The Data East Arcade Classics set is the latest compilation to come along that tries to help you relive the memories of wasting far too many quarters at the pizza joint. It includes 15 games from the developer's archives, and they have widely varying levels of enjoyment. Controls are accommodated through either the Wii remote on its own, in tandem with the nunchuk, or by using the classic or GameCube controller instead.
The first thing you'll notice is that this is a fairly bare-bones collection. Even the menu and option screens seem to whisper "yeah, sorry, we threw this together over the weekend." Everything is there, just in an underwhelming presentation. The only technical oversight seems to be the lack of an intelligent save system. Don't expect it to remember who you are from session to session, and unless you explicitly save your games within each title, the data will be lost. Other than that, everything works pretty much how you would expect. On the upside, the booklet that comes with the game details a lot of achievement goals one has to meet in order to unlock special content, so that can help you muster up the energy for continuing a few of the weaker titles.
But on to the games:
- Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja — First off you gotta love a game whose backstory decries the host of "ninja-related activities" that are the scourge of the nation. (Apparently, this is back when people thought of ninjas as bad, instead of totally sweet.) This is a typical side-scrolling fighter, only with some quality humor touches added in. You're out to rescue "President Ronnie," and every completed level ends with a fist pump and a cheap sound file of "I'm BAD!" Gameplay is decent, but it's those little touches that make it worth more than just a quick once-through of your time.
- BurgerTime – One of the few original ideas in their arsenal, BurgerTime is still quality gaming all these years later. Basically you're a chef running around trying to drop layers of burgers onto a bun in the proper order. As you do this you have to avoid rogue condiments and other food stuffs. It's not easy (and it gets even harder), but it's the addictive game play that will keep you cooking till late into the evening.
- Burnin' Rubber — This is a prototype Spy Hunter-esque game, where you're basically trying to not get run off the road by all the other drivers. In other words, it simulates a morning commute. Oh, and you have to jump sometimes! The controls are very clunky and unresponsive, but you can still kill a decent amount of time trying to outsmart the lag with more button presses.
- Caveman Ninja — This is like Bad Dudes, only with Cavemen Ninjas (hence the title). Seriously, it's the same game, only with more updated graphics, smoother controls, and far less humor (and replay value). Not a bad game, but the first sign of several that Data East mainly specialized in cutting cookies.
- Crude Buster — This is basically Bad Dudes II (you'll be hearing this reference a couple more times, so just get used to it; because if you play all of these games you'll have to get even more used to it). On the plus side, it has a lot of the same character and style of that title. On the minus side, it doesn't do anything else.
- Express Raider – This one was a mixed bag for me. Although it's yet another side-scrolling fighter (yep, Bad Dudes…) its setting gives it some possibilities for game variation. You are a cowboy trying to fight off baddies on a moving train. So you're hopping cars, kicking tail… except that the controls and responsiveness are absolutely horrid and you'll spend most of your time smashing every button you can find trying to get some better response. This has to be chalked up to a good idea left under-developed.
- Heavy Barrel -- A Raiden-meets-Galaga shooter, Heavy Barrel is pretty solid in the playability department. Wave after wave of projectiles come at you, and the object is (wait for it) to blow them up before they blow you up. Sounds crazy, right? But seriously, you really do need to blow them up first, otherwise it's bad news for you.
- Lock 'n' Chase — This is little more than a bad Pac-Man clone which is done up as cops and robbers. Nothing to see here.
- Magical Drop III — There was a Magical Drop I and/or II? Perhaps the title has more to do with the fact that you need to hit at least three of the same colored balls for them to disappear from the board. Sound familiar?
- Peter Pepper's Ice Cream Factory — This is an actual sequel to BurgerTime, and as such you can expect a slight variation on the formula. This time you're trying to reunite ice cream scoops with their cones. Although it would be easy to bag this as an imitation, it's hard to get around that it's still a solid gameplay formula. However, be aware that this one feels about twice as hard as the original. Between faster baddies and more spread out food pieces, it can quickly turn into a headache.
- Secret Agent — Yes, more Bad Dudes… While the layout of this one — with a secret agent running, flying, driving and overall agenting through the different levels — would seem to offer a bit more variety, the execution of it is so rudimentary that it just ends up feeling like a paint-by-numbers shoot-fest.
- Side Pocket — This is a legitimately serviceable pool simulator. It is nothing fancy (in fact, it's downright basic), but it does its one job admirably well. Although the aiming guide feels a bit off, you can quickly compensate and enjoy a nice game on the felt.
- Street Hoop — Quite possibly the best gem in this collection, Street Hoop is an easy and fun basketball game, a la NBA Jam. The controls are very responsive, and the gameplay is just over-the-top enough to encourage some no-rules street ball. With some of the better graphics in this collection, this one feels every bit as good as the old console game of yore.
- Super Real Darwin — A solid shooter. Much like Heavy Barrel, only this time with an actual space ship instead of a running commando. Not an original formula, but very well executed and as enjoyable as any others of the type.
- Wizard Fire — Not bad to play through a time or two, Wizard Fire unfortunately doesn't offer much more. It's a plodding roaming wizard RPG, only not as fun or focused as some others you might be thinking of. The graphics also appear to be unpolished in spots, and it can be difficult to tell treasure from foe, and glitch from damage.
After playing through this collection, I'm more included to believe the "Data" part of the title than I am the "Classics" bit. This Data East collection is banking on the fact that your need for nostalgia will cloud your senses in a few other key areas. Simply put, there isn't a lot of compelling content here. Several of the games play out in basically the same way as others in the collection (with keenly modified graphics). The other main issue is the fact that many of the games are minimally changed versions of better games that can found elsewhere. Did we really need a Pac-Man clone? Or a Columns clone? No, but Data East's budget for that year might have. And finally, there is the issue of game play, which is simply weak on several of the titles. If you are a die-hard fan of a handful of these games, then what's presented here appears to be faithfully reproduced and should fill a retro void. Otherwise, even at its budget price, it's difficult to recommend this as a purchase. It is more like a good weekend rental that allows you to relive either some real or imagined glory days.
Data East Arcade Classics is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Animated Blood, Mild Suggestive Themes, and Mild Violence.