I remember another writer here on MyGamer.com saying that we essentially view classic games through rose-tinted lenses, but should we actually play them, our nostalgia would fade and we?d quickly abandon them in favor of newer, ?better? games. This is a sentiment I agree to disagree with. While it?s important to consider how far games have come since the time when these classics reigned supreme, to write them off as so much obsolete trash would be folly, as there is still much to be discovered about them if only we dug a little deeper. (No, not like Dig Dug, though that?s in this collection.) If these classics are as bad today as some say they are, then why are there so many Flash clones of these games on the Internet? Not to mention fun can still be had with classics if we see them for what they are, and resist rating them according to the current standards for gameplay, graphics, and all the other aspects that make up our modern games. For example, would using those dual analogs for Halo 2 make you a better Pac-Man player in the arcade because of one?s increased joystick experience? What would really make classics worth looking at again, though, is delving not just into the games, but the history behind them. What was the design process like for Pole Position back in the day? How did they come up with it, and did they realize how much of an impact they would have? How was it received at the time? Sadly, though, Namco Museum 50th Anniversary, while being a decently priced compilation of these classics, gives us little incentive to go back in time and study them further. In only presenting the games, and not giving us new information or experiences to latch onto, this compilation does little to revive one?s interest in the classics.
At first glance, Namco Museum 50th Anniversary can draw interest from those who are interested in gaming?s roots, by virtue of the games presented in the package: the most well-known of Namco?s classics, such as Pac-Man (and of course Mrs. Pac-Man), Galaga, Pole Position I and II, Dig Dug, and Galaxian, as well as some lesser-known titles such as Xevious, Mappy, Sky Kid, Rolling Thunder, Bosconian, Dragon Spirit, and Rally X. The presentation of these games certainly starts off compellingly enough when the game is starts up. The selection of games is presented with a main menu that looks like an old-school 80?s video arcade, with each game represented as a 3D-rendered retro arcade machine, forming a ring around a lighted, elaborate Namco display that looks like something from E3. Blaring in the background while you peruse the game selection is a selection of popular 80?s tunes, although the selection is pretty narrow, with many tunes getting repeated over and over again. (The song with the lyrics ?she drives me crazy? may actually drive me crazy if I play this compilation long enough.) The actual games themselves are presented as-is, with no modifications, alterations, or any changes whatsoever. Every bleep and bloop is presented sonically intact, with no enhancements (although the Pac-Man theme music is slightly off-key), every pixel rendered in its exquisite 2D glory.
The initial presentation is appealing, but sadly, it goes downhill from there. While I?d be disappointed if Namco had tried to ?redo? these classics with the exact same gameplay but with sexed up graphics and sound, it?s also disappointing that Namco didn?t do more to recreate the original arcade experience beyond the game itself. If Namco was really interested in recreating the classic experience, then what happened to the other elements of the arcade? Many of these games weren?t designed with a TV screen in mind, instead fitting the unique vertical-oriented aspect ratios of the original cabinets, so when displayed on a TV screen these classics often have large black bars on either side roping them off. So why is there no option to display cabinet art where the black bars are? Or, for the truly hardcore, why is there no option to display the games rotated 90 degrees, for those who want to turn their TVs on their side to get the full-screen experience? Also, as mentioned before, the music selection in the front-end menu is sadly lacking. Many arcades back then wouldn?t have had that narrow a selection of pop tunes. The option for importing our own custom classic gaming soundtrack would have been a novel idea here.. In addition, some of the games? controls didn?t translate very well to the Xbox controller. For instance, the analog stick is so ridiculously sensitive for the two Pole Position games that tilting it all the way to either end is tantamount to automotive suicide, steering you off the track and into a sign.
But this is far from the greatest crime that Namco Museum 50th Anniversary is guilty of in its treatment of the classics. The greatest omission this compilation commits is the lack of any background or behind-the-scenes information on these games, and for some gamers, an omission like this shows very little respect for games of this stature.. The way they are presented here is the equivalent of an apathetic, incompetent high school professor droning on in monotone through a bland history lecture. There?s no developer commentary to add spice, no design documentary to give perspective, no proper retrospective from the games? creators to provide context, no supplemental material (like concept art, cabinet art, promotional material, etc.) to provide substance. The games themselves were adequate enough entertainment back when they were first introduced, but today, gamers who once played these games in their original form have played them to death, and without the aforementioned historical content, they won?t entice newer generations of gamers to go back and play these pieces of video game history. There?s even less present-day incentive to play these games for very long, as there isn?t much encouragement to strive for the old-school video game ideal of achieving the highest score in order to earn bragging rights and gamer renown. The only content that can be unlocked through upping one?s skill in play and achieving higher scores is access to just two more lesser-known titles that were basically just graphically-updated sequels : Galaga ?88 and Pac-Mania. There are two-player modes for most of these games, and the scores are saved to your hard drive. Still, this is no way to secure high score bragging rights in the age of the home console. In the old days, your score would have been displayed in the arcade machine for all to see. Now, only people that play on your Xbox will be able to see your achievements. Adding Xbox Live functionality to these games so one could upload their high scores to a global scoreboard (so proclaiming oneself the Pac-Man Champion of the World would actually have some merit) would have fixed that, but as is, unless your Xbox is in a public display case at a retailer, your high scores will remain unknown to all but you.
Instead of being a true retro experience to educate modern gamers on gaming?s short but sweet history, this compilation feels more like a way to cheat gamers out of $20 by exploiting nostalgia. If classic gaming continues to be treated this way, then the classics of yore will truly be forever lost to the rapid march of progress and tossed aside like some Pac-Man chomped ghost.