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Sean Pettibone


Namco Museum: Virtual Arcade (Xbox 360)

Namco Museum: Virtual Arcade for Xbox 360 offers an impressive selection of titles like Pac Man, Rally-X and Galaxian with more than 30 offered in all. VA also includes lesser-known games like Grodba and Metrocross. The three updated Arrangement versions of Dig Dug, Pac Man and Galaga are loads of fun as well. Add in the superb Xbox Live remakes Pac Man Championship Edition and Galaga Legions, and you have a release that offers superb value. Virtual Arcade doesn't offer many frills or extras, but the game delivers and abundance of fantastic content in a convenient package.

Namco Museum titles have appeared on almost every modern console from the original Playstation right through to the Wii and DS, offering modern players a great window in electronic gaming's golden age. Its latest iteration arrives on Xbox 360 in fine form with an extensive collection of titles instantly accessible for the classic gaming enthusiast. There are more than 30 games in this collection and the list of included titles is impressive. Gamers will find a large selection of well-known and obscure titles with lesser-known titles such as Pac & Pal, the Tower of Druaga, King & Balloon, Motos, Sky Kid, Rolling Thunder, Baraduke, Bosconian, Dig Dug II, Dragon Buster, Dragon Spirit, and Grobda mixed in with bigger hits like Ms. Pac Man, Xevious, Super Pac Man, Pole Position 1 & 2, Galaxian, Dig Dug, Mappy, Metro Cross, Rally-X, to name just a few of the classic arcade emus included on the disc. This gives the player quite a selection and variety of genres to choose from, though there seem to be many titles from the same series, which works to help you trace their evolution through the years. One of the best things about these compilations is how they showcase Namco's consistent excellence back in the golden age of arcades, and how well most of these titles have held up.

However, Virtual Arcade goes one step further than the usual museum pieces and includes three classic remakes, called Arrangements for Dig Dug, Pac Man and Galaga. Unlike the more advanced HD remakes on the disc, these titles upgrade the graphics, but largely stay true to the look and feel of the original games, with a few minor twists thrown in. For example, Dig Dug has more types of enemies to blow up, and the levels look a lot nicer. However, the big twist here is that there are now massive bosses that appear every couple of levels. These encounters are much tougher to defeat than the original enemies. Pac Man Arrangement follows a similar formula, with the traditional mazes, dots and ghost to defeat, but with the added additions of speed lanes, boss creatures and other minor enhancements that add to the game while not straying too far off course. Namco has also included the famous and sensational Pac Man Championship Edition on the disc. Released last year to critical acclaim, CE was actually developed by Pac Man's original designer and comes closest to an official sequel. This version adds a new twist, in the form of timed games to the gameplay, which makes things more intense right at the start. Taking the original look and feel of Pac Man and giving it a HD makeover makes for some impressive lighting effects that look really cool. The game includes several timed modes that range from 5 to 10 minutes but the basic goal remains the same. However, this time only sections of the course has dots on it to eat, and players must eat all the dots in one section and then eat a special power-pill to unlock the other areas. Pac Man CE's mazes also change layout and shape on the fly as well, which adds to the challenge. This edition also included leader-boards and accomplishments as well, which allows you to compete with other players online. It's a surprisingly robust, creative and addictive remake for this time-tested franchise, and Pac Man CE is definitely a must-play if you haven't experienced it on Xbox Live yet.

The selection includes a kind of cool mini-history of the Galaga franchise, which ranges from the original 1981 classic, to the Galaga 88 remake, the remixed Galaga Arrangement game and finally the awe-inspiring Xbox Live remake, Galage Legions. All of these games offer some interesting play mechanics and you can see each remake gradually build in complexity and intensity until you reach the apex of Galaga Legions. Legions itself is a spectacular game with numerous enhancements and a hyper-kinetic play style. The screen is literally filled with dozens of enemies that fly at you in daunting formations, but there are some cool things you might not immediately realize. The lines that fill the screen look really cool, but they aren't just for show since they trace the pack of predicted formations, allowing you to get out of their way before they launch their attacks. You can also set up allied legions on the screen that can fire shots automatically and take damage away from your main ship. Players will also find weak spots in some of the formations that if broken, will cause all the ships in that formation to vanish. The levels recall the feel of Galaga with their ship movements, but the ability to add firepower to your main ship and place the direction and location of your Legions' attacks adds a frenetic strategy to the gameplay that gives it an incredible extra kick. Adding allied ships to your own is something the original Galaga pioneered back in the day, and Legions takes this mechanic and ups in intensity 100-fold. Each level becomes increasingly complicated and difficult, making for some incredibly challenging play that brilliantly redefines the classic Galaga formula in the age of Geometry Wars. Between this and Pac Man Champion Edition, these games make Virtual Arcade an absolute must purchase for any classic gaming fan.

One of the odd things about the selection screen is that some games can be launched from the disc itself, while many of the Xbox Live Arcade remakes, including Galaga Legions and Pac Man CE need to be launched from the XBL menu. This means you have to relaunch the disc and boot up again, taking you outside the interface. It's slightly annoying, but not really a big deal in the big picture. Gamers will find each game in the Virtual Arcade has been recreated flawlessly in terms of look and feel. Presentation is good as well, with the original arcade artwork surrounding the playfields for each game. They look a little small on HD monitors and in many cases, the artwork is larger in area than the original game, which can be annoying. However, the emulation is perfect with the original sound effects and visuals flawlessly recreated. This makes Namco Museum Virtual Arcade one of the company's best re-issues to come out in some time, giving players plenty of options in terms of the games, genres and eras that they want to play. There are some minor issues with the implementation, but they shouldn't dissuade classic gamers from purchasing this excellent compilation of timeless arcade games along with some pretty sumptuous updates.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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