Retro collections have blossomed over the past three generations and provided old-school gamers with some of the best value of the past two generations. Standouts like SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1, both Capcom Classic Collections, Sega’s Genesis collections, and the Midway Arcade Treasures compilations that raised the bar for the sheer amount of high-level games playable on one disc remain a part of my regular rotation. Unfortunately, Data East Arcade Classics isn’t part of that due to its relatively slim lineup of games, few extras, and time being extremely unkind to most of the games included.
Burger Time, its sequel, Peter Pepper’s Ice Cream Factory, Bad Dudes vs. DragonNinja, Burnin‘ Rubber/Bump ‘n Jump, Caveman Ninja/Joe and Mac, Express Raider, Heavy Barrel, Lock 'n Chase, Magical Drop 3, Side Pocket, Wizard Fire, Two Crude Dudes, Super Real Darwin, Street Hoop, and Secret Agent/Sly Spy, starring Bond lookalike who fights Bond enemy lookalikes, are included. This roster of mostly also-ran games that you only saw in laundromats and second-rate arcades that couldn‘t afford other, far better games is mostly not worth your time. Of the 15 games included, only Burger Time, Magical Drop 3, Burnin’ Rubber, Caveman Ninja, and Secret Agent have held up well.
However, that doesn’t mean that they’re all going to remain fun over long play sessions. Magical Drop 3 is a well-done puzzle game, and like pretty much any good puzzler, it’ll be fun for years in the “play it every now and then” kinda way. The same goes for Burnin’ Rubber, which provides some fun racing and opponent-destroying action still because it controls nicely and there aren’t many games out today that let you jump on top of opposing cars like they’re lily pads to a frog, but there simply isn‘t much depth to it and the gameplay isn‘t so addicting that you‘ll play for hours on end anyway. Secret Agent is a good 16-bit side-scrolling shooting game with decent graphics and fast action, but still falls short of the top-tier entries in the genre due to some muddy controls. It’s certainly better than its Bond knock-off premise and enemies would lead you to think though. Caveman Ninja is the original version of Joe and Mac, and for players like myself who were used to the console incarnations, it’s a shock to see just how difficult the arcade original is when compared to the console versions that came later. It’s still a fine game, just much harder than console fans would expect. Burger Time is easily the star attraction here - I loved playing it on the NES, and was surprised to see just how well its simple gameplay has held up over time.
Unfortunately, its follow-up, Peter Pepper’s Ice Cream Factory, along with the rest of the lineup, haven’t. Ice Cream Factory is theoretically similar to Burger Time, only with ice cream cone building instead of burger stacking, but the execution is terrible. The controls are God-awful and the gameplay is quite frustrating. Super Real Darwin is a shmup with not only a terrible name, but mediocre gameplay that wouldn’t have stood out even at the time of its original release, let alone now. Side Pocket is perfectly acceptable for a few minutes of play, but has clearly been eclipsed by many pool games released since, ditto Street Hoop and basketball games and Wizard Fire with countless RPGs. Lock ‘n Chase is a blatant Pac-Man clone, and a poor one at that. Some of those at least put their own spin on its gameplay to help it stand out - this doesn’t, and controls poorly to boot. Two Crude Dudes was Data East’s answer to Double Dragon, and is eclipsed by that game in every major way - although it does have a much funnier title. Bad Dudes is another poor beat ‘em up, but at least led to the legendary “Are you a bad enough Dude to rescue the president?!” internet meme and Myspace-level band names, so at least it served some purpose beyond the core game.
Fortunately on the control front, the developers did at least include support for every possible Wii control setup. While remote/nunchuk play is a bit awkward, it is at least functional, but as usual with these collections, Wii classic pad or GC controller support is the way to go. The classic pad is a bit more comfortable to use, but GC pad-only players should be fine as the controls are mapped very well on it.
On the AV side of things, the graphics and sound are both emulated well, and while none of the games are going to dazzle you, they also aren‘t riddled with things like slowdown and sound problems that weren‘t in the original games. The in-game menus are fairly easy to navigate, but aren’t the most eye-catching around. There also aren’t many bonus features included beyond the usual array of cabinet art and promotional item gallery. There are some in-game achievements to unlock though, which is nice for a Wii game. While they don’t unlock anything neat like extra games ala the SNK Arcade Classics disc, I like having them included because they give you a sense of accomplishment after reaching certain milestones in a game.
While Data East Arcade Classics isn’t the worst arcade compilation I’ve played, it’s far from the best. The staggering amount of mediocre games hurts it immensely, and unless you’re a fan of the handful of good-to-great games on it, or absolutely must own every classic compilation that comes out, you can safely skip it.