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NAMCO MUSEUM VOL 4 REVIEW - November 1996

Namco’s idea of what constitutes a "classic" continues to drift further from the mainstream with this penultimate instalment of the current Museum series.

(Although no-one’s ruling out a further batch later on - Edge for one would still like to see Sky Kid, Rolling Thunder and a few more Pac-Man spinoffs get the treatment, for a start). At least two of the games here will be entirely new names to Western gamers, and only Pac-Land and Assault are likely to provoke any recognition from 95% of even the most veteran players.

The most impressive sight on Volume 4 is obviously the rotating-and-scaling tank game, Assault. Essentially Battlezone viewed from above, it benefits here from the addition of a simple up-down-left-right control method alongside the original two-joysticks tank-tracks simulation. A very narrow screen dilutes the effect of the graphics somewhat, but if you’re one of the few who can get away with turning their TV on its side without making the colours go all purple, full-screen Assault is quite something to behold. The gameplay is basic, but it’s as intense as ever.

Ordyne is a cutesy shoot-‘em-up that actually looks better than Playstation Parodius despite being almost nine years old, but it’s quite an unlikeable game, with no autofiring, short-lived power-ups and heavily-armoured baddies making progress through the levels a rather dull matter of remembering, by trial-and-error, which power-ups to buy at which point.

Pac-Land, if anything, is even harder, but much friendlier with it. Despite a very small number of elements, the platformy gameplay manages to stay varied for as long as you manage to survive, which in most people’s case will be about halfway through level two.

The Genji And The Heike Clans is a (mostly) side-scrolling beat-‘em-up which jumps from style to style in a near-unfollowable machine-gun manner, and is best left to the Japanese, who will at least be able to make some sense of the screeds of (presumably) explanatory text.

The Return Of Ishtar brings up the rear, a truly bizarre maze/RPG in which you appear to have to control two players at once (even if you’re playing by yourself) with a single controller, using the joypad to move one and the four fire buttons for the other. It’s a real test of dexterity, and even when you manage it the game itself is all but incomprehensible to Edge’s eyes - we’ve collected keys and opened doors, but at the moment remain inexplicably unable to actually go through any of them.

The general user interface has been improved again (you can now switch between games without a tedious long load back to the menu screen), but this is a much more specialist-taste compilation than any of the earlier volumes, and with import copies fetching around 70, anyone other than a collector should do some serious desire/outlay sums before investing.

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