Version tested: Wii
Having released Namco Museum about nine thousand times in various guises, surely Namco has to be thorough and comprehensive to get away with it again in 2008. After all, even a cursory examination of the company's arcade heritage reveals dozens of games that have never made it onto any of Museum compilations that it has put out since 1994.
Admittedly, a fair proportion of these are rubbish, but there's still an inherent curiosity value attached to documenting the company's evolution. Personally, I'd far sooner wade through the company's more obscure late '80s and early '90s output than have to play Galaxian, Dig Dug and Xevious again. What exactly is stopping Namco including the awesome Pac-Land, Galaga '88, Blast Off, or other long-lost stuff like Solvalou, Rolling Thunder 2, Star Blade, or, hell, the original Ridge Racer or Tekken for that matter? While we're in full Victor Meldrew mode, why does Namco stick doggedly to its arcade titles for these compilations when there are a ton of home console efforts that would provide a great deal of quality retro material?
Anyway, to soften the blow of yet another Namco Museum, this Wii version 'treats' us to a handful of remakes - hence the 'Remix' element of the package - as well as the usual arcade ports. At the top of the bill, Pac N' Roll isn't so much a remix as a cleaned up port of the 2005 DS original. The idea is to roll Pac-Man around hazardous 3D environments until he reaches his goal, gathering a specified number of Pac-Dots along the way to open doors. The game's then-innovative touch-screen controls have been translated with satisfying precision to the nunchuk's analogue stick, while a flick of the remote gives Pac-Man a speed burst - useful for breaking the many boxes you find lying around. As with Marble Madness and Super Monkey Ball, it's instantly engaging, and eventually ramps up the challenge to a satisfying and occasionally maddening degree. But in terms of interest value, this is the strongest title in the line-up.
Elsewhere in Remix land, it's all a bit ho-hum, with the kind of fare that you'd think twice about downloading on Virtual Console for two quid. Gator Panic Remix, for example. For those of you who never encountered redemption games in the arcade, this one's a straightforward Whac-A-Mole clone with alligators. Fun for all of about two minutes, you select which gator you want to whack with the thumb-stick and swing the remote down to hit, and so on until the time ticks down. You clock up more points for hitting certain gators multiple times, but you'll lose points for every time you're bitten. You'll probably only play it once - if that, now I've slagged it off - although there's also the novelty of you seeing your Miis appear in multiplayer.
Onto Rally-X Remix, then, which puts dear old Pac-Man in the driver's seat, while the camera angle has been pulled back overhead to give it the 3D touch it never needed. In most other respects, the gameplay has been left alone, so you still gather flags while enemies chase you around a maze, but there is one big difference, in that it's about a million times easier than the original. Rather than add another pursuer at the start of each round, Remix stretches out the learning curve to the point of exhaustion, so that you have to play through multiple levels of similar difficulty before things become challenging. Sometimes you might have to pick up the flags in order to progress, or cause the opponents to spin out and drop their flag, but otherwise it's a fairly bog-standard remake. Next.
Motos has always been curiously overlooked as a retro delight, possibly because when it came out in the mid-1980s it was a little too simple compared to more fashionable titles. Looking back, the core gameplay purity of having to barge everything off the side of a chequered playing area shines through. But as fun as it is, it's hardly worth remaking - at best it's mini-game fodder that you'll enjoy for a few minutes, but doesn't bear close scrutiny or repeat play.
And the same could be said for Galaga Remix, really. The fluid precision of the Wii's remote makes it simple to aim and blast wave upon wave of Galaga-inspired alien craft, but the extra-gentle learning curve and crushing repetition makes it a rather tiresome tribute. Ridiculously, Namco even managed to shoe-horn Pac-Man into Galaga Remix, with the yellow blob found rolling along a tube while the curiously cuddly-looking enemies swoop and attack in a manner befitting the arcade classic. With theme tune tributes burbling away in the background of each of the games included, it's a slightly irritating backdrop, with an incredibly simplistic approximation of the gameplay trivialising what these twitch classics were good at in the first place.
The presence of arcade originals - presumably as a concession to the old school - could rescue the package to some degree, except there are very few included and we've played them all to death. With just nine included, the compilation is neither remotely comprehensive nor savvy enough to include the obvious big-hitters. Glaringly absent are the likes of Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man and Pole Position, not to mention the original versions of Motos, Rally-X and Galaga - a puzzling decision.
Instead, we're served up Dig Dug, Galaxian and Xevious for the umpteenth time, alongside titles which only really warrant inclusion to accompany the main dish. While we're more than happy to celebrate the less high-profile titles in such compilations, the truth is that most of these are uninspired filler, ill-advised follow-ups or just plain rubbish. By far the worst offender is Cutie Q, an uninspired mixture of Breakout and pinball from 1979. For historical interest, it's great, because it was made by Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani, but only the most forgiving retro apologist could sit and play it for more than a few minutes without wanting to move on - especially as this was a game designed for a paddle controller.
The hugely underwhelming official Pac-Man sequel, Super Pac-Man, also makes an appearance here, serving to remind us exactly why it bombed back in 1982. Completely changing the premise, the idea was to eat keys to open doors, and clear each maze of fruit. But as well as being able to eat the standard power pellets, super pellets transformed the little chomper temporarily into a giant-sized Pac-Man, allowing him to eat through walls and remain invulnerable to the ghosts. The problem then, as now, was fiddly controls, and with none of the game's original charm, its inclusion only serves to annoy.
A variant on some of the ideas debuted in Super Pac-Man, 1983's Pac & Pal also gets thrown in, but, again, it's not difficult to see why it wasn't a big hit at the time. Instead of collecting keys like in Super Pac-Man, you must go around the maze turning over cards to unlock the doors that house the objects you need. This time around, you're somewhat aided in your travels by 'Mill', a little green female ghost who carries objects which might be of use. In addition, you can perform a special attack for a limited time, such as being able to fire a beam to stun ghosts. The super-hardcore might find them interesting, but neither Super Pac-Man or Pac & Pal can hold a candle to the original - nor can the pointless PacMania, an isometric 3D take on the game that started it all - albeit with the ability to jump. With its teeth-grindingly jolly theme tune, it got by back in the day for the pure novelty of how good the graphics looked, but nowadays it feels like a another uninspired attempt to cash-in on a fading legacy.
To wrap up, Galaga follow-up Gaplus (a.k.a. Galaga 3) is renowned for being a rewarding, hardcore version of the hugely popular shooter, and Galaxian has an indefinable classic charm (mainly because of the sound effects), but we'd still rather play the middle game, Galaga, any day, because it nailed the Space Invaders formula so perfectly. Why it's not included, only Namco can answer. How difficult would that have been?
Overall, if you're still searching for the definitive Namco collection, this isn't it. The remixes are lacklustre and the paltry inclusion of nine largely throwaway oldies typifies the mean-spirited approach that Namco always applies to its Museum collections. For completists, the new version of Pac N' Roll is fun for a while and by far the most interesting part of the package, but, as usual, we're complaining like grumpy old men about what might have been.
5 / 10