Review: Namco Museum DS with Pac-Man Vs.
Those of you who have been reading racketboy.com for a while know I have been waiting for this release for a while. On my Nintendo DS Wishlist of games or compilations I would like to see on my DS Lite, I specifically listed a new Namco Museum collection that would have some Namco classics on it and possibly include a new version of Pac-Man VS that would make the under-appreciated Gamecube party game and make it more accessible on the DS. (If you aren’t familiar with the original Pac-Man VS., take a look at my review)
Just a couple months later, Namco amazingly announced that they would be releasing a new Namco Museum DS that was almost exactly what I asked for. In addition to a collection old Namco arcade classics, the package would also offer a wifi-enabled version of Pac-Man VS.
Game Selection: 7.5
Obviously, in order to make this worth the $20, Namco needed to add something special. Pac-Man VS, is more than special and it is essentially the main reason to pick up this compilation. In short, it takes everything you love about the original Pac-Man and turns it into an ingenious multiplayer experience.
Since this game package says “Namco Museum” on it instead of “Pac-Man VS”, we should expect to see some additional retro gems to keep us busy. Unfortunately, I initially couldn’t help but be underwhelmed by both the quantity of games and the selection of some games over others.
My ultimate goal for a new Namco Museum portable release was to be able to replace my Namco Museum and Pac-Man Collection GBA cartridges in addition to having a mobile Pac-Man Vs. Instead, Namco Museum DS is limited to Pac-Man, Galaxian, Galaga, Mappy, Xevious, Dig Dug II, and The Tower of Druaga. With relatively low expectations, I went in hoping for the best for what was included.
I admit, if Pac-Man Vs. wasn’t included in this release, I would probably have waited to pick this up at a $10 sale price or something. However, being a huge fan of the original Gamecube release, I eagerly anticipated being able to play this multiplayer classic wirelessly both at home and on the go.
For those of you that aren’t familiar of the game (or read my review), Pac-Man Vs was actually a project of Shigeru Miyamoto, the mastermind behind Mario, Zelda, and most of Nintendo’s most successful game. It lets up five players battle it out in a Pac-Man “simulation”. One person take the role of Pac-Man while the others possess the ghosts and team up on Pac-Man.
Overall, the DS version did an excellent job of re-creating the slick, competitive Pac-Man experience and keeping the overall look and feel of the game. Obviously, it also simplified the setup a bit as you know longer need a GBA tethered to a Gamecube with a link cable in order to play it. The only downside is that you lose the charm of handing off the GBA in disgust to whoever’s ghost captured you.
Playing wirelessly with only one game cartridge worked fine, but of course a multiple cart setup will save you the initial upload/download time of the game data. Luckily, my wife and mother-in-law have DS Lites and enjoy playing, so I have it easer than most when it comes to finding local players. It might be more challenging than others.
I’m guessing there is not an online option for Pac-Man Vs as I don’t see the option. Although maybe I’m missing something as it’s rather strange that Wireless play is the lone option on the Pac-Man Vs title screen. It’s as if there is supposed to be an online play option, but it was scrapped for some reason. If that is the case, it’s a real shame as it could be a real online killer app.
Other than the lack of online play, I really can’t find any other complaints about this DS port. I was quite pleased with it. But unfortunately, unless you have local friends with a DS, you won’t be getting much use out of this. What was my original reason for buying this package, is now just an added bonus for when your DS buddies are around.
Of course, the original Pac-Man game was an obvious choice and is still quite enjoyable on the DS. This classic looked and handled as good as it possibly could and was much more satisfying that it’s GBA counterpart.
However, as a rabid old-school gamers (which, I would assume is the target audience for this product), I like to play different versions of Pac-Man – especially when they are more fulfilling than the original. Pac-Man Collection on the GBA contained the original Pac-Man, plus Pac-Attack, PacMania 3D, and my favorite, Pac-Man Arrangement. The GBA Namco Museum also had Ms. Pac-Man, which most people prefer to the original.
While expecting all of these might be a bit much, throwing in a few of the best would be a very nice touch. I’m sure these games don’t take up much space on a DS cartridge and a simple GBA-to-DS port shouldn’t take much work, so I’m not sure why they are limiting Museum DS to only the original Pac-Man.
Even though it has a strong place in Namco’s history and is the father to Galaga, I just don’t enjoy Galaxian that much when I have Galaga available. Of course, Galaxian takes the Space Invaders formula and expands on it a little, so if you like Space Invaders, you’ll fit right in here.
I was extremely happy to see that Galaga was still included on this version of Namco Museum. Galaga is a perfect blend of the Space Invaders vibe that Galaxian developed with some added shmup-like space ship and bullet dodging. It also modernized the gameplay a bit like being able to shoot more than one bullet at a time.
Even though the game is still very early game in Namco’s history (1981), I think that, like Pac-Man, it is a classic that holds up very well to modern space shooters.
When it was released in 1982, Xevious was cutting edge and was a leading pioneer for scrolling. Not only was it the first scrolling shooter to have backgrounds that weren’t just a sea of stars, but it also featured both land and air-based enemies, each of which required a different weapon to attack.
Twenty-five years have quickly passed by since then and we have seen many innovative and frantic shooters since then. However, Xevious’s precocious innovations do the gameplay surprisingly interesting. It won’t blow you away with tons of enemies and speed, but the combination of shooting aircrafts out of the sky and precisely bombing land enemies creates quite a challenge.
Before this compilation, I don’t think I had even played Mappy before. I had heard of it and seen some screenshots, but I never had a Mappy machine in any of my arcades and it never really interested me enough to play it in MAME.
However, once I had it on my DS, Mappy served as one of my most pleasant surprises of my weekend. After the first couple of rounds where I was trying to figure what to do (and not do) in order to succeed in the game, I was having some genuine fun bouncing around, blowing though doors, grabbing goodies, and avoiding my enemies.
I totally underestimated the fun factor of Mappy, so I’m very glad that Namco included it. If you enjoy early platforming puzzle games like Bubble Bobble, you may be in for a treat as well.
Dig Dug II
The original Dig Dug was one of my absolute favorite arcade games when I was a kid and I believe it holds up quite well to this day. I play it frequently on my GBA Museum and originally though it was a requirement for any Namco Museum collection. However, for some strange reason, Namco decided to include Dig Dug II instead of the original.
In the second installment of the series, Dig Dug is actually takes care of business above ground on a series of islands. The overall gameplay mechanic of blowing up your enemies is the same, but it lacks much of the charming underground digging gameplay and visual style of the first game.
Unlike the Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man situation, DigDug II, in my opinion, doesn’t improve on the original, nor does it even maintain much of feel of the original game (Dig Dug doesn’t even dig in the sequel!). If they wanted to include both installments, that would be fine, but don’t ditch the original in favor of something inferior.
Tower of Druaga
Wrapping up the classic games included, Namco Museum DS brings us Tower of Druaga. If it wasn’t for Namco Museum collections, I would never have even heard of this game, and I’m probably not the only one. I also had low expectations for this game as well, and while I didn’t find it quite as charming as Mappy, it was still a welcome addition to the collection.
Tower of Druaga is a maze game that relies heavy on mazes. I only say this because games like Pac-Man are often classified as a maze game, but ToD’s primary gameplay element consists of working your way through a maze to find a key, and then the door that that key unlocks in order to proceed to the next floor/level in the Tower. Of course there are some simplified (but rather awkward) battles along the way with a variety of enemies.
The mazes themselves are much like tricky mazes that you used to find in those little books that would also have crossword puzzles and other games to keep your brain active. There are many dead ends throughout each maze, and you have a limited amount of time to efficiently work your way around the maze and complete your goal. You have to think quickly and move precisely to be able to progress to the next level.
What I found most interesting is that Tower of Druaga suits itself better as a portable game that an arcade title. It would think that it would be a perfect complement to games like Brain Age and other puzzle games.
I enjoyed each of the included games to a certain extent, but I couldn’t help be a little disappointed that a few of my favorites we’re a part of Namco Museum DS. This collection’s biggest sin, in my opinion, is the exclusion of the original Dig Dug, which was one of Namco’s most essential masterpieces, second only to Pac-Man.
Ms. Pac-Man, Pole Position, Rolling Thunder, and Rally-X are some of my other favorites that are usually included in Namco Museum releases, but were passed by this time around.
Of course, in a perfect world, I would have also enjoyed some of the more modern “Arrangement” versions of some of the games like Pac-Man, Dig-Dug, and Galaga. I would have been in retro-portable heaven then.
Graphics & Presentation: 9.5
Typically, budget compilations don’t have much in terms of presentation, but Namco Museum DS is definitely above average. The interface was very clean and modern, and tastefully featured artwork from the classic games.
I was also quite impressed with the overall menu system and how navigation works for both the touch-screen and standard controls. There are a few small quirks that bother me like having to hit some buttons on the option screens more than once (I suppose to avoid accidentally hitting the wrong part of the touch screen), but overall, it’s an enjoyable experience.
Apparently, the menu system is the same as the Konami Arcade Hits collection released last year. Both were developed by M2 and I can understand why they wouldn’t want to re-invent something that works well.
The games themselves look very true to their original form. The games all appear to be emulated, so sprites weren’t redrawn or anything like in their GBA counterparts. There are different orientations and aspect ratios to choose from that can make a difference on how the game looks.
Typically, the games run on the top screen of the DS and the bottom screen is devoted to options. You can rotate the view and play vertically by holding the DS sideways (kinda like Brain Age), which makes the games fill up the whole screen without stretching them too much. The only bad thing is that the controls are pretty funky that way. (If the DS had the same button layout as the Wonderswan, that would be fine, but it doesn’t.)
With DS rotations, you can do stretched full-screen or the native aspect ratio. Personally, I do the native aspect ratio with the horizontal screen (the way you would normally hold the DS) since comfort is most important to me and nothing looks stretched. The only disadvantage to this is things are obviously smaller and text is a little harder to read.
Overall, everything looks great and I couldn’t ask for more flexibility on the DS.
One of Namco Museum DS’s most redeeming characteristics is its wide array of options. There are many ways to make the most of your retro gaming experience.
Saving Your Scores
This is huge. One of the biggest complaints about the old GBA Namco Museum is there was no way to save your high scores. This is finally fixed in Namco Museum DS. My only complaint is that you can’t put in your initials and see anything but the very top score. If you are the only one that uses your DS and/or your game cartridge, this probably isn’t an issue for you, but if my wife and I want to compete against each other’s scores, it’s pretty hard to keep track of who is winning.
However, one of the things that keeps me playing this cartridge all the time is the combination of trying to learn the game better in order to beat my old score. I’m picking Pac-Man up many times throughout the day to see if I can score just a little higher.
There are two major ways to play the classic arcade games. You can play in “Arcade” mode, which plays just like you would expect, but gives you a number of customizable options like number of lives and such.
This mode also features DIP switches and options are available to allow “hardcore” players to customize their gameplay. This just shows you a picture of an arcade circuit board, complete with the tiny little switches that were used to make those adjustments on the real machine. This isn’t anything major, but it’s a neat little thing for arcade geeks.
In addition to Arcade mode, there is also a “Score Attack” mode that is a straightforward setting that only focuses on beating the top score. I usually spend most of my time with Score Attack since my personal motivation is competing with myself.
As I mentioned before, Namco Museum DS give you just about any display option you could want. There are plenty of ways to adjust the screen rotation and aspect ratios.
One feature that may be overlooked is the fact that the system remembers which display options you have chosen for each game. Perhaps you like certain games to be rotated, but others be horizontal, but in the proper aspect ratio. Once you determine which mode works best for you on each game, you won’t have to change the options each time. You would be surprised how many budget titles overlook this concept.
Game Tutorials & Tips
I actually found this feature to be very useful. On Pac-Man, it won’t be much of a help, but on some games that you aren’t an expert on like Mappy, Tower of Druaga, or maybe even Galaga, you can learn a lot about how to play the game most effectively.
The “How to Play” sections lay down the basic rules (some of which I didn’t figure out on my own) and the “Tips” section give you more advanced pointers for later levels. It’s essentially like a slick-looking, illustrated GameFAQs entry nicely organized on the cartridge.
You’ll also find a library section with some historical info, game artwork, and sound tests for each game. I may be a video game history buff, but this still doesn’t really interest me. I glanced through it a bit, but I probably won’t check it again.
I bought this last week and I ended up playing it a lot more than I thought and for different reasons than I anticipated. I originally thought Pac-Man Vs would be my main attraction, but since I don’t always have DS owners around me, I spent more time with the likes of the original Pac-Man, Galaga, and Mappy.
Once again, the DS Lite has proved to me that it is perfect for games like this. I love being able to take it with me to work (for breaks, of course) or around the house and I can jump into a game of Pac-Man or Galaga (new or continued) whenever I want. If I’m in the middle of a long run, but need to do something else, I just pause it, close the DS up and then open it back up when I’m ready to continue. This is nothing new to DS owners, but this combined with the ability to save scores puts this so much above the GBA version.
For $20, Namco Museum DS warrants a look if you want a high-quality, portable collection of some classic arcade games with an added bonus of the Multiplayer Pac-Man Vs. I was quite happy with just about everything except for some of my favorite games missing from the lineup.
If the original Dig Dug was included, this would have been an easy “9” for classic gamers, and if you threw in online Pac-Man Vs., I could have gone to “10”. However, Namco cut some corners that really cost them in my mind.
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