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While we're all pretty familiar with remakes in gaming, in the 21st century, demakes are rather fewer and farther between. But just recently, Bandai Namco snuck out a very compelling, old-school-style take on one of the best Pac-Man games of all time. And let me tell you, friend: it is fantastic.
Pac-Man Championship Edition earned rave reviews aplenty when it emerged in 2007 via Xbox Live Arcade. Regarded by some as an overdue true sequel to the original Pac-Man's own sequel, 1982's Ms Pac-Man, it's a much faster experience than the original arcade classics, where (in its main, 'Championship' mode) the player is given five minutes to rack up the biggest score they can across an evolving, double-width board full of the traditional dots and ghosts.
Now, a new version of Championship Edition - which redesigns its aesthetics to be more in keeping with those 1980s originals - has been included on Bandai Namco's new Namco Museum Archives Vol 1 compilation, which I've been checking out on Switch. And its frenetic gameplay hasn't been dulled whatsoever by the visual 'downgrade'.
Undeniably, it's the star attraction of the release it's a part of, which also includes several (M2-helmed) NES ports of Namco games, like Galaxian and Xevious. Also bundled into the 11-game selection are a few releases that we never played in Europe at the time, like the cutesy Japanese exclusive Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti and the double-jump-pioneering Dragon Buster.
Additionally, a second volume of Namco Museum Archives is available, too, with an 8-bit-style "consolized" version of the previously arcade-exclusive (save for a late-'80s Commodore 64 release) Galaga sequel, Gaplus. It's not in the same league as Championship Edition as a bonus offering, but Vol 2 does feature Rolling Thunder and Pac-Land, which might sway certain retro tastes towards it over the alternative. As well as Nintendo Switch, these NES collections (note: these are not the arcade versions!) are also available for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
But wait! There's more very-recently-released retro goodness to tell you about. An arcade name of comparable pedigree to Namco, Taito, has just put out two versions of a Darius Cozmic Collection, for Switch and PlayStation 4 (also with emulation work by M2). One rounds up a number of home versions of releases in the sci-fi fishes aplenty shoot 'em up series, including games for the Super Nintendo, SEGA Mega Drive and Master System, and PC Engine. But it's the other set that I've been putting some time into.
The Darius Cozmic Collection: Arcade compilation might be a little thin on individual titles - it features three versions of the original Darius of 1987 ('Old', 'New' and 'Extra'), and three more of its sequel, 1989's Darius II (also known as Sagia). These are still hugely satisfying, spare change-munching shooters, even three decades after their introduction into global arcades - and the advantage of this set is that a new credit is added with the tap of a shoulder button, no actual coins required.
But it's the third title on the set that really grabbed my attention, and makes Arcade, in my opinion, the Darius set to plump for right now. Darius Gaiden hit arcades in 1994 and later found its way to the SEGA Saturn and Sony PlayStation in North America, eventually arriving in Europe on 2006's Taito Legends 2 compilation. Now, I'm no shooter aficionado - I like these games a lot, but I'm not good at them. But Darius Gaiden is a bit special, and I've already raced through its arcade awesomeness twice.
Like previous Darius games, Gaiden is a horizontal shooter where your little ship, the Silver Hawk, has to face off against an armada of marine-themed battleships. And it's so, so cool. Its visuals are excellent, zany and bright, with projectiles exploding with a pixel-sharp crispness that the best mid-'90s 2D titles had. It has a non-linear level structure, a bit like Out Run, so playthroughs can be varied. Its bosses absolutely dominate the screen, ranging from a limbs-lashing spider crab to a piranha-styled war machine that sheds its scales (and they all have wonderful names, like Fatty Glutton, Titanic Lance and, my favourite, the jellyfish-like Curious Chandelier).
As these are the arcade, coin-operated versions, you effectively have infinite lives by keeping the shoulder bumpers tapped. And trust me, right now, I need them. But Darius Gaiden is the first shooter since Ikaruga (also excellent on Switch, BTW) to make me want to get good at it. I can't promise I will, but I'm going to try. Gaiden, much like Namco's Pac-Man Championship Edition demake, is simply too darn good to leave alone.
Namco Museum Archives Vol 1 and Vol 2, and Darius Cozmic Collection: Arcade (as well as Console) are out now, on the platforms listed above. Code to cover these collections was provided by the publishers.
Featured Image Credit: Bandai Namco / Taito Corporation
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