Review by Retro

Reviewed: 10/07/01 | Updated: 05/20/02

A must have for retro freaks

Retro arcade gamers unite! I had been waiting for a game like Namco Museum 64 for a long time when I first saw it on the shelves. Namco Museum 64 is a collection of a few of the best known and most played arcade hits of the 80s. Included in the compilation is Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, Galaxian, Pole Position, and Dig Dug. Anybody who ever went to an arcade in the 80s or early 90s is sure to recognize just about all six of these surefire classics right away.

As long as I can remember, I've been spending fortunes in the arcades playing all of these classics except for Galaxian. Just in case you're not too familiar with these phenomenons from the arcades, I'll give you a quick overview of each one.

Pac-Man was an instant smash when it was first released because it was fun, challenging, and so easy to learn with no memorizing or effort on the brain at all. The object of this game is to guide a round yellow creature with a big mouth and no eyes around the same basic maze the entire game. While maneuvering the pacster in the maze, you must eat all of the dots that you see. Once you consume all the dots and get over the amazement that this creature called Pac-Man hasn't grown bigger than the television you're playing it on, you will proceed to the next level.

But it's not as easy as it sounds. There are four ghosts who are scurrying around the maze who want to capture Pac-Man before he gains too much weight. Luckily, Pac-Man does have some defense on his side. In all four corners of this dark and haunting maze is a flashing power pellet, or a ''flashing big dot,'' that Pac-Man can eat in order to seek some revenge against the ghosts by eating them alive, and then spitting out their eyes. There is also a piece of fruit that appears in the center of the maze from time to time for a chance at some bonus points. There's not really a plot or anything to Pac-Man except for you to see how many points you can rack up or find out how far you can get. As I mentioned, the maze never changes, but the ghosts and even Pac-Man do get faster, the fruits change, and the flashing power pellets have a decreasing effect on the ghosts.

Pac-Man is easily the most classic game featured on Namco Museum 64, but the other five games are no duds. Ms. Pac-Man is basically the same as Pac-Man except that the main character, Ms. Pac-Man, is a female, the fruits learned a sense of direction and they now bounce around the mazes instead of staying stationary, the mazes change, and the orange ghost has mysteriously changed its gender and its name. But, even though Ms. Pac-Man is basically an update to Pac-Man, it seems like most Pac-Man fans have embraced it even more than the original Pac-Man, and I’m one of them. Ms. Pac-Man is a better game in my opinion, mostly because the mazes change after you complete a few screens, which provides more entertainment and a better challenge.

Galaxian is a space shooter that is a lot like its idol, Space Invaders, except that the aliens in Galaxian have the ability to fly and glide down at your ship instead of just scrolling across the top of the screen. Granted, the aliens in Galaxian do still stay jumbled together at the top of the screen and move back and forth, but it’s not EXACTLY the same. The aliens in Galaxian are different looking, they don’t drop down a level once any of them reach one side of the screen, and they also don’t drop much fire at you. They mainly just want to be a suicide bomber, and they want to use your ship as the target. The gameplay is the same though. The object is to shoot and destroy every single one of these creatures that are invading the airspace above you. Once you destroy all of these trespassers, they all just come back in their original selves, only this time, they will be more aggressive and faster.

Galaga is pretty much a remake of Galaxian, except that it's a million times better, in my opinion. The aliens still fly and glide down at your not so futuristic ship, but, just like Ms. Pac-Man did for Pac-Man, Galaga does for Galaxian, it makes an old classic better. What makes Galaga different is the fact that it has bonus levels and a certain trick that was added into the mix that can earn you extra firepower, but I’m not going to tell you how to do that because this isn’t an FAQ. But I will say a few things about the bonus levels and other good features that Galaga has in store for you.

Like Galaxian, in Galaga, your mission is to shoot and destroy each of the aliens that are stationed in the air above you. But the aliens in Galaga look much better graphically and they seem more aggressive, especially since they drop more fire. Instead of just a depressing black background, Galaga’s background consists of stars that quickly move up the screen, making it look like you’re in outer space. As I said, the object is to destroy all of the aliens on the screen, and then you will go to the next level, which stays the same, but features more aggressive and faster enemies. After you successfully wipe out enough screens of aliens, you’ll have the opportunity to play a short, but exciting bonus level.

In the bonus levels, a bunch of the familiar enemies fly out in groups and in certain patterns on the screen, but the enemies don’t try to kill you this time around. Of course, the more you shoot, the more points you’ll get, but you can get bonus points for shooting all of the ones in a group. After the bonus is over, it’s back to the main action of the regular levels. Finally, another thing that was innovative about Galaga for the time (early 1980’s), was that after each bonus level and after your game is over, it’s nice enough to bring up a screen that reports your hit percentage, how many shots you fired, and how many of your shots hit a target (an alien). All of these great features make it one of the most enjoyable and best of the classic space shooters.

Pole Position is arguably the most revolutionary racing game ever made because it was the first racer that featured realistic graphics, such as clouds, a road with lanes, etc., and its gameplay was even more realistic. You must first try to qualify for the main race. In this qualifier, it’s just like trying to make the pole in a nascar race. You get to race against all of your fellow opponents in racecars. If you pass enough of them and finish in good time, you just might get the honor of racing in the main event, the REAL race. The real race is exactly like trying to qualify, except that the races are longer, the other racecars seem more challenging, and it’s more difficult. While racing, you must dodge other cars and signs on the road, and try your best to make it to the end of the race. Every so often, a checkpoint comes into view. Passing through a checkpoint earns you and your racer some much-needed seconds on the clock. If you’re good enough to finish the entire race, you will earn a great deal of points, and then it’s on to the next race.

But, as you probably guessed, Pole Position isn’t really all that easy. Believe it or not, the other racecars, water in the middle of the road, and signs on the side, are the least of your worries. Your biggest enemy is the time on the clock. When your time runs out, your game will be over, and then you get to put in your initials on the honorary high score list if you did well enough. Pole Position was a huge hit back in the day because of its then-realistic graphics, its precision controls (high and low gears, brakes, pedal, and steering wheel), and it was the first game to feature checkpoints. Best of all, if you liked racing games, Pole Position was also fun, which made it even more classic.

Finally, Dig Dug is kind of hard to explain. It's an unbelievably fun and addictive subterranean game. In Dig Dug, you control a little guy who kills underground dragons and orange creatures called Pookas, by using a pump to reach out to them, and then pump them up with so much air that they burst. In each level, there are many of these creatures moving back and forth in an open space, and they’re not very fond of people. You can make your character (the human) walk in any direction on the screen.

Of course, the main goal is to get rid of all of your enemies. But you better make it quick. If any of the dragons or um, Pookas, get impatient, they have the ability to turn into a ghost-like creature and move around through the dirt that hasn’t yet been dug through. Also, if you’re really slow, you’ll hear the music speed up and all of the enemies will then get at least five times faster. Not only can you use the all mighty pump, there are also boulders to walk under, which makes them plummet to the ground and fall on top of an enemy or two if your timing is right. There are even bonus fruits that temporarily appear at times for a chance of obtaining a good number of extra points. Once you destroy all the enemies in a level, you get to go to the next level. The levels don’t really change, except that the enemies will be in different places, and they get much faster and more eager to destroy you.

All right, now it's time to compare how similar the games in Namco Museum 64 are to the original arcade blockbusters that millions of people, both kids and adults alike, have come to know by heart. As much as I hate to say it, Namco Museum 64's versions are not completely identical to the ones in the arcade, but they couldn't be much closer to being just like them.

Don’t expect ANYTHING new in the graphics, sound, or gameplay departments. All six of the games in Namco Museum 64 are just like their arcade counterparts in every way, except of course, that you’ll have to control them with a Nintendo 64 controller instead of a large joystick, steering wheels, and so on.

The most noticeable flaw is that some of the sounds from the games are either left out or changed around from the originals. For instance, in the Ms. Pac-Man cinema of ''They Meet,'' you might notice that when the two ghosts bump into each other, it doesn't make a sound in Namco Museum 64’s version, but in the arcade version, it does. There's also a tiny bit of scrolling required in Dig Dug because the whole screen doesn't fit on the television, but in the arcade version, the game didn't need to scroll. Those are the only flaws I’ve been able to find, and even though that’s only a few flaws, there shouldn’t have been any since this is the Nintendo 64 and the makers should’ve been able to make perfect versions of all six of the games, except for the way they’re controlled.

Really, those flaws don't take much at all away from the enjoyment of Namco Museum 64, unless of course you're a retro freak. Luckily, the controls are solid and you have the option of using either the control pad or the control stick. How much fun you have playing these six classics depends mostly on how much you liked playing them in the arcades. If you haven't ever played them, you might like them but then again you might not. But if you've pumped quarters or tokens into these machines for a great deal of your life, then you'll like Namco Museum 64 without a doubt.

All in all, if you want a video game for nostalgic reasons or if you'd like to take a trip to retro-arcade gaming, Namco Museum 64 is a dream come true.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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