Nostalgia can be a powerful force, both for good or ill. In the plus column, nostalgia can be a way to relive the halcyon days of your youth, that golden era before you realized all men must die and our planet is doomed to become a lifeless cinder (I've been watching a lot of Game of Thrones, ya'll). In the cons column, nostalgia can be exploited by predatory corporations to sell you plastic junk that ends up being more inert paperweight than wellspring of fond remembrances.
Luckily, My Arcade's Namco Museum Mini Player falls squarely in the former category. The tiny arcade cabinet, packed with 20 games from Namco's own golden age, feels like a thriving arcade plucked right out of my childhood and condensed into a charming little device to ornament my desk. Probably my favorite piece of the Mini Arcade package is the vibrant, colorful bezel and side art, authentic pieces that transport me back to those smoky arcades of yore even more profoundly than the games themselves.
Speaking of the games, the Mini Player comes loaded with 20 of Namco's greatest, some genuine pop culture icons like Pac-Man and Galaga, some slightly more obscure favorites like Rolling Thunder and Xevious, and then a handful of questionable inclusions (Mappy, I'm looking at you). 20 games feels like the right number for a package like this, enough games that you can jump in and play something fresh without getting bored, but not so many that the sheer volume of them feels overwhelming and leads to a bunch of clunky, difficult to navigate menus.
The menus on the Mini Player are instead very user friendly, designed to get you into the game of your choice and playing as quickly as possible. There's the front end, where you select the game you want from a menu of panels showing off the graphics, and then after you've chosen one a quick splash screen that gives you a run down of the controls (which are largely extremely simple; very few of the included games use even the mere four face buttons included on the Mini Player).
While the Mini Player does give you the option to play games in their original aspect ratio or stretch them out to fill the entire screen, which is about as large as a modern phablet, you won't find any deep options to adjust resolution or play around with display emulation. On the other hand, there is a welcome 3.5 mm headphone jack on the back of the machine as well as volume buttons, which was very handy when I was reminding myself how tense and frustrating Pac-Man is at my desk in our crowded NYC office.
My only real issue with the Mini Player is the physical controls; the joystick can be unscrewed if you prefer to play with just the d-pad, but it feels a little loose even fully screwed down, and because the controls are situated halfway up the machine it can get a little uncomfortable playing with your wrists dangling over the edges if you're going to be messing around with the Mini Player for more than twenty minutes. Those minor quibbles aside, though, the Mini Player is a concentrated pill of pixelated nostalgia and a welcome addition to my increasingly crowded shelf of modern toys that remind me of my misspent youth. It's easily one of the best retro game consoles available right now, and more than enough to keep us going until the Sega Genesis Mini. Preorders open on June 10th ahead of the launch on June 24th.