I've always been a big fan of Namco's back catalogue. Whenever I go to an arcade or even a restaurant waiting room, I always play at least a round of Pac-Man in one of its various forms. Namco is now giving DS players a chance to play their classic games on an all new compilation. Is this collection worthy your time and money?
I’ve learned over the past couple years that making a good classic arcade collection is a tough thing to compile. First, emulation for sound, video, and controls must be faithful to the original versions of the games presented. The company should include a good mix of games that range from the super-popular nostalgia-inducing classics that everyone knows and loves but also several obscure titles that the company seldom ports and few people have ever heard of let alone played. The collection must be semi-complete and with a large selection, allowing the player to experience many titles in a series of games to let them experience how the series progressed over the years. Extras are also an important part of what goes into a good classic collection. The collection should have things like un-lockable artwork, dip switch features that the original cabinets had, and tips on how to beat the games (since many arcade titles are nigh-impossible). The best collections have whole un-lockable games, prototype versions, and added features not seen in their original forms such as bug fixes and extra characters. Some features on these collections are supposed to be standard such as various screen modes, control mapping, and save features yet surprisingly some collections neglect some of these features and infuriate classic game enthusiasts.
Namco is the king of re-hash that rules over all companies in the realm of these arcade collections. While companies such as Nintendo and Konami reuse their classic characters very much, they are always making new games and new situations for them to be in. Namco, on the other hand, constantly releases the same versions of their classic titles over and over again. They are on just about every platform from PC to cell phone. Just think back to how many arcade collections of Namco games you saw in just the last generation and you’ll see how much Namco bleeds their well-known titles to death.
I love classic Namco games a lot. In fact, if I were to get an arcade cabinet of my own, it would probably be a Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga combo machine. However, Namco comes out with these collections so often and they always have such an infuriating variation in quality that they just piss me off most of the time when they come out. For instance, the Pac-Man Collection for GBA that came out in 2002 had a great assortment of games yet had a glaring omission in the form of Ms. Pac-Man in the US release. Furthermore, it had no save feature whatsoever. I cannot stress enough how important a save feature is to an arcade collection. If the game does not save the player’s high score, the player has no incentive to beat his previous game, and that’s the whole object of these kinds of arcade games. A missing feature as simple as this one ruins the collection. Namco has also released amazing collections as well such as their Namco Museum Battle Collection for the PSP released in 2005. This collection had pretty much everything I’ve listed in the first paragraph that any great collection should have. It had great games, good emulation, a save feature, and even new arrange modes that were fun to play.
Their newest collection, Namco Museum DS, actually falls straight in-between the two titles above in terms of quality. The collection has all of the features it should in terms of controls, video modes, game options, and the ability to save high scores. However, the collection only has 8 games total: Pac-Man, Galaga, Dig Dug II, Xevious, Tower of Druaga, Mappy, Galaxian, and Pac-Man vs. This small amount of games puts a serious limit on the kind of mix this kind of collection can have. What ends up happening is that Namco includes a good amount of obscure games (Tower of Druaga and Dig Dug II) at the cost of classics that should definitely be included (Ms. Pac-Man and Dig Dug). Namco could have definitely included these classic titles on the collection in addition to the obscure ones. I mean Nintendo fit all of Mario 64 with extras on the DS! Why couldn’t Namco add four or five more titles to flesh out this collection? Namco also left out any arrange games to play. They have some cool features like allowing you to flick the dip switches on the arcade boards, bug fixes, tips on how to play the games, and art but nothing as neat as the Museum modes in the Playstation collections in the series.
The big draw of this title is a port of the amazing formerly Gamecube-only Pac-Man vs. For anyone who doesn’t already know about the game, it’s a multi-player game where one player is Pac-Man while 1-3 other people are the ghosts. The ghosts have a limited view of the maze on the TV screen while Pac-Man has the classic overhead view of the arcade game on the GBA. The ghost players have to work together and use their surroundings to catch the Pac-Man player. Once the Pac-Man player is caught by a ghost player, they switch positions and the ghost player gets to control Pac-Man. The player that accumulates the most points through eating dots, fruit, and ghosts as Pac-Man wins. The game has always been a blast to play, however, the way it was set up on the GC was convoluted at best.
To play, the player needed a GBA (for the person who was Pac-Man), a GBA-to-GC link cable, and 3 GC controllers (for the people who were ghosts). This amount of extra hardware is pretty ridiculous. The DS version is much more stream-lined. What’s good about this version is that you don’t have to pass your DS’s around when you get caught as Pac-Man and everyone has their own screen so no extra equipment is needed. No tangled wires and no headaches. Oh, and Mario’s annoying voice from the original have gladly been taken out. To top it off, you only need one cartridge to enjoy this game with 3 other friends who already own DS’s. The game itself is a little barebones in terms of options but it wins in pure fun mainly because almost everyone knows how to play Pac-Man (so the barrier to entry is small) and it has some strategic elements from having to work together as the ghosts.
Overall, Namco Museum DS is not worth the purchase over other collections in the series. It just has too few games. Even the MSRP of $20 seems too much for this one. If you want a portable collection with a great selection of games, good extra content, and all the options you’d want go for Namco Museum Battle Collection on the PSP. Only players who want to experience Pac-Man vs. in a more accessible form should pick Namco Museum DS up.