Like so many gaming apps, Namco Arcade is a promising idea let down by poor execution. It might offer the tempting prospect of playing 10 classic 80s Namco titles (including Pac-Man and Galaga) on your iOS device, but the reality doesn’t live up to expectations and the app is riddled with issues that make it hard to recommend.
To start with, the line-up of games is disappointing. Yes, there are some great games (Starblade, Rolling Thunder, Pacman), but there are only 10 of them –and Namco are not exactly rushing to provide more games. When I first reviewed this game on another site almost 3 years ago, 9 games were available, so in the intervening period, just 1 new title has been added.
Secondly, when compared to similar apps, Namco Arcade is a little mean-spirited. The basic app is free to download, which is good, but that’s where the good news stops. Most similar games (the Atari of C64 collections, for example) give you at least one pack-on game that is free to play, even if you have to purchase additional titles. That’s not for Namco. Whilst you can choose any of the 10 titles to play, you only get one free game per day. If you want any more, you have to pay for it.
OK, so prices are not exactly extortionate. Individual titles can be bought outright (which then gives you unlimited plays) for either £1.99 or £2.99, or you can buy a pack of 10 credits for 79p, which can then be used across any of the machines. Even so, if you want the full collection it’s going to cost over £25, whilst regularly spending 79p on credits will be even more expensive in the long run. Charging those sorts of prices for games that are over 30 years old just smacks of greed.
I could almost forgive this if it wasn’t for the awful controls which render many of the games at best frustrating and at worst unplayable. A choice between an on-screen joystick or a virtual D-Pad doesn’t make much difference – both are pretty dreadful. Unresponsive and clumsy, it is all too easy for your finger to slide off the controls at a crucial moment, resulting in many a frustrating death. The ability to move the controls anywhere on screen is a welcome addition, but it doesn’t make them any more responsive. OK, so the app is compatible with the iCade (but that’s no excuse for poor native controls. A gamer shouldn’t be expected to have to buy a £50+ add-on peripheral to play something they’ve bought in good faith.
On the plus side, emulation is not too bad. It’s a bit disappointing that the games are not displayed full screen, although you can pretend this adds to the authenticity of the experience – making it feel like you are peering down at an old arcade cabinet. The games themselves play pretty well, with no obvious screen flicker, slow down or other tell-tale signs of lazy porting.
Elsewhere, presentation is pretty lazy. Yes, there’s integration with Facebook and Twitter, but there’s no attempt to provide the gamer with any background information on the games, such as when they first appeared in arcades or the history of their development. It’s little touches like these that make apps special and their absence only further highlights what a lacklustre offering it is. Compare it with Jeff Minter’s sublime Gridrunner, which not only updated the entire game for iOS, but threw in the original Vic 20 and Commodore 64 versions too. Now THAT’S how you treat a retro game. Better still, proving he’s always been one of gaming’s good guys, Minter has now made the title totally free to download.
This is a real missed opportunity. Let down by a limited selection of titles, an expensive pricing structure and poor controls there’s really no incentive to download this. Even the most ardent of Namco fans would be better off spending their money elsewhere.