I have to admit that when I first saw that Namco Museum Archives Volume 1 was coming to the Nintendo Switch I was instantly confused. Didn’t I already review this game a few years back? It turns out, no, not quite. That game was simply called Namco Museum and contained a compilation of classic arcade games. This version is a compilation of ten classic NES games, most of which originally appeared in the arcades. So there is some overlap in the titles, but I’d argue this is a much better collection thanks to a few must-have games and the fact that these console titles are better suited for home play than the quarter-munching hard-as-nails arcade versions.
As always with these types of anthologies, it really comes down to whether or not you’re interested in the games that are included. If you’re a kid of the ‘80s or have a penchant for classic arcade type action, then Namco Museum Archives Volume 1 will probably warrant a purchase. It helps there are eleven games to choose from and the price is only $19.99, making it less than $2 for each title (a steal when compared to the old Virtual Console pricing standard of $5 for each NES release). The deal is even sweeter when you consider you get two really awesome games you probably can’t get anywhere else: Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti and an 8-bit demastered version of Pac-Man Championship Edition. I’d argue this collection is worth it for those two games alone, the rest of them are just gravy.
So, let’s start there with my favorite game in the collection: Pac-Man Championship Edition. You may have played this back on the Xbox 360 Arcade in all of its neon pulsing glory. The developers have reimagined this experience as an 8-bit NES game and it works stunningly well. The game plays like a normal game of Pac-Man, except the insanity is turned up to 11. You go about the maze eating pellets as usual, trying to avoid the ghosts as you careen around the corners. After you’ve eaten enough dots a fruit will appear and once you scarf that down more dots and, more importantly, power pellets will appear, allowing you to chomp away at the ghosts that were tailing you. This game is all about score and time attack, so you’ll want to time your binge eating just right to gobble up all four ghosts and rack up those precious points.
As you continue to eat everything in sight the game begins to pick up speed. Before you know it you’re holding on for dear life as you make split second decisions to avoid death. The screen is always filled with pulsating maze walls and every time you nab a fruit the screen lights up as more dots appear all around you in a sort of all you can eat buffet of appetizing pixels. The more fruit you eat the higher the points you earn per dot you eat and you can sort of chain the power pellets together to keep a run of blue ghosts on the screen so that you can run up the scoreboard like never before. This is all accompanied by an energetic soundtrack that gets more frenzied as the five minute timer counts down. When there’s about a minute left on the clock things are moving so fast that it’s best you not blink or it might be game over. The adrenaline rush you get when playing this game is akin to being one of the last standing in a round of Tetris 99. If your heart rate hasn’t increased and your palms aren’t sweating then perhaps you’re a good candidate for a high stress job! Seriously, this is the standout piece of software in this collection and one that I’ll keep coming back to over and over again. Perhaps the only downside is there isn’t any sort of online leaderboard to challenge your friends.
The other unique title in this package is Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti, a game that never released in the US before. It was originally a Famicom game in Japan and it’s a more kid friendly version of the arcade and TurboGrafx-16 Splatterhouse game. You once again play as a Jason look alike, complete with hockey mask and hatchet. In this side-scrolling action game you’ll have to jump over hazards and hack and slash your way through all sorts of monstrosities, including severed hands and zombies. The very first boss encounter is a vampire that rises from his coffin and in doing so the game plays what appears to almost be a few bars from Michael Jackson’s Thriller as Drac and his zombies dance around the screen. Oddly enough most of the bosses I encountered don’t allow you to damage directly to them, but instead you must survive through waves of enemies. There are exceptions, like the possessed girl from the Exorcist where her head twists around and then flies off after you. A few whacks to the head should do the trick.
While this game is decidedly more cutesy with its big sprites and whatnot, it’s not exactly a kids game. The difficulty is about the same as the others in the series and there is more of an emphasis on platforming in some of the levels. The graphics are rather impressive in parts of the game with some parallax scrolling and larger characters. One interesting gameplay mechanic is that you start off with four health bars and there is a counter on the screen keeping track of how many enemies you’ve defeated. When it hits a requisite number (10 in the first stage) you earn another piece of health. So to maximize your chances at the boss you’ll want to kill as many baddies as you can. You’ll have to fend off paranormal enemies as well, including crosses on gravestones that come to life and try to impale you and possessed books that fly off of shelves in an attempt to get you to read. It’s not necessarily the best game I’ve ever played on the NES, but it’s fantastic that we get to finally see it on our shores and it’s worth spending some time with.
Another game that stood out to me was Dragon Buster, another Famicom release that didn’t make it to these shores. I’ll be honest, it’s not that great of a game, but for some reason I spent quite a bit of time playing it. What’s interesting about it is that it reminds me of what could have been a prototype for Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. You have this sort of rudimentary overworld where you can move your character around to a few different destination. Once there the game transitions into a 2D action platformer where you attack monsters with a sword. There are multiple boss rooms that will drop a special secondary weapon with limited uses that can be used against tougher foes. These small labyrinths have multiple passageways so there’s a small bit of exploration. The biggest downsides to this game include repeating enemies and bosses and a small range of attack, meaning you have to almost touch enemies to land a blow. This could have been something really special, but in the end it’s not polished enough to be a certifiable hit. Still, there’s something here that kept me entertained for longer than it should have so be sure to check this one out.
Most of the rest of the collection is the standard Namco Museum stuff you’d expect, although it should be noted that most of these are actually new for western NES owners. That’s because Namco didn’t self-publish its games on the NES in the US until the ’90s, leaving it up to various third parties (like Taxan and Tengen) to pick up the slack. As a result, games you’d have expected to see on the NES actually never appeared. You’ll find classic NES versions of Galaxian (new), Pac-Man, Xevious, Dig Dug (new), The Tower of Druaga (new), Sky Kid, and Dragon Spirit: The New Legend. Your mileage may vary on these games depending on your nostalgia for them. Notably missing, once again, is Ms. Pac-Man. Hey Bandai Namco, when are you going to give her some love?
The emulation of these games was done by the masterful developers at M2. They are fantastic at their craft and these games run exceptionally well. In the past they have given us some truly spectacular ports of Sega Ages titles, which usually include a ton of options and enhancements. Unfortunately for this collection we’re only given a small amount of extras. You can of course save your game at any point via save states and you can also rewind the game a few seconds if you make a mistake. There are three issues I have with the collection that, if addressed, would elevate it even closer to must-have status.
The first problem is the lack of customizable controls. B and A are going to be the same as the NES and there’s no way to change that, which is too bad because of the way the buttons are laid out on the Switch (the same as Super NES) where it’s much easier for games to be played with “Y” as “B” and “B” as “A”. Bottom line is in this day and age there’s no reason not to include the ability to swap buttons around.
The second issue is that on the lower left of the screen there is a prompt that never goes away showing “ZL System Menu” and “L Rewind Feature”. This is annoying and can cause burn-in on TVs if you play for extended lengths of time. (UPDATE: While reviewing Volume 2 I discovered there is a way to turn this off! To do this you hit ZL and then go to Settings, and then select Wallpaper Settings, and then press X (or the upper action button if you’re playing with a single Joy-Con) and that will toggle on and off the information pane. Phew, could they have made it any more hidden?)
Third, I would have liked to have seen some historical content included with these games. Both SNK and Konami have done great jobs of including concept art, design documents, print ads, etc. with their collections and it would have been fantastic to see that sort of love given here.
Despite those issues, I really had a great time with Namco Museum Archives Volume 1. With the lack of a proper Virtual Console service on the Switch, this is the next best way to experience some classic NES games and it’s even better when we get to play some titles that never made it over to this country in the first place. The bonus of including Pac-Man Championship Edition as an 8-bit demake solidifies this compilation as a great pick-up for any fan of classic ‘80s arcade action.
Namco Museum Archives Volume 1 Review
- Graphics - 7/107/10
- Sound - 8/108/10
- Gameplay - 8.5/108.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 7.5/107.5/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
Namco Museum Archives Volume 1 is the best Switch compilation from the company so far. With 10 classic NES games (most of which never appeared in this country before) and a demake of Pac-Man Championship Edition, there’s a lot to like here!