I’ve noticed some confusion around the release of Namco Museum Archives Vol. 1 & 2, especially since Bandai Namco already released the Namco Museum set back in 2018. These are actually two wildly different kinds of compilations, however, despite some of the IP overlap. In Japan, this collection was released as the Namcot Collection, a couple of free apps you can buy games for piecemeal. A physical version is out as well, but you may as well get this version instead of importing. That said, this isn’t the traditional Namco Museum display of arcade classics. Rather, it’s a fascinating snapshot of a specific era in Namco history, combined with some truly weird stuff you can only find here. Buckle up folks, because this is about to get nerdy.
Namco and Nintendo were BFFs real early on in the Famicom’s life. Namco was one of the first third-party licensees on the console, establishing the “Namcot” brand and delivering several home versions of super hype arcade games. Xevious was a big deal! Namco had a sweet deal with Nintendo that let it do wacky stuff like design unique carts, but eventually that deal wasn’t renewed and Namco found itself subject to the same restrictive licensing that publishers like Konami had to find legal loopholes to dance around. This led to some bad blood for a while and indirectly led to Atari Games subsidiary Tengen’s establishment, a company that infamously used lawyer muscle to crack the NES’s security and publish unlicensed games.
A tale of two Namcos
That’s just the CliffsNotes version, but here we are in 2020 and Bandai Namco is friends with everyone again. And while NES arcade ports are never as good as the originals, this era of Namco(t) was historically crucial, not only to Namco’s own history but in many ways the Famicom’s eventual worldwide success past the catastrophic video game market crash. Of course, the Namcot era also included original home console games, at least one of which is pretty awesome, on this collection, and also released officially outside of Japan here for the first time. But that’s not all, not by a long shot. For some reason Bandai Namco took this opportunity to develop its own official NES “demake” of Pac-Man Championship Edition. Volume 2 also includes a brand new NES port of Gaplus, the official sequel to Galaga that never actually left arcades.
Some of these games aren’t good, or they’re okay but just can’t hold a candle to the also-available arcade versions. Why play Dig Dug on NES when you can prop your Switch up (or use a Flip Grip) and play the arcade original in Tate Mode? Why play Dragon Buster ever, unless you feel like having a miserable experience on purpose? In those cases, the appeal of Namco Museum Archives Vol. 1 & 2 is for people who love gaming history and are interested in preservation efforts like this. It’s the kind of thing where you play this, maybe buy it to support it, try the games out, then go back to reading about why they’re important elsewhere. Frankly, I’m 100% down with that mentality. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t also some bangers here.
Digging for treasure and Michael Jackson jokes
If you take the plunge, definitely check out titles like Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti, Dragon Spirit: The New Legend, and Mendel Palace (the very first title from Game Freak!). Wanpaku Graffiti in particular is an amazing standout. It’s basically a cartoony parody of the original Splatterhouse, full of time-relevant pop culture jokes and other strange humor. This is the first time it’s available in English outside of fan translation and repro carts, and it’s amazing how full of personality it is.
This and Kid Dracula showing up elsewhere have really cemented this console generation as the land of dreams, if your dreams are specifically about obscure, un-localized platformers from Japan. Speaking of dreams, let’s talk about those games that were never actually released from Namcot, for the NES or… ever before Namco Museum Archives Vol. 1 & 2 came out.
Gaplus is exactly what you’d expect a third Galaxian to feel like. Like Galaga before it, it’s more of that thing. It’s especially neat though, considering the original arcade version is overall such a non-presence in people’s minds. You’ll probably never see this game anywhere else, and that’s just freakin’ cool by itself.
The real star of the show is Pac-Man Championship Edition though. How do you cram a game like that onto the Famicom? You don’t, but what you do is come up with the dopest version of Pac-Man on NES ever made. It takes cues and the overall vibe from Championship Edition, but it feels like a distinct experience. It has two variations of a time attack mode, and it’s up to you to go fast as hell, chomp all the things, and even get a few rudimentary achievements. You get a cool moment-to-moment breakdown of your score at the end of each run, and the soundtrack absolutely slaps.
Mario teaches typing, Pac-Man teaches history
The Namcot era isn’t really a huge deal over here in the Nintendo Entertainment System region. We had many of these NES ports but were largely divorced from the context. But over in Japan, this stuff was crucial in getting wind under the Famicom’s sails, and it’s wild how brief that moment was before corporate drama made it messy. To be honest, I think localizing this Namcot collection, while it probably makes business sense, undermines the actual purpose. Much like Digital Eclipse’s work on curious historical compilation SNK 40th, Namco Museum Archives 1 & 2 isn’t a celebratory set of awesome games that are all fun to play. It’s more of a historical document, a textbook meant to preserve an important time period in game history that slips further and further away from the collective memory.
Release Date: June 18, 2020
No. of Players: 1-2 players
Category: Retro Compilation
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: B.B. Studio, M2
A review code was provided by the publisher.