How do you review a retro collection?

No, seriously, think about it. Do I sit here and essentially review these arcade classics as if they're new, budget titles, asking what fun (or lack thereof) they provide to a newer or younger gamer that hasn't experienced them before? Do I leave the games themselves entirely out of the equation, and just focus on the emulation and presentation of them, as though I were reviewing some sort of videogame stereo?

I suppose the best answer is a bit of a holistic approach. Let's try and approach Namco Museum as a full piece, instead of trying to break down its components. What you get is a game I'm a bit mixed on. Not so much because of any shortcomings in what's there, but the thought of what it could have had, if they'd been willing to broaden their horizons just a bit.

But, okay, let's take a step back and look at what's there. Namco Museumis a pretty straightforward set of some of Namco's all-time classics...As well as some games that I have to assume were big deals in Japan. In chronological order, you get:

  • Pac-Man
  • Galaga
  • Dig Dug
  • The Tower of Druaga
  • Sky Kid
  • Rolling Thunder
  • Galaga '88
  • Splatterhouse
  • Tank Force
  • Rolling Thunder 2
  • Pac-Man Vs.

Now, it's that last one that's the real oddball, but we're gonna come back to that. As you can see, while there are some titles I wish were
here from Namco's later days (I would straight-up shank someone for a Mr. Driller entry to be on that list) it's definitely got a lot of your baseline expectations. You've got your universal megahits like Pac-Man and Galaga, you've got titles that I know for a fact were huge in Japan like The Tower of Druaga...

No, seriously, you have no idea how big The Tower of Druaga was. An entire generation of game development was influenced by the way people played this game, and then a second generation came back to the concept when Dark Souls happened. This game was a big deal. But that's another article for another time.

The actual experience of playing these games is, for the most part, really solid. The visuals are crisp, I didn't notice any input lag in these pixel-perfect-timing type games, and the Switch Joy-Cons and their funky d-pad didn't even hinder me.

The one problem I did notice, control-wise, is in the default layouts. On every game I played that had, say, a jump and an attack button, they'd be flipped from the default, so that A was attack and B was jump. Now, strictly speaking, this is accurate to their original control panels from back in the day...

But that was also before more than 30 years of ingrained control standards. Luckily, you can customize the controls to your liking in every single game, so this is only an issue for a moment. Fix them up to a nice modern arrangement, and you're good to go! The game even lets you customize the amount of deadzone you want on the analog stick, letting you dial in the feel on something like Pac-Man to as close to the original as you're going to get with a tiny little analog, instead of a big clicky microswitch-laden arcade stick.

So once you're actually set up right, you have a pretty solid experience for the individual games. The vertical layouts even let you rotate the screen 90 degrees to maximize the view, something that you're most likely only going to experience with the Switch itself sat upright in a tablet stand. But the results speak for themselves, producing an experience that feels just a bit unique to the system. While this is hardly the first time you've been able to put some arcade classics in Tate mode, I do wonder if it would have been considered without the Switch in play.

You're definitely not going to suffer for the quality of the actual emulation. And while the presentation is solid, that thus leaves us with the actual games. And that's where things get into the mixed territory.

It's not that any of these games are bad. It's just...Some of these are really weird choices. Like, Tank ForceRolling Thunder 2? These feel like filler, though I'm willing to allow that they might be another Tower of Druaga situation that I just don't have as much awareness of.

But perhaps the one to stand out the most of all, is that one at the far end of the list. Pac-Man Vs. is the only non-arcade title in this collection, the youngest by over a decade, and one of Namco's most curious experiments.

Initially released in 2003, Pac-Man Vs. sits as this very odd little title in its original incarnation. Released for the Gamecube, originally as a side minigame included with Pac-Man World 2, the game was one of the few things to use the Gamecube - Gameboy Advance Link Cable. The pitch to this one is quite simple; one person plays as Pac-Man the character, and just, you know, plays Pac-Man the game, on the GBA screen. The other three players play as the ghosts, with zoomed-in views up on the TV, and try to coordinate their efforts to find, hunt, and ultimately kill the Pac-Man.

It's probably not the very first example of asymmetric multiplayer, or even the very first example on a console, but Pac-Man Vs. ends up being an interesting little historical piece. It shows that a few key folks were trying to make this work long before the Wii U tried to put the concept front and center (and yet, ironically, I am unaware of any port of this particular title to the Wii U) and acts as a very interesting piece.

There are only two problems with playing this one on the Switch. The first is that you need two Switch consoles to play it properly, one to act as the Pac-Man player's screen and one for the ghosts. With only one console, you just end up with this ghosts-only mode hunting a soulless automaton of a Pac-Man, and that's nowhere near as fun.

The second is where this puts the rest of the game. See, Pac-Man Vs. is one of only four titles in the collection to allow simultaneous multiplayer by my count, and the only one to allow more than two people to play at once. And while it's certainly fun, Pac-Man Vs. simply doesn't have enough raw meat to be the single centerpoint of a game night, let alone a centerpoint that requires an entire extra system brought into the mix to do right. And of course, to properly enjoy the rest of the game solo or with a single friend, means that Pac-Man Vs. loses huge swathes of what makes it work.

Which puts is in a bit of a pickle. It's not that I don't like the games here. It's not that Namco Museum is bad. It's just...Well, it's a bit unfocused, I feel. And while I could understand this if it was like one of the previous times they put out a collection (with the same title, no less!) as the first of several volumes, this iteration of the Namco Museum concept is presented as though it's a one-and-done.

And all this is without even touching on the sheer likelihood that somewhere along the way, you've bought at least some of these games in some other retro collection in the past. Depending on the platform, it might even be a collection you can play right now on currently-supported hardware.

So that central question, of whether you should buy this...I legitimately don't know. I don't regret my time with Namco Museum. But would I put down 30 bucks to buy it, as just a consumer? I'm really not so sure. I suppose, at the end of the day, there's one core question you have to ask yourself:

Do you, or anyone in your household, have a longtime passion for the Pac-Man era, the kind of fond memories that would get a significant other or a parent to pick up a controller for the first time in a long time just to play it?

Answer that, and you'll know what to do.