Friday, June 26, 2009

Namco Museum Virtual Arcade

It may seem a little odd that I'm releasing reviews to games when I can't play games, but actually, this down time is a perfect opportunity to finish up a couple posts that have been neglected while I was playing instead of writing.

According to Wikipedia, Namco has released 17 different compilations under the name Namco Museum. The one for the 360 is the Namco Museum Virtual Arcade. It consists of 34 games, divided into two sections. One is the "Arcade" section, which consists of full versions of nine games available on the Xbox Live Arcade. The other is the "Museum" section, which consists of various arcade and other release games.

Achievement junkies may at first be disappointed to find that there are no achievements for the Museum games at all. However, considering there are 9 Arcade games with the standard 200 points apiece, that does mean this disc has 1800 achievable* points on it, which is quite a deal for a single disc. It's also worth noting that, to purchase these titles on the Xbox Live Arcade separately, it would cost $60's worth in Microsoft Points, while this collection (which includes 25 other games) retails for half that (and dropping).

*Note that "achievable" is used here in more of a theoretical sense; some of these are fairly easy, but some are pretty darn hard.

The classic games are nostalgic and extremely frustrating. Many of these games come from the arcade, which was designed to eat quarters as quickly as possible. Additionally, the 360's analog stick and substandard D-pad were not made for precision, four-direction control, and the games do little to compensate for this. For example, when you push right on the analog stick, you rarely push directly right, but often have some slight Y-component in your direction. The game seems just as interested in your 2% down as it is in your 100% right, and you may find your New Rally-X car taking a sudden turn south when you want it to go east.

Another minor flaw is that the older games don't identify their soundtracks to the system. While one could argue that part of the reason for playing these games is to relive the arcade experience, music and all, when you're playing a game over and over again trying to get that last achievement, the 8-bit music can start to grate, and being unable to mute them or replace them with your own is a bit irritating.

One mitigating factor to the arcade games is that they all seem to be "enhanced" with the ability to start at the last level you completed. There is also some limited ability to tweak the settings to give you more lives per "quarter" or to adjust the rate at which extra lives are awarded. It may not seem like much in a generation where health is something you recover by hiding for a few seconds and lives are essentially infinite, but to someone who grew up with these games, it's entirely expected and in-context.

One thing I found rather disappointing were the "Arrangement" games in the Museum. The Namco Museum release for the original Xbox, which we have (and, fortunately, is compatible with the 360), has Pac-Man, Dig Dug, and Galaga Arrangement, which feature two-players-at-once play and are a lot of fun. The versions on this disc are not the same, as they only allow for a single player at a time. In fact, they are almost completely different games, not just graphically, but in game play as well.

Included in this collection are some newer releases, too. Pac-Man Championship Edition, while probably not quite worthy of making videogame history, is really a lot of fun. I suppose I can pat myself on the back for nailing all 200 achievement points with surprisingly little effort. Galaga Legions, on the other hand, is quite a different beast. A quick summary of my gameplay would be "oh crap I can't see what's going on where are all these enemies coming from what's that thing how do I kill it shoot shoot oh wait, did I die?" So, a lot like Geometry Wars — actually, if you took Geometry Wars and re-skinned it with Galaga designs and sounds, and added copious helpings of blur and light bloom, you'd just about have Galaga Legions. About as stingy with the achievement points, too. Good for a laugh. ;)

Still, for a value collection, it does live up to its name. There's quite a sampling of games, mostly old with a few new ones thrown in. In fact, as I alluded to before, if you were to buy just the Pac-Man C.E. and Galaga Legions games off of Xbox Live Marketplace, you would already match the current open-market retail cost of this entire disc-based collection. Plus, you can trade, loan, borrow, or re-sell this version, and if you end up playing on a different console for whatever reason and you can't connect to Live to authenticate your Gamertag and licenses, you can still play these games. What a concept.


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