Namco Museum 50th Anniversary
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In celebration of their 50th Anniversary, Namco releases their latest collection of arcade gems: Namco Museum 50th Anniversary, which is the most complete Namco Museum to date, with 16 addictive and fun games (2 are unlockable). But the lack of any special features make it seem like they used their 50th Anniversary as an excuse to cash in on another compilation.
The title seemed a little bit misleading to me. Namco is celebrating their 50th Anniversary, yet the oldest game on the compilation is Galaxian, which was released in 1979. So what were they doing before they hit the arcade scene? After booting up the disk, I was disappointed to find that there was no history at all. No documentaries, no interviews, no... anything. So then I thought there might be something in the manual. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case either. So why didn't they include any kind of information related to their 50th Anniversary? Luckily a simple Google search for namco history brought me to Namco's website, where they detailed their entire 50 year history (a good read).
Aside from some sorely missed extras, it all boils down to the games. And that's where Namco Museum 50th Anniversary shines. It has some of the most classic, fun games ever created, including:
- Pac-Man – Originally released in 1980 – Play the most popular arcade game of all time! Navigate the yellow fellow through the original Pac-Man maze, avoid ghosts while chomping pellets and fruit, and use power pellets to turn the ghosts blue and get some payback!
- Ms. Pac-Man – Originally released in 1981 – Starring Pac-Man's female counterpart; explore, collect, and chomp your way through four different mazes and eat new fruits.
- Galaga – Originally released in 1981 – Pilot a space ship, fend off frantic swarms of bee-like aliens, try your luck with “Challenging Stages,” and find the best way to deal with enemies' powerful tractor beams!
- Galaxian – Originally released in 1979 – A precursor to Galaga, destroy flying aliens as they move in from formation to attack you.
- Dig Dug – Originally released in 1982 – Equipped with only a shovel and a pump, tunnel your way underground and use the pump to blow up attacking enemies.
- Pole Position – Originally released in 1982 – A milestone in racing games, players drive fast to beat the timer, and avoid cars and hazards of risk exploding.
- Pole Position II – Originally released in 1983 – Sequel to Pole Position, this title introduced four new race tracks (Fuji, Test, Suzuka, and Seaside).
- Rolling Thunder – Originally released in 1987 – In this horizontal scrolling shooter, play as a secret agent codename “Albatross,” rescue female agent Lelia Blitz and defeat the criminal organization called Geldra.
- Rally X – Originally Released in 1980 – Players drive around a maze while avoiding chasing cars, laying smoke screens, and collecting flags.
- Bosconian – Originally released in 1981 – Pilot a space ship, survive enemy fighters and destroy enemy space stations, while avoiding asteroids and other obstacles.
- Dragon Spirit – Originally released in 1987 – Control a powerful dragon through the air, harness spells, drop bombs, and breath fire at enemies.
- Spy Kid – Originally released in 1985 – Controlling a bi-plane, avoid enemy planes using evasive loops, drop bombs, and machine gun down other planes.
- Xevious – Originally released in 1982 – Use a heavily armed fighter plane to destroy enemies and targets in the air and on the ground.
- Mappy – Originally released in 1983 – Control Mappy, a police mouse. Bounce on trampolines and open and close doors to dodge chasing cats, all in an attempt to collect valuable items from a cat's house.
- Pac-Mania (unlockable) and...
- Galaga '88 (unlockable)
Yeah, these games are old, but they have a certain charm that today's games just don't have anymore. The retro graphics will leave you missing the days when you would head to the arcade after school, spending the lunch money your parents gave you. Even younger gamers will be able to appreciate the pure simplicity of these games. Namco Museum 50th Anniversary is a lesson to the PlayStation generation: you don't need 1.8 teraflops or a 3.2 GHZ processor to enjoy games.
The titles included in Namco Museum were built to be played in arcade cabinets, and some used horizontally oriented screen sizes. To make it work on your TV set, most of them had to be shrunk down so they would fit. The side effect of doing this is there are big black borders along the sides of the screen, basically like watching a widescreen movie on a standard TV set. The borders can be an issue when playing Galaxian, or Galaga when the backdrop is black also. It would have been nice if instead of plain black borders, they included some art from the arcade cabinet (like they had in other versions of Namco Museum).
Namco included a new retro menu interface which according to them "allows players to explore a virtual arcade hall where each of the game's classics will be standing in its original arcade form." What this translates into is that you can cycle through rendered versions of the original arcade cabinets to pick your game.
Some of the games have classic soundtracks with really catchy tunes (Dig Dug!). But some of the developers for these games seemed to think that the spacecraft of the future would make high-pitched, squealy loud sounds when flying by. Just make sure your volume is at a reasonable level when playing.
In the "retro menu" game select screen, they threw in some nice '80s nostalgia by including a lot of the hit music from the era. A nice added touch. I only wish there was an option to listen to the collection of '80s music while playing the arcade games. Just listening to bleeps and whistles can get old after a while.
The games are emulated perfectly, which is great. But that does cause a few control issues, because these games weren't designed to be played using the GC controller. The analog stick's sensitivity is extremely high; you'll be much better off using the d-pad most of the time. Even Pole Position, which had a steering wheel at the arcades, controlled better using the d-pad.
One of the reasons arcades were so popular in the early '80s was because you could just drop in a quarter and start playing. There were no special moves and no 20-hit combos you had to learn in order to win. Each title included in Namco Museum is very pick up and play. Most games only need one or two buttons, with Pole Position being the most complicated because it uses a whopping three buttons (gas, break, and shift).
That doesn't mean that they're easy though. Retro games are also known to be extremely difficult at times, and Namco Museum is no different. In fact, sometimes it can get pretty frustrating. With only two unlockable items, the only real objective in Namco Museum is to get a higher score... which probably isn't enough incentive to keep people playing after the frustration sets in. Good thing there are 16 different games to add some variety.
If you get too frustrated, Namco added in options to set the difficulty, the amount lives you begin with, and the amount of points to an extra life.
Most of the games included are multiplayer, and they're still a blast to play. Don't expect any simultaneous two player games; they're all turn based. As soon as Player 1 dies, it is Player 2's time to shine. Basically it's just a competition to see who can get the highest score.
Namco Museum 50th Anniversary is a great compilation of (mostly) classic games, but you have to wonder how many times they can package the same game. Almost all of these games have already been included in previous Namco Museums.
What Namco Museum 50th Anniversary does successfully is give you a feeling of '80s nostalgia by offering the most complete Namco Museum so far. If you don't own any of the other previous museum titles, this would be the one to get (and then pray it won't become obsolete when the next one is released). Otherwise, you might want to wait until they decide to make a more complete set of arcade classics.