With games like Bump ‘n Jump and Mad Planets, going to the arcade was like taking a trip into a game developer’s fevered imagination where players were often the winner. Anything and everything seemed to hold potential for an innovative design idea, no matter how crazy, and Data East celebrated those creative leaps with one of their own in 1982 when BurgerTime hit arcades around the world.
Originally called “Hamburger” before changing its name when it came over to the United States thanks to arcade distribution giant, Bally Midway, BurgerTime was also one of the weirdest games to hit the scene. It also ran on Data East’s innovative cassette system years before other competitors like Capcom and SNK embarked on doing the same thing with cartridges.
At the time, like many arcade game manufacturers, cabinets were often built around just one game. If an owner wanted to add a new game to their collection, they often had to buy an entirely new cabinet instead of just “plugging” a new game into an existing one. There were also “conversion kits” for certain cabinets that allowed owners to switch them over by replacing a few chips with new ones and voila — new arcade game. Data East tried to alleviate some of this with their system where programs, like on a number of PCs at the time like the Commodore 64, could be loaded via cassette. Just replace the marquee on the cab, flip a few labels, and now there was something new on the floor. No need to gut anything!
It was a great idea but suffered from a number of things that arcade owners didn’t particularly care for such as that the game could be wiped from a cabinet’s memory by just turning it off requiring the owner to reload it which could take several minutes. But it worked, and a number of Data East’s games ran on it, though arcade owners could also opt for a typical cabinet with a hardwired game already installed.
BurgerTime cast players in the role of “Peter Pepper”, a chef on the run from the sausages, pickles, and eggs that are hunting for him as he runs across beef patties, lettuce, and buns in an effort to build hamburgers. Each slice sits on top of a platform and each platform is connected by ladders and pathways that Peter has to climb up and run across while being pursued. Fortunately, he has five pepper shakers that he can use to temporarily disable whatever’s coming after him. Unfortunately, he only has so many of those.
Peter also has to run completely across each hamburger ingredient. Running only partway across one only pushes part of it down through the platform until you can get to the rest of it. On the plus side, he can crush his foes beneath them with the right timing. He can also stun multiple enemies with one shaker if he can bunch them up in one spot. However, dying won’t restore how many of those he gets — that only happens by picking up special bonus items that occasionally appear, like ice cream cones, and then only one at a time. There’s also more of them than him and the platform mazes also change up for each new level.
The tough challenge didn’t deter players from having fun, however, and the game was pretty popular in the arcades. For years after its release, it was one of those classic cabinets that you would find next to more modern fare such as Capcom’s Final Fight or fellow peers such as Super Pac-Man or Donkey Kong Jr. that also hung around. It had a unique challenge with its “food items into enemies” alongside building Godzilla-sized hamburgers, a fun soundtrack, neat sound effects, and just the sheer strangeness of the material.
BurgerTime, like many arcade hits of the time, was ported across a massive slice of systems from the ColecoVision to the Nintendo Entertainment System. It would even find its way over to computers like the Commodore 64, the Apple II, and the Japan-only MSX.
Data East would revisit BurgerTime later with Super Burger time for the arcades which updated the graphics, changed up the gameplay (although the core focus on building hamburgers didn’t change), and made it a “quest” wherein players needed to clear stages by building hamburgers in order to save the day. Variants would also appear from other companies such as BurgerTime: World Tour from Monkeypaw that traded in the 2D challenge for a 3D aesthetics and gameplay in 2011. It would also show up in Data East Arcade Classics on the Wii in 2010 and in the 80s, there was even a bootleg of it called “Cook Race”.
BurgerTime’s challenge still holds up today as a scoring fiend’s obsession. It’s not every game that asks you to make hamburgers and fight food for points, although Atari’s MegaMania could be a great sidekick with its own take on enemy eatery. Not a bad classic and another Data East favorite that can be fun in small bites every now and then without having to feel the consequences later.