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NAMCO MUSEUM VOL 1 REVIEW - December 1995

Prepare to be humbled.

Namco Museum Piece Vol 1 collects together seven original Namco coin-ops dating from 1980 to 1986, although only one is from later than 1982. Most are household names (that being a relative term), with only the 1986 Toypop perhaps a little unfamiliar to veteran gamers. All the titles, however, share a characteristic common to most arcade games of the era - they're brutally, astonishingly, hard. Coin-op technology was still very limited in the early 80s, and coin-op games were correspondingly simple. While this was good news for players, who didn't have to spend three-quarters of an hour reading the instructions before the game made any sense at all, it was bad news for arcade operators, who faced the prospect of players learning and mastering the simple, repetitive skills of the games to such a degree that they could play all day on a single 10p credit. The only way to ensure a profitable turnover of customers was to make sure that the games were so forbiddingly difficult that most people would find themselves wiped out in no more than two or three minutes.

While this was a common approach in those days, a variety of factors (the rise to dominance of home consoles over coin-ops, the increased complexity of play afforded by new technology, and the petulance of American gamesplayers who wouldn't buy or play a game they couldn't get halfway through on their first go) have conspired to make today's games, by and large, far easier. Returning to the old days, therefore, can come as a nasty sucker punch to the soft, overfed underbelly of today's gamer.

Interestingly, this compilation includes both Rally X and its almost immediate sequel, New Rally X. New Rally X came about because the original game, which was Namco's big hope for 1980, proved so hard even by the standards of the day that players quickly gave up on it. The sequel employed a couple of new features, softened up some particularly evil sections, and added a jauntier tune in an attempt to ease players into the game more gently, but it was too late, and Rally X flopped, lost to history, seemingly forever. It's great to see it back, though - the New version is one of the best games of the age, balanced almost perfectly between challenge and temptation, and undoubtedly the best game here.

Galaga is a single-screen shoot-'em-up, featuring arguably the arcade world's first ever power-up (the ability to dock two of your ships together, doubling your firepower). It's also hugely hard - a moment's lapse in concentration can now cost you two lives at once. It's still extremely playable, though, which can't really be said about Bosconian. The tiny number of gameplay elements means that to be challenging, the game simply has to cram the screen with enemies and obstacles, and it quickly just gets silly. A similar problem affects Toypop, but for the opposite reason - you have to continually pick up different weapons to kill different enemies, and by the fifth level or so, it's all so overcomplicated and frantic that the cheerful carnival music which previously seemed so endearing may push you over the edge and into a sociopathic rage.

Pole Position is almost impossible. Although the joypad control system replicates the analogue steering wheel of the coin-op as skilfully as could have been hoped for, the game's margin for error (both in terms of crashing into things and of beating the time limit) is so miniscule that just two mistakes will see your game end before you reach the third lap of the race. In a whole weekend of trying, Edge didn't make the fourth lap once. This is highly addictive if you remember the game from the first time round and can't believe you were ever this bad at it, but newcomers will recoil in sheer terror.

And if you need Edge to tell you about Pac-Man, you're probably bought the wrong magazine by accident.

You may be able to complete Sonic 3 in four-and-a-half minutes. You might be blasť about your capacity for 37-hit combos in Killer Instinct. Perhaps you can even win an 80-lap endurance race in Daytona USA using the horse. It doesn't matter. You're still about to have your face ground into the dust by a scarred and battle-hardened gang of games that are, in all possibility, older than you are. Brace yourself. It's going to hurt.

Seven out of ten

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