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by Kurt Kalata - November 13, 2010

While Data East was one of the most prolific arcade developers in the late 80s and early 90s, they were hardly pioneers. Most of their games consisted of reimagined versions of competitors' titles, something that came to bite them in the ass with their gigantic Street Fighter II rip-off Fighter's History, which famously got them sued by Capcom. So there's no real doubt that their popular game Heavy Barrel came about when one of Data East's executives looked at SNK's Ikari Warriors and figured, yup, we need one of those! To be fair, though, a game doesn't necessarily need to be innovative to succeed. They just have to be good, and Data East, for all of lack of ingenuity, could make some damn good games.

One of the most popular movies of the 80s, especially when it came to video game inspirations, was Rambo: First Blood Part II. And why not? It had an incredibly manly dude blowing stuff up. This prompted Data East to develop four games based on the subject of American action movies. They are not technically sequels, although they share some staff. The first two - Heavy Barrel and Midnight Resistance - were directed by Koji Akibayashi, while the second two - Bloody Wolf and Thunder Zone - were directed by Yoshiaki Honda. They also tended to reference each other's names in the credits, suggesting they shared a cubicle or something of the like. Despite all being inspired by the same basic source, they're all unique games whose elements occasionally share some overlap. They're also all pretty great, to varying degrees.


Heavy Barrel (ヘビー・バレル) - Arcade, NES, Apple II, DOS, Wii, Zeebo (1987)

American Arcade Flyer

American NES Cover

Heavy Barrel, as expected, is an overhead action shooter featuring two beefy commandos, running through jungles and assorted enemy fortresses, killing everything in sight. In addition to your regular gun, you also have a copious supply of grenades to attack with. It even uses the same rotating joysticks, so you can position your soldier to aim in a specific direction while moving in another.

Heavy Barrel really only changes up the formula in minor ways. In addition to moving straight upward, the screen also scrolls horizontally, on occasion. You will find numerous keys throughout the levels, along with numerous locked boxes, which hold a variety of goodies. You will never have enough keys to unlock every box, and there's no hint as to what's inside, so unless you've already played the game through and memorized everything, you won't know what you'll be getting. There are, of course, a handful of alternate weapons, all with limited ammo. These include lasers, spread guns and flamethrowers, which are satisfying, and a spiked ball that replaces the standard grenades, which spins around you a few times. But the true treat is the titular Heavy Barrel. The Heavy Barrel is such an incredible weapon that it must be assembled by grabbing six separate pieces. It's extraordinarily powerful, as it fires out gigantic balls of light which can kill practically anything in a single hit. It also only lasts for a period of thirty seconds before you lose it.

Even though it's heavily derivative, Heavy Barrel is still a pretty fun game. The graphics are better than the Ikari Warriors games, and the music is pretty catchy. The enemies tumble over a few times when they're shot, which is satisfying to watch when you roast them en masse with the Heavy Barrel weapon. The only real notable issue is that some of the bosses and level structure are reused in the later stages of the game.

The NES version is a fairly decent port. It reformats the screen so it's no longer vertically oriented, and some of the levels are slightly adjusted to compensate. The aiming is gone, so you can only fire in the direction that you're moving in. Due to system limitations, there are far less enemies on screen at a given time, and it even flickers when there are only a couple. Despite the obvious graphical download, it's still quite fun, certainly better than the NES ports of Commando or Ikari Warriors.

The computer versions are absolutely dreadful. As far as the controls go, they simply lock your direction when holding down the fire button. The action only takes up a small portion of the screen, resulting in an extremely cramped experience. The hit detection is terrible and the enemies attack just way too fast, making progress incredibly difficult. There are no other continues either, not like you'd want to play it for any great lengths anyway.

The only way to get a close-to-arcade-perfect experience is with the Data East Arcade Classics collection for the Nintendo Wii. When using the Classic Controller, it maps movement to the left analog stick and aiming to the right, making it far easier to play than on any emulator. However, the game actually runs slightly slower than MAME. According to the programmers, this is actually more accurate to the arcade version, and MAME simply runs it too fast.

Quick Info:

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  • Koji Akibayashi

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Heavy Barrel (Arcade)

Heavy Barrel (Arcade)


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Midnight Resistance (ミッドナイトレジスタンス) - Arcade, Genesis, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum (1987)

American Genesis Cover

European Commodore 64 Cover

Midnight Resistance is essentially Heavy Barrel turned sideways. As reinvented as a Contra-style side-scroller, it reuses the same rotating joystick to fire in practically any direction. When combined with the ability to jump, this gimmicks becomes a bit more awkward when used in this setting. The pacing isn't quite as fast as Contra, although the stages are fairly well designed. It has a particular thing for sliding out bits of scenery - the mountainside, for example - revealing something more dangerous behind it.

You still get keys from downed enemies, but here they work slightly differently. Instead of finding locked boxes throughout the stage, the keys act as currency in between levels to unlock various weapons, which are held in cases. Again, there's a spread launcher and a rather cool flamethrower, in addition to a machine and a shot gun (which is really more of a rocket launcher, if anything.) You can also get more powerful grenades called Nitro - activated by pressing Up and Fire - and a barrier satellite which circles around your character. Your ammunition is technically limited, but you get so much of it - 500 rounds when you pick it up, an extra 500 if you spring for the bonus pack - that it's usually more than enough to last you to the next checkpoint. When you get hit, you momentarily drop all of your keys and your weapon, but they can be easily reobtained when you get back up.

Despite the clumsiness of the control scheme, Midnight Resistance is still enjoyable. Throughout the game, you get to take down buzz saw machines, fighter jet squadrons and battleships, all single-handedly (or double handedly, if that's a word, when you're playing with a friend.) It also gets positively weird by the finale. While most of the games is grounded in reality - at least, the kind of reality you'd see in 80s action flicks - it starts going bonkers by the time you have to rescue your family. Your grandfather, apparently, is a scientist who has been kidnapped to work on a diabolical super weapon. When you find them, they're locked in the same containers that you usually find weapons in - hopefully you have some keys to get them out! The last stage takes place in outer space, where you're assaulted by hundreds of square images of the evil leader, before actually fighting him. He is, in fact, a ridiculous ugly gigantic head (are there any other kind?) which copiously vomits brains.

Midnight Resistance got ported to numerous platforms, the most well-known probably being the Genesis version. It's certainly the best looking of the bunch, relatively speaking - the arcade game wasn't exactly a looker either - but the lower color palette means the backgrounds take a huge hit. In the first stage of the arcade version, there's a cityscape with skyscrapers in the background. In the Genesis version, it's practically all black. Like Heavy Barrel, the rotating joystick mechanic couldn't quite be translated to consoles, so this port offers two options. There is no way to fire your gun manually - instead, you simply press A to turn auto-fire on or off. Holding B lets you lock your fire in a specific direction. On the other setting, pressing B will rotate your aiming clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on the sub-setting you chose on the option menu. This is extremely difficult to use effectively and is not advisable. The default setting works well enough, though it can still occasionally cause confusion, and it would've been nice if the developers had simple added a regular Contra-style control scheme. It also makes it far too easy to accidentally use the grenades, since this is done by pressing Up when you're firing. What if you were trying to aim upwards? While the game itself is slightly easier, losing all your lives sends you back to the last checkpoint instead of instantly respawning. You can choose up to five lives, with five continues. The two player mode, is, sadly, completely gone.

The Amiga and Commodore 64 ports are both fairly decent. The action is somewhat slower, and no attempt was made to translate the control scheme, so now it more or less plays like Contra. The graphics on the Amiga version are a decent rendition of the arcade version too, despite losing the multi-plane scrolling, but some areas are more detailed than the Genesis version. The Amiga version also keeps the two player mode. The Commodore 64 version is hard to control due to the lack of a jump button which, in tandem with aiming your gun, can prove somewhat troublesome. The music in both of these ports is excellent too. The Atari ST version looks like the Amiga port at first glance, but it loses the smooth scrolling, instead inching forward a few squares when you walk past a certain part of the screen. The Amstrad version is just a port of the Spectrum version, although at least the graphics have been recolored. Like the Atari ST version, they scroll one screen at a time, and the action is incredibly slow and choppy.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Publisher:

Designer:

  • Koji Akibayashi

Genre:

Themes:


Midnight Resistance (Arcade)

Midnight Resistance (Arcade)

Midnight Resistance (Arcade)

Midnight Resistance (Arcade)


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Midnight Resistance

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Bloody Wolf
Thunder Zone

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