Tag Archives: namco

Breakdown [Xbox] – Review

Breakdown - Xbox - North American Box Art

Towards the end of Breakdown, after a protracted fist fight against Solus, the game’s shirtless Sephiroth stand-in and resident antagonist, my amnesiac avatar Derrick Cole lie battered on the floor. Unable to save Earth from encroaching T’lan warriors, Derrick bore witness to humanity’s last best hope: a nuclear bomb to the heart of Site Zero, the very spot he rested. Twenty years later he woke up in someone else’s body, his memories having been transferred. The T’lan have overrun earth but he’s been given another shot. I, too, suffered a bout of amnesia with Breakdown. I played it years ago just up to completion and have always recalled it fondly. My memories failed me. Continue reading Breakdown [Xbox] – Review

Advertisements

Namco Museum Vol. 3 [PlayStation] – Review

Namo Museum Volume 3

For all intents and purposes, this is a review of Namco Museum Vol. 3 for the PlayStation, bearing in mind I’ve played it twice for about an hour total. That being said, I’m confident in knowing what it has to offer based on prior experiences with most of the compiled games. After a fruitful evening of game hunting with a friend, this is the title I subjected us to. Well, that’s what he may describe the experience as but for me, someone who relishes the opportunity to play just about any game, it was an entertaining romp through the past. Considering this is a compilation that only contains six games, it proved to highlight a strong selection of Namco’s arcade lineage.

This, the third installment of the Namco Museum series on the PlayStation, was originally released stateside in early 1997. Most sources point to Now Production handling the development/porting with Namco publishing it here. As mentioned, six arcade games are included: Galaxian, Ms. Pac-Man, Pole Position II, Dig Dug, Phozon, and The Tower of Druaga. Most readers are likely familiar with all but the last two, but the weight is definitely carried by the headliners. Regardless, these are all arcade-faithful ports and the package is buoyed by a virtual museum to walk through, highlighting low resolution scans of the games’ original Japanese marketing materials (plus an entertaining introduction video!).

Namco Museum Volume 3 - Dig Dug
Dig Dug is a cute game with cute names such as Pooka and Fygar.

Of the games included, I’m most familiar with Ms. Pac-Man. That was one of the go-to Super Nintendo games in my household growing up. Heck, even my mom played it with us! She’s actually the reason we had it since she was familiar with the arcade release and knew it’d be more family friendly than say the copy of Killer Instinct that came bundled with our console. The version on display in this compilation is the arcade version, so it’s limited on features compared to the Super Nintendo port I’m used to. Nonetheless, Ms. Pac-Man is a riveting game with or without any bells or whistles. In fact, when my friend and I played, this game in particular sparked a bit of a high score competition.

I was first introduced to Dig Dug through its Xbox Live Arcade release, although I’ve played much more of the Mr. Driller series. A single-screen action game like most of the other games on this compilation, Dig Dug sees players assuming the role of the eponymous Dig Dug (also known as Taizo Hori) as he digs underground in order to defeat the wandering Pookas and Fygars. This can be easily done by exploding them with an air pump, although strategically dropping rocks on them can result in chained kills and extra points. Defeating them further down also yields more points. It’s a straight-forward action game but as described, there’s ways to wring strategic elements from the game to promote score-chasing.

Namco Museum Volume 3 - Galaxian
Galaxian was little more than a Space Invaders copy, although it laid the groundwork for the superb Galaga.

Galaxian is perhaps most succinctly described as a combination of Space Invaders and Galaga. It was, after all, Namco’s heavily inspired attempt at a Space Invaders game and the predecessor to the much improved Galaga. That’s not to say that this isn’t a worthy game in its own right. Namco took the Space Invaders formula and expanded upon it incrementally by designing more aggressive enemies… and adding color. Damn, Galaga is so much better… Destroying the waves of enemies still remains challenging but after the first wave, players will have seen pretty much everything they’re going to see.

Like Galaxian, there’s little to say about Pole Position II. It’s a solid racing game and it runs beautifully although nothing differentiates it from the hundreds of racing games available throughout the 1980s; it’s still a precedent setter. That leaves me with Phozon and The Tower of Druaga. This compilation represented the North American debut of Phozon as it never left Japan when it was released in 1983. I didn’t particularly care for it, although the pseudo-3D rendering of the antagonist looked good. Forgoing the game’s unique verbiage, players control an atom and collect drifting molecules aiming to recreate the shape displayed before each stage. A sole enemy is almost always present and a life is lost if it connects with the player’s atom. Essentially, recreate shapes while playing cat and mouse.

Namco Museum Volume 3 - Phozon
Phozon was a weird one, regardless of the two in the upper-left corner.

Finally, there’s The Tower of Druaga. From the title alone this one sounds epic and it was understandably inspired by Middle Eastern mythology. Controlling the hero Gilgamesh, players are tasked with rescuing Ki from said tower. This plays out across 60 floors of mazes with each floor hosting a locked exit, a key, as well as enemies and treasure. Again, this is a pretty straight-forward game whose difficulty continually increases. I wasn’t able to get too far into the tower but one tip I can share is to hold the attack button. With it held, Gilgamesh keeps his sword drawn and can walk into enemies to defeat them. A marked improvement on simply swinging the sword, trust me.

With there being so many Namco Museum titles nowadays, it’s hard to recommend this one over the more comprehensive collections for newer consoles. Still, at the right price, this is worth snatching up. I have multiple Namco compilations but $0.99 for a loose copy was too good to pass up. I will say I was surprised by the museum content, I wasn’t expecting that and don’t recall similar information in the newer compilations. And that darn introduction video really got me jazzed up too! If anything, I’ll keep my eyes peeled on the other PlayStation Namco Museum releases in the hopes of getting more of that content, if the price is right.

Lastly, here is a video that my friend and I recorded while playing this game. The best part by far is the Ms. Pac-Man competition which commences about halfway through and runs to the end of the video. It’s not very serious, but I still won, and that’s what counts.

Random Game #30 – Ridge Racer V [PlayStation 2]

Ridge Racer V

When you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.

There was a time when it wasn’t a PlayStation launch without a Ridge Racer game. The series’ peak was arguably confined to the era of the first PlayStation, but this game is also very well regarded. The only games in the series I’ve spent a great deal of time with are this game’s predecessor and successor. I have played this game maybe once. I’m interested to play it more but I don’t believe there’s a ton to do. This was a launch title for the PlayStation 2 and I would bet the development was constrained due to the impending launch of the system. I still get a kick out of reading OPM and PSM during this game’s preview cycle and reading the writers’ praise for the graphics though.

Ridge Racer V was developed and published by Namco. It was available for the PlayStation 2’s launch in all three major video game markets, which means it was available in North America on October 26, 2000. One cool unlockable is the ability to play as Pac-Man and his ghost enemies.

Random Game #11 – R: Racing Evolution [GameCube]

R Racing EvolutionWhen you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.

Like Super Monkey Ball 2, R: Racing Evolution was another game that I acquired through the local Sam’s Club bargain bin. It’s a simulation racing game from Namco and is a spin-off from their Ridge Racer series. Compared to the more hardcore console simulation games from the generation in question, this game is a little lacking. At the time, Gran Turismo 4 and Forza Motorsport hadn’t released yet, but Gran Turismo 3 was the de facto standard. For owners of the Xbox or GameCube though, this was arguably the next best example. This game had something neither of those series did though and that’s a story. It followed the unexpected racing career of Rena Hayami and I can still remember how cool it was to hear the team manager patch in to her during the races.

The game was developed and published by Namco. It was released in North America on December 9, 2003 (nearly 11 years to the date!) and was available for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube. The Player’s Choice rerelease on the GameCube includes Pac-Man Vs. so that’s cool.

Random Game #4 – Galaga [Xbox Live Arcade]

GalagaWhen you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.

Ever since I can remember, my dentist’s office has had a few arcade cabinets. Between them were the likes of Ms. Pac-Man, Centipede, and Frogger, but my favorite was Galaga. The others were awesome, but there was something about the space setting and the shoot ‘em up gameplay that drew me in, and continues to do so. The port for Xbox Live Arcade was the first time I owned a home version of the arcade classic. As best as I can tell, it’s an arcade perfect port with minimal bells or whistles. It’s also an easy 200 Gamerscore, not that that matters, or anything (maybe a little). It’s a fine version of one of the best and most influential arcade games of all time.

Galaga was originally developed by Namco released as an arcade game in North America in December 1981. This port was published by Namco Bandai Games on July 26, 2006. Outside of a Japanese release on the Wii’s Virtual Console, this is the only standalone digital release of Galaga on the seventh generation video game consoles. However, it was released on many Namco compilations, and that’s without a doubt the best way to own it.

Pac-Pix [Nintendo DS] – Review

Pac-PixPac-Pix was one of the earliest games released for the Nintendo DS. In fact, it was one of the first tech demos shown for the ugly-as-hell DS prototype at E3 2004. The core mechanic of drawing Pac-Man to chomp on ghosts has always intrigued me, but at the time, I was more drawn to Pac ‘n Roll due to its polygonal graphics. It wasn’t until this past week that I finally picked up a copy of Pac-Pix and devoted a few hours to completing it. I was happy to discover that its primary gimmick was well-implemented, despite some annoyances.

Each new gesture was accompanied by a tutorial.
Each new gesture was accompanied by a tutorial.

Reigning as one of the most identifiable characters in all of video games, drawing Pac-Man was a simple task. Personally, that meant it was a simple task that often resulted in a malformed Pac-Man as I’m no artist. Nonetheless, the game was forgiving. As long as the circle had a divot missing (representing his mouth) Pac-Man would form and chomp away in a straight line. Drawing walls allowed him to ricochet around and stay in play. In the later stages, the ability to draw arrows and bombs was added to increase the depth of mechanics, as well as the difficulty.

Composed of twelve stages, the game only took me a few hours to complete. However, the final few stages were very difficult. On the top screen in these later stages, many ghosts and switches resided. Hitting them to drop them down or activate a flame or door required ever more precision on my part. Perhaps the precision required made me a little sloppy, but many times my drawings wouldn’t be recognized and therefore, wouldn’t come to life. This grew frustrating and made me question the quality of the game’s recognition abilities. I was able to overcome though so they weren’t completely busted, just annoying on the harder stages.

That bomb is sure to destroy those four containers.
That bomb is sure to destroy those four containers.

Even today, nine years after its 2005 release, I think Pac-Pix is one of the more unique games on the Nintendo DS. It’s a simple game with little to its mechanics, but they are well-implemented. A second book was unlocked after beating the game, and it seems to be a repeat of the first book, with tougher enemies. All told, it’d be easy to spend a day with the game and not return to it, but it’s a fun diversion that makes interesting use of the DS.

Pac-Man and Galaxian [Atari 2600] – Comparison Review

Released a year apart from each other, it was enough time for Atari to redesign their box art template.

The Atari 2600 was host to plenty of arcade ports. None of them were able to 100% duplicate the original arcade game due to comparatively paltry processing power, but many were successful to varying degrees. Two games that well highlight the stark differences between landing on either end of the quality spectrum are Pac-Man and Galaxian. Ironically both of these titles are based on Namco arcade games.

The story behind Pac-Man’s development is an interesting one. Having previously obtained the rights to develop home versions of Namco’s arcade games, Atari sought to capitalize on the success of Pac-Man. Tod Frye, a programmer within Atari, was tasked with the game’s development, not with the most capable tools though; reportedly, rather than using a newer cartridge, one with more memory, his work was confined to the smaller cartridge to reduce manufacturing costs. This factor, along with the reduced processing power of the Atari 2600 compared to the Pac-Man arcade cabinet, compromised the game’s quality.

Pac-Man, fixing to eat some… fruit?

What Frye produced is totally playable, and resembles Pac-Man undeniably, but its differences are negatives. The maze is unchanging, the ghosts constantly flicker, they’re indistinguishable, the sound effects are grating, the game doesn’t have as good a sense of control over Pac-Man, and so on. It went on to be a great seller at the time (a whopping 7 million copies), but it’s a game that nowadays is best left for those with nostalgia or a deep interest in the medium.

Galaxian on the other hand was released a year after Pac-Man in 1983 on the newer, larger cartridge which provided more space for the programmers to work with. The improvements are night and day. Firstly, Galaxian resembles its arcade brethren to a striking degree (considering it’s a 2600 game). There’s a lot happening on-screen, the graphics are vibrant, and the action is smooth and brisk. Both games are of the score chase variety, but Galaxian is a more enjoyable experience thanks to its more appealing visuals and quality gameplay.

Now details surrounding Pac-Man’s development are well-known and easy to find, but not so with the Atari 2600 version of Galaxian. With some digging, I was able to find out that it was developed not directly by Atari, but rather by General Computer Corporation. GCC was initially a company that modded arcade games; in fact, they’re responsible for Ms. Pac-Man, not Namco! Anyways, Atari filed a lawsuit against GCC but later settled and began outsourcing projects to them.

Upon further digging I was able to determine that Mark Ackerman was the project lead for Galaxian and was assisted by Glen Parker and Tom Calderwood. Mark Ackerman also worked on the 2600 versions of Ms. Pac-Man and Moon Patrol before overseeing the development of a few Atari 7800 titles and leaving game development. Now a professor at the University of Michigan, I emailed Mr. Ackerman and got some feedback on Galaxian’s development.

The contrast between the graphical complexity and palette of colors between the two games is astounding.

Of note were a few programming tricks that resulted in a better game. Utilizing the random number generator from Donald Knuth’s The Art of Computer Programming resulted in smoother gameplay over Pac-Man. A more advanced algorithm was used to reduce the amount of flicker caused by movement – it definitely works! Lastly, Mr. Ackermen devised a way for eight characters to be displayed on screen when, technologically, the system wasn’t capable of displaying more than six. For this feat he was awarded a patent.

Bottom line is this: I wouldn’t be sad if I could only play the Atari 2600 version of Galaxian, not the case with Pac-Man.