level quickly enough. Finding the treasures on each stage absolutely requires the utilization of the game hints, and they simply aren't reliable; I double- and triple-checked how to use the copper pickaxe discovered on the first level and discovered that I was pressing the right buttons, it ... simply didn't work. The monsters are ridiculously fast when compared to your character and will often pass completely through your drawn sword to steal one of your lives, prompting shouts of "What?!" and other, less genteel mutterings ill-suited for Grandma's company. Please, Namco, hear my plea: The Tower of Druaga was an abysmal title when it was first released, and it's gotten no better over the years. Allow it to die a swift and painless death.
Despite the inclusion of the aforementioned title, Namco Museum DS is a fairly serviceable compilation that is well-suited for long voyages. Giving it to anyone under the age of 18 may very well produce confused looks and murmurs of, "You mean video games actually used to be like this? Where's the rendering, where are the polygons?" Subjecting your kids — or even yourself — to a bit of gaming history might just provide the incentive needed to appreciate how far video games have come. Add in some very real replayability and the ability to play Pac-Man Vs. with a friend, and the control issues and inclusion of a couple of questionable games becomes much more forgivable. Even players who own one or two of these compilations will find a few new games to toy with, and those who don't will benefit greatly from the addition of some of Namco's greatest games to their library.