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Lost in the Arcade: Data East Games

Welcome friends, to our fourth installment! Today, we’ll be looking at some of the Data East arcade releases that slipped through the cracks and never found their way onto our beloved Genesis. To be fair, Data East did support the console in a big way, with such great releases like Two Crude Dudes, Captain America & the Avengers, and Atomic Runner. There were just as many games, however, that never got the opportunity to wear the Sega Seal of Quality, and it’s our purpose here to show you just what we missed out on.

So then, on to the games!

 

Act-Fancer

Act-Fancer reminds me a lot of Atomic Robo Kid in that it plays like both a shmup and a RnG shooter. It also has the dreaded “one hit death” dynamic that so many old school shooters did. You barely have time to admire the lush and detailed scenery when BAM! It’s all over. Luckily, Act-Fancer players will also benefit from simple patterns and dumb A.I. (another standard of the genre of the time), so some practice and a bit of patience will allow you to get through the game pretty quickly and with little trouble. It’s only then that you can really appreciate how cool it is. The fusion of living organisms with robotic forms is well done and great to look at, and Act-Fancer‘s extensive power up system will afford you plenty of ways to dispatch the enemy. The length is decent enough, and the platforming elements add to the genre soup that Data East has created here. You’ll be surprised at how decently it pulls it all off.  The graphical style reminds me of Insector X, in that it has minimal parallax and dark colors. This probably wouldn’t have been too much trouble for the Genesis, and would have appealed to a wide audience given its mixture of styles.

 

Desert Assault

Fans of MERCS and Bloody Wolf would have really appreciated a home release of Desert Assault. The mindless four-player action, massive explosions, and expansive stages were perfect for Sega’s little system. I can’t understand why it was passed over for some of the other games Data East chose to bring home. There weren’t too many run-‘n-guns on the Genesis at the time, and none that allowed more than two people to join in the fun at one time. It would have been simply awesome to be able to use either of the Genesis multi taps and blast through this one with some friends, although all the action might have been a bit too much for the stock Genesis. On the Sega CD or 32X, there wouldn’t have been a problem, and a title such as Desert Assault could really have made the 32X more attractive.

 

Dragon Gun

Can someone please tell me why so many great light gun games never made it to the Genesis. There they were: hundreds of miserable Menacer owners, looking for something…anything with which to use their weapon. Sheesh, I guess it takes six AAA to power a white elephant. It was totally unnecessary too, what with games like DragonGun simply begging for a home release. Slaughtering zombies, big bugs, and menacing dragons made for one hell of a shooter, and this would have simply rocked at home. Being one of the most graphically impressive games on this list, Data East could have made DragonGun the best (and only) light gun title for the 32X CD. This would have perhaps limited its audience greatly, but at that point I’d be doing everything to get people to buy a 32X, and the combined power of the two add-ons would have most likely ensured a faithful port. This game was simply too powerful for the stock Genesis, and I doubt the Sega CD could have handled the massive amounts of sprites and rotation going on at any given time. Toss in the mad parallax and huge explosions and there’s no way this could have been done at home without 32-bit power!

 

The Gate of Doom / Dark Seal Series

Diablo fans should undoubtedly play the Gate of Doom/Dark Seal series. Long before that PC classic was all the rage, Data East gave us this wonderful duo of dungeon crawlers that were years ahead of their time. Four selectable player classes (ninja!) and some cool magic effects are only two of the cool features to be found here. I’m a fan of any fantasy action game that’s decent, and toss in multi-player support and some great visuals and I’m hooked, though it would have been nice to have four gamers partake of the action at once. The bosses are simply enormous and manage to be challenging in that classic “hurry-and-insert-more-quarters” style, which makes the series a must-play with friends. The presentation isn’t spectacular, and there are definitely better-looking games out there from the era, but the Genesis could have done Gate of Doom justice, I think. Perhaps the bosses would have taken a hit in size, but that’s what the Sega CD was supposed to be for, right? Data East could have had a moment of clarity and released both parts on a single CD! I guess I’m lucky that it’s still free to dream…

Hippodrome

I can remember when I was the first to beat Hippodrome (otherwise known as Fighting Fantasy) in my local arcade. The massive viking that was the last boss had been having his way with me, and it took me several dollar’s worth of quarters to finally overcome his damn flail. It was worth every penny to me, as I was completely in love with the game. With all the Street Fighter II clones clogging arcades at the time, Hippodrome took a decidedly original turn on the genre. It may not have been the first fighter to feature mythological characters or armed combat, but it was definitely one of the best. Battle everything from Medusas to Driders (half-man, half-spider), and even a dragon. In between stages you can use your winnings to purchase new weapons and potions. Which weapon you choose against a particular foe can mean the difference between success and defeat, and this creates some interesting strategy.

We really could have used Hippodrome on the Genesis, as most of the 3rd party fighting games released were sub par (to say the least). It could have easily been done,  and it would have been a great two-player brawler. Can you imagine a Viking giant taking on a red dragon? Ah, the possibilities…

 

Night Slashers

Poor Night Slashers. Even with today’s technology it gets little respect. Those who want to emulate might be hard pressed to find a working ROM set, and the hunt could take some time. I finally got one working after months of searching and can now fully enjoy this neat little beat-’em-up. Kicking the crap out of zombies and vampires in bloody fashion was fun long before Resident Evil made it popular, and there’s lots of fun to be had here — if you can get past the less-than-stellar music. Ok, I’m perhaps being too generous there; the music pretty much sucks. I find it to be bad enough to turn down, but not as horrible as some people make it out to be. You want bad music? Try Konami’s Violent Storm. Now THERE’s some bad music!

If I close my eyes, I can envision a Sega CD release of Night Slashers with a remixed redbook soundtrack. It would most likely have lost its three-player feature, but that was quite common back in the day. So long as two friends could battle the undead together, I’m sure no one would have thought any worse of it.

 

Nitro Ball

It may not be the most recognizable title on this list, but it is by far my favorite. Holy hell is Nitro Ball a blast to play! Data East took the balls-to-the-walls action of such titles like MERCS and Ikari Warriors and combined it with…pinball, of all things. What’s so incredible is that it works marvelously, and everything that makes both genres so much fun individually are seamlessly integrated. For instance, shooting foes can knock them into bumpers or special bonus targets, which earn you power ups and a ton of points. Each of the five stages has a cool theme, like zombies and space aliens, and mimics the length of a pinball field, with a big and nasty boss at the end. This is perhaps the only negative thing to be said about Nitro Ball: it’s too short. The meager selection of play fields, while impressive and fun, are nowhere near enough, and you’re left wanting more.

I sincerely don’t understand why this never made its way to the Genesis. The system could have handled it easily, and it would have been a refreshing and unique addition to the console’s library. I suppose we can chalk its absence up to Data East having too much on its plate, what with all the other Genny and NES releases they were working on at the time. It’s certainly a pity though, as we missed out on one incredible experience. It’s not all lost, however, as the game is still just as playable in MAME.

 

The Real Ghostbusters

I know what you’re thinking: but the Genesis got a Ghostbusters game! True, but it wasn’t one based on the arcade release (though it was great in its own right). The Genesis version was a platformer, totally different from the hectic run-‘n-gun style of its coin-op sibling. Another difference was that the cartridge game was based on the movie, whereas this one takes its origins in the cartoon series that followed. Three people could ghost hunt simultaneously, and there were more stages than you could flick ectoplasm at. Although somewhat repetitive in nature, The Real Ghostbusters was truly fun when all three characters were present. There were power ups galore and some decent boss battles, but it was the frantic pace of the game that made it so enjoyable. The only thing standing in the way of an arcade-perfect Genesis cart would have been including the three-player support, since neither Sega nor EA would release their multi-taps for some time after the console’s debut.

 

The  RoboCop Series

It’s always sad to see a great game confined to the arcades due to licensing issues. Data East, who released two great RoboCop coin-ops, had to watch as Ocean raped the brand on home consoles. So while NES and SNES owners were slapped in the face with a pair of turds, arcade-goers could only sigh in silent disappointment at what would never be. Let me tell you, the original RoboCop would have been a license to print money had it been released on the Genesis, as it was both great-looking and highly playable. Faithful to the film but not too linear, it was an awesome run-‘n-gun that retained all of the cyborg lawman’s badass charm. The sequel was more by-the-book and generic, but was still pretty cool. I just wanted to play the original at home, and can thankfully do so now, but damn did we have to suffer for a long time. If anything, RoboCop is a great argument as to why ensuring quality of software should always take precedence over mere profit — sadly, something no game company believes.

 

Rohga

I don’t know if I’m more angered by the fact that this one never came home or that most people have never even heard of it. If you’re a fan of Gun Force or Midnight Resistance, then this one is for you. Fast-paced RnG action that never lets up, two-player coop, tons of weapons, and a Gradius-style configuration at the start are all some of the cool things that make Rohga so darn cool. The stages are bright and colorful, and the enemies all have a Macross feel to them. There’s a ton of different stages, and they range from side-scrolling RnG to some traditional flying action. This would have been a blast on the Genesis, but I guess Data East was too overwhelmed to consider it. Either that or they were just blind as bats. Rohga is pure fun that we never got a chance to play. The worst part is that it’s only barely playable in MAME, due to the heavy protection it has. Even so, what’s there will at least give you a taste of what we missed out on, and trust me, it was good. C’mon, you just have to love a game whose villain is named Lagnalok!

 

Super Burger Time

Everyone remember Peter Pepper! his classic first adventure is considered one of the all-time greats and was ported to every system under the sun. It took some time, but Data East finally gave the chef a sequel…which they promptly forgot to bring home at all. As the conclusion to the trilogy (Peter Pepper’s Ice Cream Factory being the second game), it would have made perfect sense to give Super Burger Time a Genesis release, since it was neither an unpopular franchise nor a technologically advanced one. In fact, this should have been a no-brainer, given that its gameplay is virtually identical to the original’s, the only real difference being the wacky boss battles and the new items hanging from the two towers that frame both sides of the screen. Gas cans, spatulas, and speed boots add a welcome new dimension to an already well-known formula that’s one of those pick-up-and-play favorites from arcades of old. Given that the American Genesis was lacking single-screen platformers (Wani Wani World, Man Overboard!, and Snow Bros. never made it stateside), this would have been a great addition to its library, and it would have given an established brand some new life at home. Considering that we’re still seeing home releases of the original to this day, I don’t see why this one was never given a chance.

 

While a good deal of its catalogue was left behind, I can’t blame Data East for what they did. They supported the Genesis in a big way and tried to port as many of their big names as possible. I’m sure that had the resources and time been available, most of these games would have seen their way home for at least one console. We do have the consolation that they are available through emulation, and at least that way today’s gamers can enjoy what they never got to play at home otherwise.

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2 Comments

  1. Obviously says:

    Data East was such an inconsistent company when it came to the quality and originality of their games but when they did it right, they did it really right.

    It’s a shame a lot of their games have fallen through the cracks and others received awful home ports, but at least Rohga showed up intact on the PlayStation and Saturn.

  2. havok666 says:

    Data East was never that strong in the originality department, but they did make some really solid arcade games. Night Slashers would have been excellent on the Saturn and Nitro Ball is a good fit for the Genesis. I found Robocop to be too much of a quarter muncher.

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