Update: Version 1.01 has been rolled out and that's the version that will be available on the Switch eShop. The dashboard icon art now displays the correct title screen graphics for the game and the charge up KI attack is now accessible in-game. Sadly, you're still unable to access any DIP switch options or completely turn off bilinear filtering. Our final review score remains unchanged.
Some video games inadvertently become a part of popular culture. Either by sheer design brilliance, popping up in cult movies and TV series or some hilarious combination of ‘Engrish’. Johnny Turbo's Arcade: Bad Dudes (originally known as Bad Dudes Vs. DragonNinja in the arcades) somehow manages to tick all those boxes and, three decades after the original arcade release, returns to shine on Switch. But are these dudes still bad enough to warrant your attention?
After the runaway success of 1986 Double Dragon, many companies decided that they wanted a piece of the two-player scrolling fighter pie. Arcade salons were quickly flooded with games of the genre of mixed quality. In 1988 Data East joined the fray with this game. It borrowed the two-player mode from Double Dragon, but it opted instead for a single-plane of fighting with the ability to jump between two different height levels much like SEGA’s Shinobi. Despite critical success and several home ports across many home system, Data East games tend not to be as revered as other Japanese companies such as Capcom or Konami, but looking back at it now decades later it is hard to deny the fact that Bad Dudes is one of the finest video game equivalents of every '80s action/martial arts movies a whole generation of today’s male adults was raised on.
Crime is out of control and even the White House is no safe haven from the DragonNinja gang who just managed to snatch up President Ronnie right out of the Oval Office. For some inexplicable reason, rather than sending in a team of marines, two identical muscle heavy, tank top-wearing twins Blade and Striker are tasked with saving the day. Not even a gang of hundreds of ninjas could be prepared for these odds.
With an infinite number of credits you can complete the game’s seven stages in roughly 20-odd minutes. Two of these are of the auto-scrolling variety, seeing your heroes on top of a truck and a train. Don’t think for a second you will have much room to appreciate the backgrounds, the screen is constantly being filled with enemies of the ninja persuasion, harassing our heroes with an assortment of ninja weaponry such as katanas, shurikens, caltrops, nunchucks, knifes, self-immolation by fire (!) and even the old faithful knuckle sandwich if you let them get close enough.
Somewhat evening the odds most of your (surprisingly not really) stealthy foes go down with a single hit from your fists, feet or weapons dropped by red-coloured dogi-wearing ninjas. On the other hand the bosses that await you at the end of each level (and the marathon of the lot awaiting you at the end of level seven) take several hits before giving up and are a reminder of the game’s honest design motto: squeeze you out of as many quarters as it possibly could.
Even decades later, the controls are quite satisfying. For a two-button attack/jump setup, Blade and Striker are able to perform a stunning variety of punches, kicks and jump kicks depending on the timing of your button presses. Pressing up and jump or down and jumps enables you to move level accordingly, with a slightly awkward need of hitting down and attack to pick up items dropped by the aforementioned red ninjas. Unless you pick up nunchucks, your attack range is rather short so you need to keep your wits about you at all times because even after you get hit, there is no invincibility period meaning you can lose a life very quickly if you end up ganged up by a dozen ninjas.
The graphics have aged gracefully, with lovely detailed backgrounds (eagle eyed Data East fans will spot a few references to other games from the developer) and some very clean, stylish sprite art on both the heroic duo and the generous amount of enemy variety. Yes, you will spot several palette swaps as expected from a game developed back in the '80s, more so in one featuring colour-coded ninjas, but the varied range of attack animations more than makes up for that. Bosses were given particular attention, successfully making them memorable to players who might still remember the first time the had to fight Data East’s poster boy Karnov (complete with his trademark fire-eating shenanigans) at the end of the opening level.
Despite all these positive aspects, we must address the emulation wrapper in which this Switch Data East classic is currently presented. Johnny Turbo’s Arcade emulates the game adequately, but is sadly quite lacking in features when measured up to HAMSTER’s product, limiting the player to a choice of a few neat screen filters and a somewhat unnecessary screen ratio selection (anything other than the original 4:3 will produce a squashed image). It is disappointing that we are unable to mess around with the original arcade board DIP switch settings, denying players customisation of the overall experience or even the choice between the US or Japanese version of the game. If you are not aware the game’s endings are different for each region, so we hope you are up for some burgers when you complete your mission, because the game offers up only the US version of the arcade board.
The biggest unexpected omission (and a real cheap ninja kick in the groin) is that one iconic piece of the experience is totally inaccessible in our review copy: The QI charge attack! It is even demonstrated during the attract mode but holding the attack button in this version does not perform the expected ‘fire’ charging punch. It's not a game breaking omission, but that iconic attack is a necessity for speed-runners who want to take down the bosses with maximum time efficiency. We hope a future update will quickly fix this, along with the incorrect fan-made dashboard icon currently being used to represent the game.
Bad Dudes offers up a nostalgic slice of some of the purest arcade fighting action you could find in the late 80s salons and despite not being mandatory it is certainly a more enjoyable experience if you bring a friend to the ninja onslaught. Emulation wrapper kinks aside, the overall experience aged gracefully and it is certainly a great retro choice when you have some minutes to spare and just feel the need to take on an entire ninja army. President Ronnie won't be rescuing himself so if you think you are bad enough, we certainly recommend you consider adding this Data East classic to your virtual arcade Switch salon.