Data East once stood as an arcade king in the 80s and the early 90s with a long and storied history that went back to its roots as an electronics firm when it started in 1976. Over the decades, their history was one filled with tons of hits ranging from Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja, BurgerTime, Karnov, BreakThru, and even RPGs like the Metal Max series before closing their doors in 2003. Many former employees went on to other companies such as Technos Japan, Idea factory, and G-Mode which now owns most of the IP.
Back in 1987, they also released this gem — Heavy Barrel — named after the ridiculously overpowered special weapon that players can piece together. This was a game a lot like SNK’s Ikari Warriors with a rotary joystick (this was a joystick that you could twist like a knob to turn your character onscreen) with lots of enemies to shoot up across several stages.
According to System 16, Heavy Barrel used Data East’s MEC-M1 hardware. It had the 32-bit Motorola MC68000 as the main CPU and used a MOS Technology 6502 with a Yamaha YM3812 to produce the sound. It also had an Okidata 6295 as part of the sound system, a chip that would also be used by others such as Capcom in their CP System.
Heavy Barrel’s plot was pretty bare bones in the arcade. This was pretty much all there was.
The NES port which came out in 1990 also included a story that had far more detail. Instead of just an “artillery base”, this was actually the “underground control complex of a nuclear missile site” and it was up to players to stop their leader.
Gameplay took place across seven stages with a boss at the end of each one. They ranged from an APC flinging grenades to three, humanoid mechs armed with big cannons hopping about and then finally, the enemy leader. In between you and the end were legion upon legion of welding mask faced baddies. Most were green uniformed cannon fodder, a few wore red, others wore blue, all of them were food for your guns. Some would even fly using slow-mo jetpacks and other enemies included evil Roomba-like bots, small tanks, turrets, and even mine carts.
The good news is that there’s an arsenal of stuff scattered everywhere. Players start out with a gun that has unlimited ammo, but there’s also a rifle that can shoot laser bolts, another that fires puffs of fire, and a spread gun. In addition to grenades, there were red versions that were more explosive, little pods that flew around you like a shield, and a grappling arm that spun around you damaging or killing anything that came too close.
But the reason that the game is named the way it is is its best weapon — Heavy Barrel. It’s scattered into six pieces and certain enemies will drop keys that you can use to open up any of the multitude of locked boxes throughout each level. Some will have weapons, 1 ups, and other goodies, but a few will have a piece of Heavy Barrel. Once you find them all, the game yells out “Heavy Barrel!” and assembles it. A gauge appears at the top of the screen showing how much time you have to use it and it literally kills everything you aim it at with giant, wide, shock waves of sheer death. Even bosses wither under its fire in one or two shots if you time getting the last piece just right.
Dying in the game will lose you whatever special weapon you’ve found at the time (except for Heavy Barrel, but the time gauge still keeps counting down). You’ll still keep whatever keys you found (you can hold a maximum of four) and get a recharge of how many grenades you have on returning to the fight. Continuing with an extra credit picks up right where you died without interruption but resets your score, so if you’re aiming for a spot on the leaderboard, a pocket full of change won’t be all you’ll need to get there.
As a simple action title, Heavy Barrel found itself ported to a number of platforms over the years from the Apple II, the aforementioned NES, MS-DOS, and the Zeebo, “the world’s first 3G-enabled interactive entertainment and education system” targeted at “emerging global markets” like Brazil and China. It even featured new box art. It was also included in the compilation, Data East Arcade Classics, which was released by Majesco exclusively for the Wii. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t get around to other consoles or services like Steam, though.
Heavy Barrel was pretty fun in the arcade and the home versions were more or less faithful ports, especially the one in Data East Arcade Classics. As a simple run ‘n gun without a lot of frills, it was a lot like a number of Data East’s other titles in keeping things relatively simple while making players feel like super soldiers on a quest to save the world as a descendant of Capcom’s iconic Commando. Another great classic from the arcades!