Sept 27, 2007
What's a few pixels among old friends? That's the question Namco Museum DS asks - you love old-fart games like Xevious and Galaga so much, you'll accept it if they, you know, don't look like they should, right?
We won't dive into the technical side of games too deeply here, but stick with us. The screen size of the original Pac-Man was 224 pixels by 288 pixels. The native resolution of the DS is smaller, just 256 x 192. So in order to make Ol' Yellow Mouth fit, Namco had to… squeeze. And at screen sizes this small to begin with, that means that some pixels just disappear, making fonts harder to read and - worse - maze walls harder to see. On Galaxian, all the colorful little aliens kinda looked crippled, like one of their mighty claws or feet or whatever was slightly withered.
The alternative is to run Pac-Man in its larger-than-the-screen true resolution and scroll the playfield a little bit, which makes it more playable but still looks funny, since the playfield dims whenever it scrolls. That stuff was less of a problem with the other six games, which include the-mouse-is-a-cop-how-cute actioner Mappy, the amazingly boring dungeon crawler Tower of Druaga, and the inferior-to-its-parent Dig Dug II. But playing any of them vertically is better than the super-squished horizontal screen modes, since all seven oldies in this collection were originally presented on vertical monitors. So the only logical way to play them is vertically, like Brain Age, right? Sure… but then you look (and feel) like a moron when you try to use the d-pad and buttons sideways.
So no matter how much you love the classics, know this: You're going to have to put up with some compromise to play them on the DS. Almost as a gesture to make up for it, you'll find tons of sound tests and "Hardcore options", which let you monkey with the original dipswitch settings that you'd find on the circuit boards inside the original machines - pointlessly accurate considering most DS fans don't care about the tech that gave birth to Xevious.
The eighth game in this collection, Pac-Man Vs., has been rescued from a life of complete obscurity as a GameCube bonus that came with Pac-Man World 2 (ugh), and it works even better on DS. One player controls Pac-Man; the other three control ghosts. Ghosts can only see the maze around them, but Pac gets a standard player view of the whole playfield. You'll need at least one other human to play, but with four, it gets truly interesting and cut-throat, since the honor of being Pac-Man gets passed around based on score and performance. It's worth revisiting.
So that's one good reason to check out Namco Museum DS. The other seven…tough call, even for old fogies. Why didn't they just reprogram the classics to fit the DS properly? Because that would have required effort. This is not about innovation; this is about porting code that's lying around and reselling it for the zillionth time. This is Namco Museum, baby!