Believe it or not there was a time when the newest and hottest titles came out in arcane buildings called arcades. It was a wonderful era where people would line up and drop quarters into huge arcade cabinets. It was a time when gameplay mattered more than story or how many polygons a game can push or its length for that matter. It was the game industriesí first big boom and leading the charge was Namco who released some of the most memorable games of all time. In the past 50 years Namco has released its fare share of memorable and great games, but its also done itís fair share of rehashing some of its classic franchises. The latest in this line comes in the form of Namco 50th Anniversary Collection which attempts to bring us back to that far gone age of the arcade, but to be honest it doesnít really try that hard.
The collection consists of some of the greatest games released by Namco throughout the 1980ís. A lot of them have found their way to other collections Namco has released in the last ten years...all but two to be exact. Upon launching the game, youíll enter a virtual room with a row of games for you to choose, some of which sport out of order signs and have to be unlocked by scoring high in other games. While in the room, youíll instantly notice the licensed soundtrack of music of the era from the likes of the Fine Young Cannibals, Dexyís Midnight Runners, and Loverboy. While this is a neat addition, itís not really necessary. What makes this collection inferior to the likes of the volumes of Namco Museum games for the Playstation is the lack of information on the games such as the pictures of the boards, flyers, and trivia the Museum games were known for. Instead, you have the games and a lean selection of options for them like difficulty, lives, and controls. Needless to say, this barely warrants calling itself an anniversary celebration for a great developer. Despite the letdown of extras, the games can still speak for themselves.
What Namco collection is complete without Pac Man and Ms. Pac Man? The premise of these games is simple: eat the power pellets, avoid the ghosts, and eat them when they turn blue. While Ms. Pac Man is superior to the original, both games hold up well in terms of gameplay. The lack of an option to play Ms. Pac Man with a speed-up chip makes me cry inside and would have been a great addition. Galaga, the only game to get a perfect 10 from SwankWorld so far, is a fast paced shooting game that can be described as Space invaders on crack. Guide your ship through waves of bugs that fly onscreen, get bonuses from chance stages, and capture and reclaim your ship for double fire. Itís definitely the best game of its era and one of the best of all time. Galaxian is possibly the most dated and least entertaining of the collection. While Galaga took some queues from it, Galaxian resembles Space Invaders more than its successor. The only twist was that bugs would fly down and attack you instead of staying in formation the entire time. Rally X is a type of racing game where you drive a car through a maze to collect ten randomly placed flags while avoiding enemy vehicles that multiply with every level. In hairy situations you can use a smoke screen to get them off of your tail. In addition to keeping track of flags and enemies, you also have a time limit governed by a constantly decreasing fuel gauge. Bosconian is an entertaining space shooting game thatís slightly reminiscent of Sinistar where you guide a ship equipped with front and rear guns through the vastness of space in an attempt to take down a set number of space stations placed throughout the level. The gameplay can get pretty frantic with each level since youíll have to take down more and more stations and deal with the increased amount of fighters coming out of them. Pole Position 1 and 2 offer the same great old school racing action that they always have.Mappy puts you in the shoes of a mouse that is in a house full of cat burglars. Your goal is to collect their stolen items and avoid them by using trampolines and hiding behind doors. Xevious is a great vertical shooter that puts the fighting both on land and in the air. Shoot down enemies that are flying at you and bomb targets on the ground. Dragon Spirit is another vertical shooter that has you guiding a dragon through a series of nine insanely challenging levels to rescue a princess. The gameplay is similar to Xevious with both land and air targets and really sets itself apart based off the fact that youíre shooting dinosaurs instead of space ships. Dragon Spirit is definitely one of the best looking of the bunch. Sky Kid is a cutesy vertical shooter that gives you the simple goal of collecting a bomb in the middle of the level, dropping it on its target, and landing back home. Itís the matter of executing it that makes it so damn hard since youíll deal with enemy planes in addition to ground and sea turrets that are trying to shoot you down. Rolling Thunder is a sci-fi shooter that puts you in the shoes of a horribly dressed lanky guy with really good posture on a quest to save a fellow Rolling Thunder agent. The gameplay is reminiscent of Shinobi where youíll run, jump, and shoot your way through a series of levels and hooded baddies. Dig Dug is another great puzzle/action game where you guide Dig Dug through a series of underground tunnels and use his air pump and falling boulders to exterminate baddies.
If you score 40,000 in Galaga and 20,000 / 25,000 in the Pac Man games respectively, you can unlock Galaga í88 and Pac-Mania. Galaga í88 offers a graphical upgrade to Galaga with a few gameplay twists thrown in for good measure, though it doesnít achieve the greatness of the original. Pacmania is a great variation on Pac Man with some well done visuals that still look great today as well as the ability for Pac Man to jump over walls and oncoming ghosts to escape. If a lot of these sound familiar to you that's because all of these save for Rolling Thunder and Sky Kid have been on their fair share of compilations in the past. I think I heard the ring of the cash-in register.
If youíre a fan of the classics and donít own any of the previous (and better) Namco museum compilations, it would still be hard to recommend this game. The no frills approach to these games can put off even the most casual classic gamer. Youíd be better off hunting down the original five volumes of Namco Museum which actually allow you to look through a museum of these games and read interesting bits of trivia. For fans of Xevious, you just canít go wrong with Xevious 3D/G which in addition to the abysmal 3D version, you can also play the original and an arrange mode with updated visuals. Even the Namco Museum released in 2001 for the PS2 offered extra arrange modes of each game for some extra goodness. All of these titles I mentioned can be picked up with a little searching and are a steal. Not that Namco 50 th Anniversary Collection is bad by any means (everyone can use some classic gaming in their diet); it basically seems to be a rehash of what Namco has been doing with these games for the past ten years. What I'm getting at is while all of these games are great in their own respects; nothing can really beat the experience of playing them in a real arcade.
- Brad Hicks (Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media