Four of the five games in Namco Museum: 50th Anniversary are already available on the GBA in previous Namco collections. If you already own the earlier cartridges, you're probably better off sticking with them. That's because this new compilation doesn't bring much in the way of improvements to the table, other than additional display and difficulty settings. For those of you who haven't yet indulged in Namco's back catalog, however, this is certainly a good place to start.
Included on the cartridge are five 1980s-era arcade classics: Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Galaga, and Rally-X. Players can eat dots and evade ghosts in the mazes of Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man; dig holes and use an air pump to explode monsters in Dig Dug; shoot down alien spacecraft in Galaga; and collect flags while avoiding reckless drivers in Rally-X. Rally-X is making its debut on the GBA in this collection. It's basically a car-themed variation of Pac-Man, in that you have to collect flags scattered throughout a maze while avoiding the CPU cars that are bent on trying to wreck your car. Unlike Pac-Man, there aren't any power pellets that let you eat or destroy the CPU cars, but you can kick in a smokescreen to slow them down. For sure, the graphics and audio in all of these games are archaic, even by 8-bit standards, but the games themselves are still very much fun to play. Games of that era just have an addictive simplicity that modern games seem to lack.
It is baffling, though, that this compilation primarily includes games that are already readily available in Namco's earlier collections. Ms. Pac-Man, Dig Dug, and Galaga were included in the first Namco Museum, and Pac-Man was the headliner in Pac-Man Collection. The only "new to GBA" game in this 50th anniversary pack is Rally-X, which is an odd choice, considering that games like Pole Position, Mappy, Galaga '88, and Tower of Druaga are more popular with retro fans. Additionally, it's somewhat lame that the cartridge only contains five games in total. A GBA cartridge can't hold as much data as a DVD or UMD disc, but it's hard to believe that Namco couldn't cram at least twice the number of games onto the cartridge, given that the typical storage capacity of a GBA cart has quadrupled since the original Namco Museum was released in 2001.
If only Namco and developer Digital Eclipse had seen fit to implement persistent high scores in this new compilation. That feature alone would likely have been enough incentive to inspire owners of Pac-Man Collection and the original Namco Museum to make the double dip. Sadly, Namco Museum: 50th Anniversary, like its predecessors, doesn't hold on to high scores when the power is turned off. They did at least manage to include user-adjustable difficulty settings and optional "tate" display modes in this new collection, which should please purists who want to play these games in their original aspect ratio. Just tap the select button and the graphics will rotate 90 degrees. It feels weird to hold the system sideways while playing, but thankfully, none of these games require more than the D pad and a single button. Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man also let you zoom in on the action, effectively blowing up the graphics to their full arcade resolution by cropping and scrolling the playing field. Text and small details, such as the yummy dots that Pac-Man loves to eat, are much easier to see this way. The other three games in the collection don't offer a close-up display mode, which is unfortunate because the score strip and tiny objects like bullets look a little distorted, thanks to the way the graphics are crammed into the GBA's screen dimensions.
All told, Namco Museum: 50th Anniversary is a good choice for people who don't already own Namco's two earlier collections.