Data East Arcade Classics Review
Posted by Sean Aaron
Some golden oldies from an arcade pioneer
Data East Corp. was one of the original wave of Japanese video game developers that had their wares appear in American arcades at the beginning of the 1980s. They didn't have as big a string of hits as contemporaries like Namco, Konami, Taito or Sega, but they did release a few titles that gamers above a "certain age" will remember seeing in their neighbourhood arcade or 7-11.
Like SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 this is a genre-spanning collection of classic arcade games. Because Data East was more or less a "second string" developer, a lot of these titles are only likely to be familiar to people who spent a lot of time in arcades in the 80s and 90s – and even then there's probably two or three mystery games here. Still, given Data East's level of output they're certainly deserving of a collection like this and their catalogue is sufficiently large enough that more compilations of their games could easily be produced.
A collection like this cannot be judged solely on the games themselves, because anyone can repackage an emulator and dump it on the market to milk the aging nostalgia gamer. Thankfully developer G1M2 have put together a pretty decent package with extras that should please fans of arcade classics. Echoing the SNK collection, each game has three medals to earn by completing goals like beating a high score or other achievements. Attaining the first goal unlocks music tracks, achieving three will grant you access to various files in the Gallery (including marquees, flyers and bezel art) and meeting the requirements for all five will unlock a harder "Special" mode for the game.
There's a pretty good range of games on offer: BurgerTime, Peter Pepper's Ice Cream Factory, Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja, Burnin' Rubber, Caveman Ninja, Crude Buster, Express Raider, Heavy Barrel, Lock ‘n' Chase, Magical Drop III, Secret Agent, Side Pocket, Street Hoop, Super Real Darwin and Wizard Fire. Naturally there are some duds here: Peter Pepper's Ice Cream Factory is certainly rare, but you only need to play it a few times to find out why as figuring out how to play the game is neither as easy or as much fun as its predecessor, Burger Time. We also have to wonder what the point is of having a sub-par game of video billiards in a collection on a console that has two superior variants on WiiWare and in the ubiquitous Wii Play – especially considering what else could have taken that slot. Nevertheless the quality of the other games compensates for these two and it's unlikely any arcade gaming fan will go wanting even if they don't have the feelings of nostalgia as evoked in this reviewer.
We couldn't find any fault in the visual department aside from the fact that widescreen displays aren't supported. Whilst we can appreciate these games were originally presented on 4:3 raster CRTs, the fact is that flat panel 16:9 televisions are now the standard and both the non-Sega VCA releases and Namco Museum Remix are pre-formatted for widescreen displays – the latter even uses the bezel art for the pillarboxing of the display to great effect, which seems something of a missed opportunity here. Even if you take into account the fact that many homes in North America still have 4:3 televisions that doesn't justify omitting a widescreen option for everyone else. At least 480p vertical resolution is supported, though widescreen television owners will note fonts in older games and the dots in Lock 'n' Chase have funny shapes due to the more rectangular pixel shape you get with a modern display.
The controls aren't an issue given that most of these games were played with only a joystick and one or two buttons and in one case a great argument can be made for playing old games in a collection of this sort rather than using an emulator. Heavy Barrel was one of a few games to use a special "rotary joystick" which players could twist to change the direction of fire and allow for a Robotron-level of control over movement and shooting direction, whilst also allowing for multiple fire buttons. In an emulator like MAME the rotary control is simply rendered as clockwise and anti-clockwise, which is actually a pretty poor solution on a conventional gamepad and compromises the gameplay. Here the developers have mapped different aiming directions to the right on the Classic Controller whilst the (L) and (R) buttons are used for grenades and fire, respectively, giving the player as close an experience to the actual arcade game as possible using a gamepad. Naturally you can remap button presses as you see fit (great for CC Pro owners who want to use the lower triggers for Heavy Barrel).
Of course there are a few things we found disagreeable: namely the amount of loading screens we saw going back-and-forth between game submenus and the extras as well as the auto-save functionality (or lack thereof). Auto-saving is pretty common in games today and you'd probably take it for granted that after you've earned the high score in Burgertime or remapped (Y) on your Classic Controller to be the primary button in every game, this information would be saved. Whilst it's true that your goal achievement data is saved, it's not the case with game data. If you fail to choose the "Save" option before exiting from a game menu back to the main menu you'll find the next time you play a game your old scores will be wiped out as will your control settings. It may seem like a small thing, but we were kind of hoping that the days of having to load and save in collections like this had gone out a long time ago. Just remember that every time you're done with a game you want to "Save" and, unless it's your first time playing, choose "Load" rather than "New" game when you tuck in. On the plus side you can save mid-game, which is great for keeping your place whilst you attack the Burgertime world record!
The lack of configurable game options also seems like a fairly substantial omission. Players are faced with whatever difficulty level was chosen by the developers and cannot change the starting number of lives or the score required for a bonus life. It's not a huge problem, but it does suggest that possibly less attention was paid to the details than maybe should have been; especially since the latter options are universally found on other game compilations and all Virtual Console Arcade releases for the Wii.
Data East may not have had the golden touch when it came to making arcade games, but they certainly had a few gems in their catalogue, which Data East Arcade Classics does a good job of sampling. Whether you like brawlers, shooters, puzzlers or sports you'll find something to occupy you here. It's a shame the developers didn't do a better job of the overall presentation and the save system really needs some work, but if you like the mouldy oldies or want to see what arcade gaming was all about towards the end of the 20th century, it's certainly worth your while to add this to your Wii library.