Long before they became Bandai Namco and famous for the Tekken franchise, Namco were among the original legends and pioneers of the video game arcade; it was an era where they single-handedly placed video games into pop culture when they unleashed Pac-Man fever onto the world. With such immense and continued success in a fast-moving industry, there has been no shortage of archive releases to celebrate the company’s rich history and catalogue of titles. Namco Museum Archives lands on Xbox One and other platforms in two separate volumes, yet they’re certainly not cheap. And honestly, as great as it is to have these games, the way the release was handled on Xbox One is quite disappointing.
To their credit, developer M2 have been at the forefront of preserving retro games and bringing them anew to the HD gaming generation, with lovingly assembled retro compilations such as Castlevania Anniversary Collection and Contra Anniversary Collection on Xbox One. Unfortunately, the Namco Museum Archives are a disservice to the amount of care M2 really put on these Namco arcade classics. Originally, these archives were a single release on the Nintendo Switch titled Namcot Collection in Japan, which essentially encompassed the two volumes Xbox One players have got, and also included a range of excellent museum materials and goodies. Not only did the Xbox One get a stripped-down version devoid of all the museum features, but they’re released as two separate and rather overpriced volumes. Irrespective of the quality of these arcade games, it’s disappointing to not get the archives as they were originally put together for the Japanese Switch release.
Namco Archives Museum Vol. 1 contains 11 classic arcade games, largely led by the smash 1980 hit Pac-Man. Rather than the arcade original, this collection presents the Japanese Famicom version of the game. Essentially, these games were meant to be a homage to the Famicom console, which makes sense in context for the Japanese Namcot Collection but is a bit puzzling on Xbox One given that the absence of any museum features takes away the context. The Famicom version of Pac-Man wasn’t necessarily bad, but Xbox One players would be better off playing Arcade Game Series: Pac-Man which is based on the original 1980 release untainted.
There is one impressive highlight in Vol. 1, and that is an all-new 2020 demake of 2007’s Pac-Man Championship Edition. This is more than just a fun curiosity demake of what is a brilliant modern rendition of Pac-Man, as the Famicom-styled visuals help the game. It may just be a matter of preference in the end, but the retro 8-bit visuals of Pac-Man Championship Edition in this collection makes it far more playable and easier on the eyes than the seizure-inducing and neon-kissed 2007 release. For long time fans of Pac-Man, the first volume of the Namco archives is worth it just for this refreshing retro spin on a modern classic. Much like the 2007 hit on Xbox 360’s Live Arcade, the 2020 retro rendition is still a chaotic and addictive interpretation of the timeless pellet-munching and ghost-gobbling gameplay.
The rest of the collection has some gems too, especially the original Japanese Splatterhouse which is a lot of fun to play thanks to a strong platformer level design and groovy boss battles. There are other notable coin-up classics too, such as Dig-Dug and Galaxian, which are still just as fun to play in 2020 as they were during the ‘80s.
Then there are some exciting titles which serve as interesting origins to more mainstream games today. Dragon Spirit could arguably be seen as the origin of games like Panzer Dragoon Orta on Xbox, and Dragon Buster is unquestionably one of the earlier examples of open-world Japanese RPGs. Although they are a bit dated now, it’s still fascinating to experience the early days of games and genres that we love today.
As a compilation, Namco Museum Archives Vol. 1 lacks any meaningful museum material to provide players with a historical context. It does provide a range of visual filters and tools for players to experiment with, the most notable of all being the ability to rewind time. This is a standard feature in most, if not all, recent retro collections today, but the way it is handled in the Namco archive is a bit odd. Rather than providing a seamless rewind of time, in this collection players need to press a button, bring up a menu only to select “Yes” just to use said function, and then arbitrarily jump back to an earlier point in the game. Needless to say, the implementation of an otherwise useful feature is both clunky and unhelpful.
Namco Museum Archives Vol. 1 on Xbox One is a lacking but still decent compilation of some of the company’s best classics; one that is topped off with an all-new retro demake of Pac-Man Championship Edition. Despite the glaring omission of actual museum content and clunky implementation of some features, for fans, a novel interpretation of one of the best Pac-Man games at least makes Vol. 1 the better of the two volumes currently available on Xbox One.