What happened to…Data East?
I grew up in the 80’s. That means that most of my “high tech” gaming was done at the arcades. Prohibitively expensive home computers and consoles at the time just couldn’t compete when it came to graphics – so arcades where were you went to play video games. Armed with a pocket full of 20c coins, arcades were a place to escape reality (because y’know, a pre-pubescent kid needs a break from the troubles of real life) and while away entire afternoons in a digital fantasy world.
If that rings true for you, you’ll have undoubtedly played more than your fair share of Data East games. Back in the arcade’s halcyon days, they were a prime force, and one of the most celebrated arcade game developers.
If the name Data East isn’t instantly familiar, perhaps these pictures of their most most famous and acclaimed games will ignite a nostalgic spark.
One of Data East’s biggest successes – and certainly the one with longest legacy is Burger Time, an early 80’s arcade game featuring short order cook Peter Pepper – who’s tasked with building burgers by walking over their constituent ingredients. It’s made the more challenging by the fact that Peter’s chased around the screen by three delicious villains; Mr. Hot Dog, Mr. Pickle, and Mr. Egg. The game proved so popular – remember, this was in the medium’s early days – that it was ported to just about every device capable of playing it.
Bad Dudes vs Dragon Ninja
I can’t tell you how much money I spent on this game, a fantastic two-player beat-em up where two street-smart bad dudes end up saving the president from a group of rogue Ninjas. Interestingly, it featured the hero of one of Data East’s earlier games, the fire-breathing Karnov as the game’s first boss; a cameo that would be repeated in a number of Data East games.
The arcade game adaptation of Paul Verhoven’s dystopian look at Detroit’s future and the future of law enforcement managed to capture the film’s spirit – something that really rare when it came to licenced games. Brutally difficult, this game ate my money away.
Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninja
Taking their established “beat-em-up” knowledge to the past, Caveman Ninja focused on two cavemen who battle though numerous prehistoric levels using – to save their hot gave…women – using weapons such as boomerangs, bones, fire, flints, electricity, stone wheels, and clubs. Cleverly incorporating a few platforming elements, Caveman Ninja is still one of my favourite games from the time – and I can’t resist playing it when I do happen upon it in some dusty old arcade or cafe.
When I was a little laaitie, I wasn’t allowed to play on the real pool tables, and had to contend instead with a digital recreation. It’s a good thing for me then that Data East’s Side Pocket , which barring the weird 6-ball mode and odd single player was fantastic. Reviewers t the time called Side Pocket “far and away the best billiards simulation ever published for any system,” and they were right.
So What happened to Data East? Unfortunately, when the arcades died so did they. They were forced to sell their Pinball business to SEGA, and though they tried restructuring with the hopes of re-entering the industry, they eventually went bankrupt. The rights to their games were mostly snapped up by Japanese mobile game developer G-Mode, though some went to Paon, a second party Nintendo developer comprised of former Data East staff. Fairly recently, a compilation of Data East classics was released for the Wii, containing most of the games listed here – along with a few other delights.