Developer: Sega Technical Institute, Sega AM1 R&D
Rated: T for Teen
Completed: 07 February 2016
Reviewing Die Hard Arcade is difficult. Through the powerful lens of nostalgia, my affection for the game has remained steadfast since the first time I saw the arcade cabinet at a local movie theater. As a home console game, Die Hard Arcade represents a solid port, but a terrible investment. It can easily be completed in 15 minutes, and there's practically no reason to ever come back, yet there I sat this afternoon, putting it into my Saturn for the umpteenth time.
Originally called Dynamite Cop in Japan (which saw a sequel on the Dreamcast), Die Hard Arcade makes only the most tenuous of connections with its license. The guy on the cover kinda-sorta looks like Bruce Willis, I guess, though that's probably more due to the white tank top and slightly receding hairline than his facial features. In the game, he looks even less like John McClane, the everyman hero of three great films (and two I would prefer to forget existed).
The basic plot is somewhat similar to the film. A group of terrorists have taken control of a skyscraper in an attempt to rob the corporation, and only you and your partner can stop them. Wait, what? Partner?
Yes, since this was an arcade brawler designed to relieve you of quarters weighing down your pockets, it supports two player cooperative play. In fairness, it's a lot of fun, but it's certainly not in line with the license. Oddly, your female counterpart appears in the game's opening cinematic where she and the McClane-alike are dropped off via helicopter on the roof of the building, but in a single player game she promptly disappears after that. Thanks for the help, lady!
To further veer away from the Die Hard name, the leader of the terrorists is a semi-balding white man with a bushy white beard, and there's some weird subplot about them kidnapping the president's daughter that isn't really relevant to their heist. It's never explicitly mention whether she's the president of the company's daughter, or the President of the United States' daughter, but she manages to elude her captors by hiding in the her father's desk, right next to the leader of the terrorists.
It's all so ludicrous, but it is an arcade game, after all. Judging it as such, the core gameplay of Die Hard Arcade is loads of fun. Not-McClane has a bevy of moves at his disposal, though you'll likely spend more time button mashing than trying to input specific commands. There's standard punches and kicks, as well as more advanced moves like grabs, holds, throws, and specials. As with all good beat 'em ups, enemies will often drop weapons, and even scenery can be tossed around. The most useful are easily the guns, which also allow you to arrest bad guys for a small health boost if you can manage to get behind them.
In between fights, you'll often participate in quicktime events. Should you fail, you'll have to play an additional fight sequence, so I guess there's some replay value if you decide to intentionally fail these sequences and see the branching paths, but they all eventually lead to the same exact place.
In an attempt to be more cinematic, the game frequently breaks up the action with in-engine cutscenes. Not only do these look terrible, thanks to the horribly dated polygonal graphics, but the voice acting is some of the worst you are ever likely to hear. At least it's so bad it's funny. The downside is these scenes are usually only two or three seconds long and then it cuts to a black screen while the Saturn loads the next cutscene or gameplay segment. It really disrupts the flow of the action, and the story isn't worth paying attention to in the first place.
The best part of the presentation is the music, which isn't bad, but only consists of a handful of themes that are repeated in each segment. The graphics, as stated, have aged incredibly poorly, and the Saturn port is already a step down from the arcade original, which ran on the similar but slightly more powerful STV hardware. I'll give the voice acting a pass because I can't reasonably expect any developer to spend money on quality talent for a game this short, and with so little dialogue.
The Saturn port does a fine job replicating the arcade experience overall, and it does have one small bonus. The 1979 classic arcade game Deep Scan is also included on the disc. Like the main attraction and its licensed name, it has little to do with the other, but you can earn extra credits for every 200 points you score. You'll likely need them because Die Hard Arcade's coin-op roots mean you're bound to use up the stingy three credits you get by default. It's not absurdly difficult, but it's no cakewalk either. Boss enemies can take huge chunks of your life bar away if you're not careful.
For all of its flaws, Die Hard Arcade keeps me coming back time and time again for reasons I'm not even sure of. All I can say is that nostalgia must blind me, because there's so little content here that there's no logical reason to play it again. The same could be said of just about any classic beat 'em up, most of which follow similarly linear paths, but even Streets of Rage and the even older Double Dragon last longer than this. Yet every time I pop the disc in my Saturn, I get a little bite-sized piece of entertainment and a chance to relive my teenage years.
Die Hard Arcade was completed on a real Sega Saturn with no cheats.