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Namco Museum Encore

Reviewed by: Rob StrangmanMedia: CD
Released by: NamcoStatus: out of print
Platform: Sony PlayStationNumber of games: 7
Year released: 1997Players: 1-2 (alternating)

Games included:
Rolling ThunderDragon SaberRompersSky KidWonder MomoMotosKing & Balloon

Namco's Museum series for the PlayStation met an untimely end in the U.S. when Namco Museum Volume 5 was released. In Japan, however, Namco released one last Museum title for the PlayStation after Volume 5, appropriately titled Namco Museum Encore. NME featured seven more games pulled from the Namco arcade vaults, and for once not a single Pac-Man game was among them. The games included? The Shinobi-esque spy classic Rolling Thunder; the sequel to Dragon Spirit (which was released on NM5), Dragon Saber; the incredibly addictive puzzle game Rompers; the er, interesting Kung Fu Master wannabe Wonder Momo; the WWI-themed flying game Sky Kid; the futuristic bumper car game Motos; and the embarrassing, Galaxian-esque King & Balloon. All in all, it's certainly a diverse set of titles. Did I mention that there aren't any Pac-Man games? That's pretty refreshing.
Rolling Thunder: Is it just me, or do these drones look like KKK members dressed in pretty rainbow colors?

As is the standard for the NM series, the game opens with an FMV that showcases the games on the disc. This time, the spaceship Game Space Milaiya flies through the first five discs, transporting the stars of those discs on board, then it locates and brings aboard the stars of the six games on this disc. It's short, and is very similar to the earlier FMVs Namco came up with to open the first five volumes. The title menu gives you the option to go to the museum or to the games. Should you choose the museum option, you'll notice that there is no actual museum to explore this time around, as the games are stored within the spacecraft Game Space Milaiya itself. Namco has included a lot of similar museum exhibits like the ones they included in the earlier games, but this time all of the exhibits are actually found on the games themselves. Scrolling up or down and pressing X when Pac-Man points and exclaims will let you look at them, just like in the earlier games. Also of interest is the option that lets you change the interior of the ship into one of six different backgrounds, including an arcade in the early '80s, complete with ambient sound! For the most part, the options menus are in Japanese, but it's not too hard to get through them, even if you can't read one bit of Japanese.
Rompers: Crush the creatures by shoving giant stone walls onto them! Wheeee!

No matter what option you choose, museum or games, you're going to get to the games themselves at some point. Let's start at the bottom of the heap with King & Balloon (1981). One of Namco's earliest titles, it's a shooter that's extremely similar to Galaxian, yet actually worse, believe it or not. The objective is to protect the king with a crossbow as hot air balloons swoop down and try to carry him away. Shoot all the balloons and start again. Repeat ad infinitum. Boring. I once read somewhere that Galaxian was considered to be the most boring game ever - well, K&B has it beat by a mile. The best thing about K&B are the hilarious voice samples used whenever the king is abducted. Next up is Motos (1985). In this game you control what looks and acts like a futuristic bumper car, on a flat plain made up of tiles out in space. What you have to do is knock the enemies over the edge of the plain, while avoiding being knocked off yourself. Every so often, meteors will strike some of the tiles and knock them out, giving you more spaces to knock enemies to their dooms. Of course, this increases the possibility that you'll die as well, so it's kind of a mixed blessing. Various powerups appear as well, enabling your bumper car to jump and use special weapons, among other things.
Dragon Saber: The "After Story of Dragon Spirit", indeed.

Sky Kid (1985) is set during what looks to be World War I, except that all of the pilots in the game are birds. Your objective in each level is simple: fly from right to left, pick up a bomb, and drop it on the intended target. In your way is the enemy army: tanks, planes and ships. You can do a loop to avoid enemy fire, and even if you get hit you can try to pull yourself out of your nosedive by rapidly pressing the X button. Sky Kid became a minor success when Sunsoft released a version of it for the NES. Wonder Momo (1987) is an interesting variation on Irem's Kung Fu Master. You play Momo, who has to fight off an army of gray-cloaked goons and various Godzilla-esque foes. By either getting a powerup capsule or defeating enough enemies, Momo can turn into Wonder Momo, and attack the creatures with her electric hula hoop (!). There are other powerups to be had as well, and interestingly enough all of the action takes place on a stage, like the whole game is some kind of play. Momo also has the tendency to flash her panties at the world when she jumps, don't ask me why.
Wonder Momo: There are some things about this one that are just... questionable.

Rompers (1989) is one of the most recent games Namco chose to include. It's a puzzle game unlike a lot of others that I've played. The plot is pretty much the same: your girlfriend is taken by the bad guys, and you have to travel through different mazes to get her back. You collect keys to open the door to advance to the next level. You have no weapons, and the only way to defeat the creatures roaming through the mazes is to topple the walls of the maze onto them, squashing them flat. Both the monsters and the walls constantly respawn, so if you don't move fast enough, you'll be dead. Some monsters will return the favor and topple the walls onto you, so be careful. Dragon Saber (1990) is a truly fantastic update to Dragon Spirit. The graphics and sound have been improved tremendously over Dragon Spirit, and fear not, hardcore shmup fans: Namco has generously included the TATE option so that you can play Dragon Saber the way it was intended to be played. Last, but definitely not least, is Rolling Thunder (1986). Albatross has to rescue his partner Leila and defeat the terrorist organization Geldra. He starts with a pistol that has a limited ammo supply, but you can replenish it and pick up special weapons by going into the different doors you find. Even if you run out of ammo you can still fire, but not very rapidly. If you take two hits, you're dead.
Sky Kid: World War I, as fought by giant birds that fly biplanes.

You can find a lot to like about Namco Museum Encore. The games Namco chose to include this time around are - despite the presence of King & Balloon - a solid, enjoyable group of games, even though very few people outside of Japan may have heard of Motos, Wonder Momo or Rompers. Since this was the last truly original NM disc, I wish Namco had included quite a few more games - namely Rolling Thunder 2, Dig Dug II, Phelios, Burning Force and Splatterhouse. Including those definitely would have made this disc the perfect way to end the series. Of course, a U.S. release would have been nice too.
King & Balloon: The less said about this one, the better.

Worth the purchase: Only if you're a completist. Other than that, don't bother. Yes, it's a nice set of games, but unless you really want them, it's not worth the time to track it down.

Diversity: Each game comes from an entirely different genre. I'd say it's pretty diverse.

Playability: I noticed no control issues whatsoever. Namco did good.

Hidden gems: Rompers. I ended up playing this one more than Rolling Thunder and Dragon Saber combined.