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Namco Museum (Switch) artwork

Namco Museum (Switch) review

"Pac-Man VS. saves Namco Museum from being a disappointment, but still... why aren't there more games?"

Nothing says "Been there, done that" like a new Namco Museum game, or so you might believe. But the truth is that even though there have been literally dozens of releases over the years (counting that one time someone in charge at Namco said "Hey, let's make a series of five of them for the PlayStation"), almost every iteration is a bit different from the next.

The first version I ever bought, Namco Museum 64, included six classics: Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, Dig Dug, Pole Position and Galaxian. That's not a stunning selection by today's terms, and it wasn't even at the time the compilation originally released, but it was okay. Those were simpler times.

On the Xbox 360, Namco Museum: Virtual Arcade gathered a whopping 34 games, including relative rarities like Baraduke, Bosconian, Dragon Buster, Grobda and more, along with "Live Arcade Classics such as Galaga Legions and Pac-Man Championship Edition. Looking back, it was pretty freaking sweet. A used and complete edition will cost you somewhere around $20.00, at the time I'm writing this review. Don't even ask what a new one goes for.

Namco Museum (Switch) imageNamco Museum (Switch) image

In terms of the classics gathered, Namco Museum on the Nintendo Switch falls somewhere in the middle of the two extremes I outlined above. You can purchase it for $29.99 on the Nintendo eShop, if you are so inclined, and that investment ensures you always have a couple of versions of Pac-Man at your disposal, provided you keep it installed on the system (and why wouldn't you?). Since that's the game I'm actually reviewing, I guess I should probably start by letting you know the full line-up of titles included, eh?

Included in the collection are:
  • Pac-Man

  • Galaga

  • Dig Dug

  • The Tower of Druaga

  • Sky Kid

  • Rolling Thunder

  • Galaga '88

  • Splatterhouse

  • Tank Force

  • Rolling Thunder 2

  • Pac-Man VS.
That's not my idea of a terrific list, if I'm being honest, but they mostly do seem to fit a sort of theme. With the exception of the last title on that list, each of the above games is probably at its best when you're going alone (though there are two-player options). The exception is Pac-Man VS., which I'll discuss in a moment because I have the most to say about it.

Namco Museum features what I consider fairly clunky menus all around, but they do at least allow you to do some neat things with the various games. If you don't mind losing the ability to rank on the (rather confusing) leaderboards, you can change various settings, including the number of starting lives and the difficulty. You can put the game in "attract mode" (which was once included to say "Hey, play me!" when cabinets were placed in quarter-rich places such as laundromats and arcades), or even set it so that it rotates 90 degrees to one side. Then you set your Switch on a flat surface and it feels like you're playing on an old cocktail table configuration. So that's a neat use of the hardware.

Except for Pac-Man VS., each of the available games has two modes available, once you settle on which title you want to play. Normal mode lets you try your hand at the classics as you remember them. Challenge Mode presents unique objectives. In Pac-Man, you are given 3 minutes with which to eat as many ghosts as possible, and more points are awarded if you eat several in succession. In Galaga, you let your fighters get captured so you can rescue them. It's incredible how bad I am at that particular objective, but maybe you'll enjoy it. Or maybe you'll like challenging yourself to get the highest score possible on the last stage of Rolling Thunder 2.

I complained about the game's interface a moment ago, and I plan to gripe about it again in a moment, but I do want to recognize it for one thing: when you're playing a game, you can easily press the R button to pause, then return to a main menu and press the R button again to bring up a prompt that lets you quickly change to one of the other games included in the collection. That's actually pretty handy, and I take advantage of the option fairly often during my typical play session.

Namco Museum (Switch) imageNamco Museum (Switch) image

But anyway, one of the biggest reasons to play Namco Museum on the Nintendo Switch is the inclusion of Pac-Man VS., which was originally bundled with various Namco titles on the GameCube. The game hasn't been widely available since then, and it's a perfect fit for the Nintendo Switch. Players become ghosts and try to catch Pac-Man, despite only being able to see part of the maze at once. The player who finally catches the yellow muncher then becomes him. He or she can then see the whole maze and gets to hunt the ghosts for more points, all on the way to a winning score. Any human players who are controlling ghosts need to work together to corral their quarry, and communication is key. If you have a few friends in the room, this process can prove quite exciting. There are a variety of map configurations available, as well, to keep things fresh.

Unfortunately, to play the game in its full glory, you need access to a couple of Nintendo Switch systems. One player gets a whole screen while controlling Pac-Man, and the other players share a second Switch console. This sort of makes sense, since it ensures everyone sees only what they should, but it limits who can afford the experience (especially at present, with stores seemingly unable to consistently keep the system in stock). I invited my friend and his Switch over to my apartment, so we could have our own little Pac-party. Then he downloaded a free version of the game that let us go at it without him needing to purchase a copy of Namco Museum for himself, which is a nice option.

If you only have a single Switch at your disposal, there's also the option for up to three players to be the ghosts. However, this mode presents potential new issues. The first person to reach a certain score wins, after however many rounds it takes to finally snare the AI-controlled target. But if there are only two people playing, the first player has an advantage because a third ghost is controlled by the computer and any points it acquires seem to go automatically to that first player (even if he or she has been doing a fairly crap job at catching Pac-Man).

When I played with my friend and we each had our own Switch, it also took us several minutes to set everything up the first time, because you have to sync the two systems and make choices that aren't necessarily intuitive. Sometimes the hardware just doesn't want to play nice, even when you're in an area with great wireless coverage and seated only a few feet from each other. So like I've mentioned, I don't always like the menus and interface. But at least that's a problem that eventually goes away, if you play the game often enough. It's not a deal breaker so much as it is a peeve of mine.

If you've played a few of the various Namco Museum compilations over the years, there's not much new to get excited about this time around. The various configuration options are nice, the ability to turn your Switch sideways is cool, and the challenges serve as interesting diversions for a few minutes. That's it until you consider Pac-Man VS. and its potential as a party game... which is significant. Those who have a few retro-minded friends can likely sink hours into just the one title and still have a blast, perhaps at a retro-themed party. I'm definitely glad to finally have the game at my disposal, but I'm not sure the overall package offers enough value to warrant a purchase at the default MSRP. Get it on sale, though, and you'll likely be satisfied enough.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (August 09, 2017)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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