“Retro” Review: Data East Arcade Classics

Platform: Nintendo Wii

Developer: G1M2

Publisher: Majesco

# of Players: 1 – 2

ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

Official Site

Score: B+

The word “retro” is in quoted in the title above for two reasons, one being the Wii isn’t exactly a dead system (well, depending on who you ask) and two, I didn’t  get the chance to review this collection at all when it was first released back in 2010. It’s getting a good look now because a friend who got a Wii for his kids a while back but has never played anything on it himself saw this in a closeout bin and as he’s an ancient fan of arcade games, he practically ran over some slow shoppers poking around in that bin to grab a copy. Anyway, no one was injured in that incident, so it’s all good. However, I also grabbed a copy and ended up getting some cramped fingers and sore thumbs from spending too much time reliving some great memories. Data East Arcade Classics packs in 15 games from the now defunct coin-op company that range from great to so-so and while some key titles that probably should have been on this disc are missing, it’s clear that this was supposed to be the first in an ongoing series. While the lack of certain key titles from the era and any sort of difficulty adjustment keep this from being flawless, it’s still recommended as a trip down memory lane or as an introduction to some really fun games for the kids.

Being an old fart and all with a long arcade history myself, I remember about 11 of the games here and for me, most have held up quite well in terms of the fun factor. Data East Company (DECO) may not have been the biggest arcade game company of the 80’s and 90’s but you can’t ignore some of the games on this disc for their historical value. Burgertime? It still makes me really hungry when I play it. It’s funny and weird trying to make those giant hamburgers while being chased around by other food. Hell, in today’s America, I’d be putting that hotdog and egg on the damn burgers with the rest of the toppings, calling it the Burgertime Special and making a mint selling that new gut-buster. The game was fun back then and it’s just as fun today. The same can’t be said for its sequel, Peter Pepper’s Ice Cream Factory. I never got the hang of it back in the day and now I’m just baffled by it. Baffled and amused, as yes, it’s a funny game to play. But this is one of those games that takes a lot more practice and patience to master. It’s not Burgertime, but that’s a good thing that it doesn’t copy the original’s gameplay in my book…

Lock ‘n Chase is a simple, but still fast paced and fun Pac-Man inspired hit that hooks you in and keeps you going until you’ve turned off your Wii. You’ll definitely have dreams about mazes and being chased by some goofy looking cops, unless you somehow skip this classic for some reason. Bump ‘n Jump (called Burnin’ Rubber here) is still as wacky as ever as you race and bounce up seemingly randomly generated tracks. For all the mayhem, I’ve always found the game strangely relaxing once you get into a rhythm. Then again, given that rhythm usually lasts about thirty seconds at most until you mistime a jump or a heavier car slams you into the side of the road, it’s perhaps not as relaxing as I thought.

Magical Drop III certainly looks relaxing with those cute graphics and colors popping all over. But that deceptive art style masks a highly addictive and increasingly challenging puzzle game. In solo or versus play, it’s all-intensity and controller gripping, teeth gnashing fun. Just remember to place a few cushions between you and your opponent, as there have been known cases of elbow flying when thing get heated. Speaking of flying elbows, the beat ’em up is represented here with a few classics, Bad Dudes vs Dragon Ninja and Crude Buster. Both are Double Dragon/Final Fight inspired craziness and chock full of beefy, burly sprites beating up on other beefy burly sprites. Not the prettiest games in the genre, but fun and funny enough to get the job done multiple times.

Mixing in a side scrolling brawler with shooting sections on foot and on horseback, Express Raider is a game I’d forgotten about entirely until I saw the title screen and I started laughing. The game is a Western-themed chunk of fun set on and around a moving train that seems to always be in some sort of danger. Think of a heavily condensed 16-bit version of Red Dead Redemption crossed with Emperor of the North Pole and you’ll sort of get the idea. It’s definitely a step up over the older arcade hits such as Wild Western and Gunfighter. Other than the oddball color palette, the game is pretty cool to blast through over and over. One game I’d heard of but never played until now was Secret Agent, a pretty amazing Rolling Thunder update that yes, is really supposed to be a James Bond game. You get a ridiculous amount of shooting action here with an intense motorcycle chase, undersea combat action, skydiving and more. There’s also plenty of fist to face stuff here and overall, this one was a really nice surprise.

Speaking of surprises, Wizard Fire was a shocker because like Express Raider, I’d forgotten about it until I saw the intro and title screen. Everything in this isometric Gauntlet-inspired game is as it was when I played it in the arcades. The fully voiced cinemas (and yes, they’re a bit garbled, but that’s how it was in the arcade!), great visuals and non-stop action pull you in right away, and as each character plays differently, you’ll be going through this psuedo-RPG many times. There’s always a mid-boss or boss fight impending, enemies aren’t shy about swarming you if you move too quickly through a stage and overall, this is one of the highlights on the disc.Taito also did a few of these isometric fantasy action games, but I recall liking Wizard Fire more just because of all that voice work and more chaotic action.

Heavy Barrel is another hit here, a run ‘n gun that’s best with a second player to share the load. Granted, blasting enemies and grabbing weapon upgrade drops can get competitive if you or your couch buddy get greedy, but even back in the arcades, there was often a sense of fairness even when playing with perfect strangers. You both wanted the same upgrades at close to the same time so that you both could get that big gun and clear out as much of a stage as possible together. Still, I wish there are an official Nintendo-issue arcade stick for games like this, as playing with the Wii Remote or Classic Controller lessens the experience a bit too much for my tastes.

Caveman Ninja (or Joe & Mac) is still one of the funniest platformers out there, thanks to the character art and many humorous animations that crack you up right from the beginning. For some reason, there were a LOT of caveman-themed arcade and home console games during this period, but I think this one is near the top of the pack even after all this time. It’s got the looks, length and challenge where it counts and like any great arcade game, is one you’ll come back to when you need a lift. I’d have to say the quirkiest game in this is is SRD (Super Real Darwin), an offbeat but visually bland top-down shooter where you blast enemies and collect “DNA” samples that can transform your ship. It’s not terrible by any means, but I think my mood about the game is low because I’ve played the Sega Mega Drive port, Darwin 4081 to death and I was surprised at how similar the two games are. That said, it’s still a decent game that, while not top of the class for the genre, makes for an interesting diversion if you’ve never played it.

I wish I had better things to say about Side Pocket, a flat billiards game that manages to make playing pool boring thanks to a lifeless top-down display and not so much in the way of flair. Granted, it’s a perfect bar/pub quarter muncher, is super easy to play and yes, has plenty of historical appeal for arcade fans. But I’d rather play something like Midnight Resistance, the great Contra clone somehow left off of this collection with a few other important DECO releases. Granted, I understand ownership of some of their games has passed onto other companies, but it’s still annoying to get a few duds in what should have been a collection of hit after hit. Finally, while not a dud, Street Hoop, is another game I ignored in arcades except once when I was waiting for a Space Lords coin-op to free up at one arcade. For a basketball game, it’s actually a lot of fun, particularly if you have a sports fan in the house to play with who doesn’t mind the oversize sprites and lack of licensed players or actual teams. It’s no NBA JAM by a long three-point shot, but it’s bright and colorful and yes, fun to get into for a but if you’re willing to try it.

As far as presentation, developer G1M2 has recreated or emulated these games perfectly on the Wii, but the lack of user dip switch options from the get-go really hurts the collection. Sure, the default settings are great, but it would have been even better to allow players to fiddle around and make the games easier or harder if they wanted. The only way to do this is to work hard and unlock Special Mode, which requires going through every game and reaching certain goals, something that’s a bit pesky if there are games you really don’t like playing over and over to get a high score. Granted, if you’re NOT a big arcade game nut, you won’t care, if you’re a kid playing this because your parents got you this, you’ll care less and if you’ve just wanted to dive into a bunch of games you’d heard about but never played before, you’ll care about and much as a dog can speak Esperanto.

I did love that everything is presented in its original screen formats and from what I can tell, sounds are also as they were, but don’t expect any marquee panel graphics to make of for lost screen real estate. I’m not too fond of those distracting additions in these collections (as I prefer to concentrate on playing the game, not imagining my TV has turned into a game cabinet) but a lot of classic games love those extras, so they should have been here as an option. As for how this looks in HD? Well, let’s just say I’m glad to still have a nicely sized SDTV here and appreciate old-school 2D art. At the end of the day, I’m just really glad that the dev team didn’t gloss thing up with HD “remakes” of these titles. If all you have is a HD setup, try not to complain about the resolution if you don’t like messing with your TV’s settings or how some text looks awful in HD (unless you scale back to 480p and take things in as they were in the good old days).

There are a bunch of cool unlockables (music tracks, marquee art, game sell sheets and such) here that require some effort, but most can be had without busting a controller. You can link your Mii to the game for profile and high score reasons, but you don’t get anything weird like seeing your Mii in Magical Drop or anything like that. Overall, this is a no-frills set of decent and interesting games that a lot of older gamers will smile at, no kids at all will remember and anyone in-between will like or hate depending on how they feel about the graphics and simple gameplay compared to some of today’s titles. Me, I’m in the happy, happy former camp, but I’d really love to see more DECO games get the spotlight and not as a Wii exclusive, either. This set may be hit or miss, but it’s definitely worth a buy as a historical record of a tiny slice of the past that’s gone for good in all too many places…

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3 thoughts on ““Retro” Review: Data East Arcade Classics

  1. oh.. I wish they would release this on Xbox as well! I love being able to play old arcade classics and still gain achievements in the new generation consoles 😀 I rarely even use my Wii though 😦
    /mE

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    • I was hoping this would appear on other consoles too, as it’s a pretty cool set of games some have forgotten. I’m not sure if it was released outside the US, either… By the way, add Taito Legends Power Up and the two Capcom Classics Collection games to your PSP want list, as those are great to have around.

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  2. Pingback: Video Game Appreciation 101: Wii Library Update (New Additions) | "DESTROY ALL FANBOYS!"

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