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June 2021

Namco Museum Archives Vol 1

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Release Date: June 18, 2020


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PS4 Review - 'Namco Museum Archives Vol 1'

by Cody Medellin on June 30, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Gathering Namco's hits and long-lost treasure, Namco Museum Archives Vol 1 features 10 historic 8-bit home console versions of arcade hits.

Namco loves its old games. Unlike many companies, Namco isn't shy about making sure that its old games get as much exposure now as they did back during their original release. Since the original PlayStation, most home and portable consoles have seen a compilation of the company's greatest hits. The constant presence of these arcade compilations means that owners of multiple console generations view these releases with apathy rather than excitement, since there are only so many times you can trot out the trio of Pac-Man, Dig Dug, and Galaga and make them your centerpieces. Namco Museum Archives Volume 1 is different in this regard, since it focuses on the company's NES/Famicom releases, and for that reason alone, this latest collection is very exciting.

Of the 11 games in this offering, three of them are going to be intimately familiar to Namco Museum fans: Dig Dug, Pac-Man and The Tower of Druaga. Compared to the arcade versions, the differences in their NES ports are readily apparent. For Pac-Man, that means the screen ratio is off, the color palette is more limited around the fruit, and the sound is close but not quite arcade-perfect. At the time, it represented the closest anyone got to the home version, and those who suffered through the Atari 2600 version were more than happy with this iteration. The Tower of Druaga also suffers from sound issues, and the pacing feels slower than the arcade, while Dig Dug has the same ailments that Pac-Man does. Neither of these are bad ports, but we have been spoiled by having these games so accessible in their arcade forms.

There are four titles for the old-school shooter crowd, with three being NES ports of arcade classics. As the precursor to Galaga, Galaxian's presence is a novelty, since it adheres to Taito's Space Invaders formula, except with some of the aliens dive-bombing you. Aside from the 4:3 screen ratio, what might be confusing is the lack of aliens trying to capture your ship, the one mechanic that made Galaga a more well-known product.

Xevious fares quite nicely, even though the number of enemies causes the screen to flicker. The screen ratio change isn't that bad, and there's an extremely helpful addition of rapid fire for bombs and laser shots. Sky Kid is also not bad for an early NES game, but the movement from right to left will throw you off. You'll also seem to collide with enemies when you're barely touching them.

Dragon Spirit: The New Legend is certainly the most impressive of the set due to its late vintage in the NES' history, and this is its first appearance in a compilation. Essentially a medieval version of Xevious, the presentation is strong, and cut scenes propel the story make it a bona fide classic. The title also features an exquisite soundtrack and additional depth provided by multiple power-ups. There's even a hidden easy mode that unlocks if you fail the first level, which is a feature that you didn't see in games from that era.

There are three titles in the set for the adventure platformer fans. Mappy is rather unusual in that it follows a Pac-Man vibe, where your goal is to grab all of the objects in the level, but the only attack at your disposal is to open and close doors to either block out the cats or temporarily knock them senseless. Even more unusual is that you'll use trampolines to go between floors, and you control the height of your jump by choosing when to move left or right. Compared to the arcade version, this port is quite good for being so early in the NES' life cycle.

Dragon Buster is an early adventure RPG that most people in North America may not have heard of, since the home conversion of the arcade title was only for the Famicom. That might be a positive, since the game is structured so oddly that your time will be spent meandering around. Your goal is to kill a dragon in a mountain, but you'll move from one major area to another to do so. During each fight, you'll move from corridor to room to kill the main enemy, but the battle mechanics feel off due to a sword with terrible striking range and your propensity to get hit and knocked back at the lightest touch. Combined with jumps that are so ineffective that you can't reach any of the items dropped by fallen enemies, this game is more curiosity than hidden gem.

Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti is a true hidden gem and another game that's finally in a compilation. As a younger take on the arcade horror game, it plays like your standard horror platformer, but it's tinged with humor and super-deformed characters to lessen the scare factor. The graphics are solid, and the action feels just as tough as the arcade game, even though you're armed with a cleaver with an occasional shotgun pick-up. For import fans, seeing this in a translated form is enough of a reason to pick up the volume.

The final piece of the package isn't an old game but a demake of one of Bandai Namco's more modern hits: Pac-Man Championship Edition. If you're unfamiliar with the original Xbox 360 version, this takes Pac-Man's basic formula and turns it into a psychedelic score chase, where you have between 3-5 minutes to score as much as you can in an endless maze. For the most part, the basic mechanics are here, while the maze colors remain trippy despite the lower color palette, and the 8-bit versions of the pulse-pounding tunes absolutely rock.

The concessions to make this work in the 8-bit space are both smart and impressive. Since this retains the 4:3 screen ratio of the NES, the maze scrolls from left to right in an endless manner, and it works well due to the emphasis on small dot sections at a time, as opposed to blanketing the whole maze with dots. The other change is that the game no longer has a train of ghosts following you, limiting it to the main four from the arcade. That robs you of the ridiculous ghost chain, but it also makes the game harder since you aren't guaranteed that everyone follows you in a long ghost conga line. For veterans of the game, the more unpredictable nature of the ghosts is appreciated, and even though there are no online leaderboards, you can expect people to have fierce leaderboard competitions with this one.

There are two slight missteps to the package. The first is the lack of archival content for any of the games. Just about every Namco Museum release has had some type of content in this regard, whether it's ads, old artwork, or pictures of the arcade cabinets, so it's disappointing to see this series get the bare-bones treatment. The second issue comes from the decision to split the compilation into two separate games. On the one hand, this makes sense if the company would release the rest of its NES collection on a third volume soon. On the other hand, with a good chunk of those leftover titles being so Japanese-heavy, unless there's a movement to create translations for those titles like they did for Splatterhouse, it would've been easier to mash both collections into one for the sake of convenience.

Split archives aside, your love of Namco Museum Archives Volume 1 will be dependent on how much you love the NES and how you feel about this mix. Half of these games are better represented by their arcade versions, and depending on your platform of choice, you may already have access to them via the older Namco Museum compilations. However, NES originals like Splatterhouse and Dragon Spirit are as excellent today as they were decades ago, while the demake of Pac-Man Championship Edition simply has to be seen to be believed. For the investment price of $19.99, retro fans will like this title quite a bit.

Score: 8.0/10

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