Review: Data East Arcade Classics (Nintendo Wii)

Data East Arcade Classics
Genre: Compilation
Developer: G-Mode, G1M1
Publisher: Majesco
Release Date: 02/19/2010

Back in the eighties, arcade games were a whole lot more prolific than they are now, and often a lot more creative to boot. Granted, the games all fit into the genres of the time, be they sports, shooters, beat-em-ups and so on, but the concepts were often a good bit more imaginative and bizarre than arcade games are today. Data East has made their fair share of weird arcade classics, and while the company has unfortunately ceased to exist, Majesco has seen fit to collect thirteen of their most notable arcade releases into one package, dubbed Data East Arcade Classics. The collection contains fifteen Data East arcade titles, from the obvious (Burger Time, Bad Dudes) to the obscure (Super Real Darwin, Peter Pepper’s Ice Cream Factory) and several in between, and fans of Data East arcade games will have a lot of fun with the games in this collection. Further, the budget price is enticing, especially for fans of classic gaming, as twenty dollars for fifteen games is a good bit more reasonable than downloading the same amount of games from the Virtual Console service. That said, while some of these games are classics in every sense of the word, not all of them have aged particularly well or weren’t that great to start with, and there are some mild interface issues, making this something that may not be great for everyone.

Data East Arcade Classics is, as noted, a compilation of fifteen Data East games spanning the eighties and nineties, including both classics and unknowns from a variety of genres. Each game supports single or multiplayer gaming, either simultaneously or alternating, though multiplayer is limited to local play only. As you play each game, you can earn various achievements that unlock cabinet art, music tracks, and “special” modes of play for the games, and you can save high scores to a particular Mii if you want to track your scoring abilities. The games look and sound like their arcade counterparts, which means that the games from the early 80’s look like NES games and sound like Midi nightmares while the more modern games look and sound pretty good. Purists will like that the games are essentially perfect, while gamers who aren’t into nostalgia might turn up their nose at some of the pixelated sprites and such. The collection allows you to play with the Wiimote, the Wiimote and Nunchuck, the Classic Controller or the Gamecube controller, though only one of the games in the collection NEEDS more than one button, frankly, so any of the modes will work well. Overall, the Wiimote and Nunchuck combo felt awkward for these games, but every other control scheme felt just fine all in all.

Of course, this being a compilation of older games, it’s only as good as the games on the disc, and the roster is pretty diverse. In alphabetical order:

Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja – “President Ronnie has been kidnapped by ninjas. Are you a bad enough dude to rescue Ronnie?” This is your entire mission. Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja put you in the role of a random martial artist in workout pants and a tank top taking on a massive army of ninjas, magical warriors and fire-breathing fat men to save the President, and it was awesome. As beat-em-ups go, it’s generally amusing and holds up reasonably well now, though as you go further into the game, it becomes more and more obvious the game was designed to swallow your quarters, as it’s very easy to end up dying a whole lot in a stage, but with infinite continues Bad Dudes is mindless cheesy fun that’s worth playing, if only because I’M BAD!

Burger Time – This is a classic puzzle game in the same vein as Pac Man, where you, as Peter Pepper, have to try and make burgers while dodging hostile edibles. Each burger is made of multiple pieces, running over those pieces drops them to the lower level, and when you’ve dropped all four pieces from all four burgers you win the level. You can crush said hostile condiments under the burger pieces or throw pepper to stun them, but if they touch you, you lose a life. On one hand, Burger Time is an iconic arcade classic that many older gamers will remember fondly and eagerly jump into, but on the other, it’s a good bit harder to work with than something like Pac Man, as the enemies start off openly belligerent and the layout of the stages can make it harder to avoid the enemies than you’ll be expecting at first. Burger Time is still a lot of fun, but expect to die a lot at first or you’re going to get frustrated.

Burnin’ Rubber – This is better known as Bump “Ëœn Jump in the US. Burnin’ Rubber is a goofy driving game where the objective is, as its US name would imply, to bump enemies into walls to kill them, jump on enemies to kill them, and jump obstacles to avoid death. The gameplay is incredibly simple, but surprisingly addicting, and the game overall is cute and fun in small doses, though it’s not as engaging as some of the other games on the disc. Burnin’ Rubber is solid and fun to play, but you won’t spend a lot of time with it unless you’re a fan of old arcade games.

Caveman Ninja – 16-bit console owners will know this better as Joe and Mac, but this is essentially the same game either way. Caveman Ninja is a side-scrolling platform shooter, and can basically be described as a more linear Adventure Island clone of sorts. You control one of two cavemen (Joe and Mac, presumably) as they fight off evil cavemen and dinosaurs in a quest to save their tribe’s women. The gameplay is solid and lots of fun, and you have a few different types of weapons at your disposal. The game also allows you to heal by eating food dropped by enemies at the cost of having your life bar degrade when you’re not eating, which can allow skilled players to keep going for a while without losing a life. The game also offers some branching paths for those who like replay value in their arcade games, and with two-player simultaneous play, Caveman Ninja is overall one of the best games on the disc.

Crude Buster – 16-bit console owners will know this better as Two Crude Dudes, though the arcade version of the game is a good bit better, as it allows for two-player simultaneous play instead of alternating play. Crude Buster is something of a spiritual successor to Bad Dudes which takes place in the in the far-flung future, in a world where New York has turned into a wasteland after a nuclear attack in… 2010. Oops. Anyway, you play as one of two muscular mohawk-sporting bounty hunters on a quest to wreck the forces of an organization known as “Big Valley”, which involves beating the crap out of lots of mutants. This might sound entertaining, but Crude Buster is awkward to play for a lot of reasons. It’s one of the few games that uses three buttons to play, meaning that if you’re using the Wii-mote only you’ll have to use the plus button to pick up and use items, which is annoying. Also, picking up and using environmental objects as weapons is this game’s gimmick, which comes at the cost of any sort of combat depth. Bad Dudes has some interesting attacks that can be performed in addition to normal punches and kicks, but Crude Buster has none of that, and aside from picking up environmental objects and enemies, your attack choices are limited. This game is also one of the more offensive quarter-munchers of the lot, as you’ll face large, powerful enemies that can kill you in two hits a decent amount of the time and fighting them off becomes a hassle in a hurry, as you constantly hear “What a day!” over and over until you want to break your speakers. Even with infinite continues, Crude Buster is unlikely to become one of your favorites on this disc, if only because its theme is really the only thing it has going for it.

Express Raider – Another gimmicky beat-em-up, Express Raider features both side-scrolling fighting levels and shooting gallery levels as you try to rob a train of its money. The side-scrolling stages feel like a cross between Bad Dudes and Urban Champion, as you essentially fight one opponent, beat them, then move on to the next as the stage scrolls forward, and there isn’t a life bar as much as a bar indicating who’s in control of the fight. Filling the bar means you win, you lose when the bar is empty, and the bar fluctuates based on who is dealing damage in the fight. These sections are surprisingly fun and work well enough, and if the whole game was these sections the game would be a fun diversion overall. The shooting gallery sections, on the other hand, are a lot less entertaining. You’re tasked with shooting at a bunch of people as they shoot at you, with the intention being to shoot a set amount of people to move onto the next train section. The problem here is that moving the targeting reticule also moves your character, and not only is the movement slow enough to make these sections frustrating by itself, but you can only take one hit before losing a life, moving around to aim can put you in the way of a bullet if you’re not careful, and the sections in general are rather tedious even with infinite continues. If you can ignore the shooting sections, Express Raider is fun enough when you’re jumping from train car to train car lumping people up, but overall the game is average at best.

Heavy Barrel – This is another iconic Data East title, mostly because it’s a fast-paced and fun shooter with a neat gimmick and two-player simultaneous support. The game is an overhead shooter where you play one of two soldiers blasting their way into some evil warlord’s facility for some reason or another that, ultimately, isn’t important. The game borrows a few basic concepts from other, similar games, such as Contra with its constantly changing weaponry types and such, but the big gimmick of the game is the Heavy Barrel, an experimental gun that fills the screen with massive pain for a limited time once you collect all of its components. Heavy Barrel is a fun shooter, though it also shows its need to suck down your quarters like crazy in the later levels, as with other games on the disc. The infinite continues option makes this a fun and furious game to play around with if you can accept that you’ll probably only have a special weapon for about five seconds at a time, though easily frustrated players might find that their nostalgia doesn’t quite hold out.

Lock ‘n Chase – This is Pac Man without power pellets and with closing gates, more or less. You drive your car around, collecting dots as other vehicles try to crash into you, which does exactly what you would expect. Random power-ups spawn on the map that, if collected, can stun the enemy vehicles for a few seconds, and there are gates around the maze that periodically open and close, which can either allow you a quick getaway if you get through with an enemy following you or can end you if you bump into a closed gate with someone on your tail. As Pac Man clones go, Lock ‘n Chase isn’t a particularly good one, as it does very little to make it different from Pac Man, and what it does differently is frankly worse than what Pac Man does. As a historical curiosity it’s cute to play once or twice, but overall this is another weak entry on the disc.

Magical Drop III – This is easily one of the best games on the disc. Magical Drop is a puzzle game series where you control a little guy at the bottom of the screen as he re-arranges colored gems into groups. Gems descend from the top of the screen, which your avatar can collect, though he can only collect one color at a time. You can then drop those gems together in a new location on the board, and groups of three or more are eliminated when they all come together on-screen, either by you dropping them together or by them falling into place after you eliminate other gems. The concept is easy enough that you should be able to figure it out in a few minutes, and Magical Drop III allows you to play through a few different game modes, including Survival and Versus, so there’s plenty of reason to spend time with the game. Frankly, Magical Drop III is a game you’ll have a lot of fun with, and while some of the games here are worthwhile because of nostalgia or the lack of quarter eating, this is worth playing because it’s just an overall good game.

Peter Pepper’s Ice Cream Factory – This is the sequel to Burger Time, though it never quite got the recognition of its predecessor, largely because it’s not as interesting a game. Like Burger Time, you run around a maze trying to knock stuff into other stuff, but this time you’re knocking giant ice cream blobs into giant cones. Also like Burger Time, you’re doing this while dodging hostile foes, who can be flattened with the foodstuffs you’re trying to position in place. Unlike Burger Time, however, you’re kicking the ice cream blobs horizontally instead of dropping them downward, which changes the dynamics of play a bit, and the enemies are a good bit more hostile than they were in the last game. Also, Peter can jump this time around, and he can also lob ice cream balls into the air to land them in the cones or knock out enemies, which is interesting in theory but hard to make use of in practice. It’s not that Peter Pepper’s Ice Cream Factory is bad, so much as it is that it’s not as good as its predecessor, as it’s a good bit more frustrating than the prior game. Someone looking for a more challenging Burger Time will probably have a lot of fun with the game, but most players won’t spend a lot of time with this.

Secret Agent – This is essentially a side-scrolling shooter with beat-em-up elements built in, and feels like a cross between Bad Dudes and Rolling Thunder with a Heavy Barrel gimmick thrown in for good measure. You play as a numbered secret agent who’s attempting to stop a nuclear strike on the US by obliterating every terrorist in between him and the warhead. The pacing of Secret Agent is its biggest positive, as it breaks up the gameplay at various points by throwing in different ways to play. You start out parachuting out of a plane, follow that up with a regular Rolling Thunder combat section, then jump onto a side-scrolling shooting section in the very next stage. Two additional stages are based around underwater shooting segments, and even in the regular walk-and-shoot sections the game gives you other weapons and items to play with in addition to your pistol or, when that runs out of bullets, your fists and feet. Like Heavy Barrel, you can also collect components of a “Golden Gun”, which, like the Heavy Barrel, rips apart anything it shoots, but only for a limited time. Secret Agent is, in a lot of respects, an evolved version of Data East’s beat-em-up formula games, and it’s actually a lot of fun for a game that isn’t as notable as its predecessors. Secret Agent ends up being one of the better games on the disc simply because it does what it does very well, and it’s a fun and well designed side-scrolling shooter/beat-em-up hybrid.

Side Pocket – As you might infer, this is an arcade pool game, and as you might expect, it’s not very good. The game works exactly as you’d expect: you use your stick to hit the cue ball at other colored balls with the intention of sinking one or more colored balls at one shot. Side Pocket tries to mix this up a bit by offering bonus stages where you can try to sink tricky shots, as well as placing stars in pockets to encourage you to shoot for them, and in a good game these sorts of bonuses would be great fun. Side Pocket, however, is not even remotely a good game, and one must wonder if anyone on the staff in charge of the compilation actually played this before green lighting it for this compilation. For one thing, any shot that doesn’t sink a ball counts as a lost life, and a scratch also costs a life, meaning that a scratch with no ball sunk loses TWO LIVES. If that doesn’t make your virtual wallet cry a little, I don’t know what will. Further, the controls for turning the stick are stiff and it can take forever to position a shot, the balls don’t move nearly far enough when struck, and the game is, quite frankly, boring. Video pool can be fun when done properly, but Side Pocket is a quarter-obliterating mess that won’t entertain you for any more than a few minutes at best.

Street Hoop – This is arcade-style three-on-three basketball with a weird urban theme that was probably “edgy” at the time. Now, it’s just kind of silly. On the plus side, the game is actually still fairly amusing. You play three-on-three basketball, and stealing, blocking, shooting and dunking are all very easy to do. Each team is ranked by their abilities on the court, and the teams are varied and interesting enough that you can have some fun with the game more than once. As a single player game the CPU is a bit rough as you progress, and the game kind of feels like a less exciting NBA Jam, but with two players it’s pretty amusing and overall Street Hoop is an acceptable addition to this compilation.

Super Real Darwin – Wow, okay, this game is bad. Super Real Darwin is your typical overhead shooter with an evolution gimmick: as you collect power-ups, your ship “evolves” into more powerful forms with more powerful weaponry. While the concept is fantastic, however, the gameplay is unfortunately not, as the controls are stiff, evolving leaves you open to death, and the game uses a checkpoint system when you die, meaning that you’ll probably be stuck on the same section for hours until you can adjust. The game isn’t terribly aesthetically pleasant, either, and the game is bland outside of its gimmick, leaving you with little motivation to force yourself head first through the brick wall that is its learning curve. Super Real Darwin might not be the worst game on this disc, but it’s incredibly close.

Wizard Fire – This is an overhead action game with mild RPG elements that feels like an amalgam of Dungeon Magic, Arcus Odyssey and the Capcom Dungeons and Dragons games. You can choose from one of five characters, each of whom has a distinct positive over the others, and plow through waves of enemies, picking up ability-boosting items as you go. Each character attacks in different ways, and each has different bonus-damage attacks they can perform. Each character can also cast magic, which charges up as you waste enemies, allowing you to unleash powerful spells for heavy damage or to transform into powerful beings capable of ruining enemies with ease. Once again, this is a game that makes it apparent it’s trying to eat your quarters later in the game, but that aside, it’s a great time with two players, and it’s also one of the best games on the disc overall.

There’s a decent amount of games on the disc, as you can see, and several are quite good and worth playing more than once. Each game offers five achievements to earn, which can be as simple as making it to the end of a stage or as complex as performing some sort of tricky in-game action or some challenging task, and unlocking them unlocks all sorts of music tracks and archive images for your perusal. Unlocking all five achievements on any game unlocks a “Special” mode, which is generally a remixed, more challenging version of the game for those who love the original and want a bit more of a challenge. You can save your game any time from the options menu of each game in case you want to come back to the point you’re at later, and while most games won’t take any more than an hour to complete if they actually have an ending, this is a nice feature to have in case you have to step away for a bit. You can also assign a Mii to yourself when you start the game, which allows you to tie your high scores to said Mii in case you want to show off how awesome you are.

That said, there are some distinct issues with Data East Arcade Classics, with the biggest one of the lot being that a whole lot of these games aren’t very good. I understand that, with Data East defunct, while G-Mode has acquired the rights to many of Data East’s back catalog, they might not own ALL of it. This is reasonable. Further, it makes perfect sense that the licensed games Data East has released over the years wouldn’t be eligible for release in such a collection, so it’s understandable that Captain America and the Avengers or Robocop won’t be seeing daylight on a compilation any time soon. That said, maybe half of the games on this compilation are “good” and several are outright awful, and Data East has a fantastic collection of games that G-Mode could mine from for such compilations. Bloody Wolf, Night Slashers, either of the sequels to Caveman Ninja/Joe and Mac, ROAD AVENGER (which I would easily buy twice, I swear), Spinmaster, Midnight Resistance, Dark Legend, and/or Karate Champ could have easily been subbed into this compilation instead of some of the less enjoyable games on here now, and the disc would have been far better for it. G-mode DOES own all of these games, according to their Data East website, so there’s no reason some of these games couldn’t have found their way onto this disc, and while individual tastes are certainly going to differ, the fact is that about a third of the games on this disc are not notable, not entertaining, and not going to be played by many people more than twice.

Beyond that, the usual suspects that plague most compilations rear their ugly heads. These games are all rather old, over two decades in some cases and over one decade in all cases, and some gamers simply are not going to get into the nostalgia experience. Several of the games on the disc are good enough to stand on their own, nostalgia or no, but several are games that are only going to appeal to diehard gamers, if anyone, and even as a budget release that might be a hard sell. On a larger compilation like Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection you can take the risk because there are a whole lot of games on the disc to play and there are bound to be SOME you like, but with a fifteen game disc where most of the games are either an hour long or are “earn points until you die” games, this is a lot riskier. There’s also a lack of online play and leaderboards, so you can’t play with friends online and can’t upload your boast-worthy scores for the world to see, making this a local experience only. Data East Arcade Classics also contains one of the lowest game counts in a compilation disc yet, excluding the various PS1 era Namco compilations. SNK Arcade Classics comes close, with only sixteen games, but most other compilations start at twenty and go up from there, and many such compilations were released at a twenty dollar asking price, making this seem a bit over-priced in comparison. Granted, if all fifteen games were GREAT this wouldn’t be a concern, but frankly, this isn’t the case.

The bottom line is that Data East Arcade Classics is a game that’s only going to appeal to fans of Data East or diehard retro gamers, as there’s too many flops and too little content on the disc to make it worthwhile for most players. To be fair, there are some good to great games on the disc, like Bad Dudes, Secret Agent, Wizard Fire, Heavy Barrel, Caveman Ninja and Magical Drop, and hey, Burger Time will always be a classic. The ability to play every game with two players is nice, as is the option to save your game at any time and unlock “special” modes of the games. However, Street Hoop is really only above average and most of the rest of the games are noticeably flawed to the point where most players won’t spend much time with them, rendering about half of the disc a novelty at best and worthless at worst. Further, as a compilation of old games, this isn’t going to appeal to many players who don’t get the nostalgia factor, there aren’t enough games on the disc to make it worthwhile in comparison to most other compilations, and the lack of any sort of online functionality hurts a bit. If you’re a fan of Data East or just miss the old arcade experience, Data East Arcade Classics has enough games and enough of the right games to be worth a look, but younger gamers won’t get much from this and folks looking for a more definitive Data East collection will walk away from this disappointed.

The Scores:
Game Modes: ABOVE AVERAGE
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: MEDIOCRE
Replayability: MEDIOCRE
Balance: MEDIOCRE
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: ABOVE AVERAGE

FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Data East Arcade Classics is pretty much only going to appeal to fans of Data East or diehard arcade game fans, as it has a few worthwhile classics for those who must have them, but also has a lot of games you’ll not touch more than once. The games look and sound arcade perfect, and the presentation of the compilation is solid and inoffensive. The disc has some great classic games, like Bad Dudes, Heavy Barrel and Burger Time, along with some genuinely great titles like Secret Agent, Wizard Fire, Caveman Ninja and Magical Drop, so anyone looking for a Data East Collection with some worthwhile content will be pleased. That said, the rest of the games are adequate at best and abysmal at worst, which is doubly depressing considering both that Data East has some far better titles in their arcade library and that there are so few games on the disc to begin with that each stinker hurts a lot. The lack of any sort of online component, be it for online play or score comparisons, only helps to make the collection more of a niche product, and anyone who doesn’t have any nostalgic feelings about these games isn’t going to find enough quality gaming here to make the disc worth it. Data East Arcade Classics will be a fine purchase for diehard old-school arcade gaming fans or anyone who loves the company, but casual arcade fans or younger gamers won’t find much to do with this collection after a few hours, making it hard to recommend overall.

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