Namco Museum 50th Anniversary PS2 Review

According to the box, Namco Museum 50th Anniversary celebrates 50 years of Namco bringing us ‘the greatest games on the planet’. That they started with a rocking horse on the roof of a Yokohama department store shows just how much games have changed since 1955. Unfortunately for Namco’s back catalogue, gamer’s expectations have changed with them.

Namco Museum 50th Anniversary does contain some true arcade classics: frenetic space-based shooter Galaxian; Pole Position; Dig Dug; ground-breaking vertical scroller Xevious; S&M laced shoot ‘em up Rolling Thunder; and the king of all coin-munchers Pac-Man. Then there are the sequels Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga and Pole Position II; the Xevious variants Dragon Spirit and Bosconian; and the rubbish Rally-X, Sky Kid and Mappy.

But even the worst of these games evoke happy memories of a simpler time when games were fun, happy and sweet, and even in the most violent games you could outrun bullets and only shoot one at a time anyway. It’s great to play Pac-Man again, go tunnelling with your bicycle pump in Dig Dug, or watch your car explode as you crash into a sign in Pole Position. But these games are 20 years old. How much linear, repetitive gameplay, blocked out in pixels the size of your fist, can you take?

Of course, a big part of arcade games is working your way up the high scores, which just doesn’t happen at home (something Microsoft have remembered in developing Xbox Live). Although unlocking Pac-Mania and Galaga ’88 might give you some encouragement, you’ll get bored long before you reach Les Lagier’s long standing Pole Position world record.

Incredibly, for a collection that claims to celebrate Namco’s golden anniversary, it’s very carelessly slapped together. ‘The brand new retro-cool interface’ turns out to be a virtual arcade where you choose which game to play, which is nice enough. The ‘cool 80s soundtrack’ – Come on Eileen, She Drives Me Crazy and Working for the Weekend – only plays over the arcade so you’ll spend far more time listening to the disc drive as you wait for the games to load. A lot more time.

Some of the games run slow, notably Ms. Pac-Man and Galaxian (in which feverish alien attacks are the whole point), and the faithfully rendered graphics can’t hope to look as good on a TV as on the original arcades (and no HD option is offered). Finally, for a title claiming to be a museum, there is a palpable absence of any information, startling facts or interesting stuff of any kind.

The simple truth is that modern gamers expect a lot more, even from retro games. The first version of Geometry Wars, as a sub-game in Project Gotham Racing 2, is vastly superior to Galaxian, its 1980’s analogue, and its latest incarnation, on the Xbox 360, simply blows it away. It might not be fair to compare 20-year-old games with their current counterparts but to do so gives a clear indication as to where your money should be going, and it’s not on slapped together compilations like this. As the box says: ‘leave your coins at home’.