Data East Corporation was a Japanese video game company founded in 1976, and they, among a priveleged few, set the course for the game industry for almost half a century. Today’s piece is all about the history of this remarkable game company and how they changed history.

Who is Data East, and Why Do They Matter?

The company focused on creating arcade games and was one of the leading companies in this field during the 1980s. Data East developed several popular and influential titles, such as Karate Champ, Bad Dudes, and BurgerTime. These games introduced innovations to the industry, such as two-player fighting games and co-op gameplay. The success of Data East’s arcade games allowed the company to expand into other areas of the video game industry, including home consoles and handheld devices.

The video game market crash of 1983 and the rise of home consoles offered setbacks, but Data East remained a dominant player in the industry until its bankruptcy in 2003. One of the defining characteristics of Data East’s games was their focus on fun and entertainment. The company’s games were designed to be accessible to a wide range of players, with straightforward controls and gameplay mechanics that were easy to understand. The simplicity of controls and gameplay made Data East’s games popular with casual and hardcore gamers and helped cement the company’s place in video game history. Another critical aspect of Data East’s games was their focus on innovation.

The company was constantly looking for ways to push the boundaries of what was possible in the video game industry, introducing new gameplay mechanics and features that had never been seen before. For example, “Karate Champ” was one of the first fighting games to feature two-player gameplay, while “Bad Dudes” was one of the first games to allow players to use weapons in a side-scrolling beat ’em up.

Despite the many successes, the company also faced several controversies. Some of its games were criticized for depicting women and minorities, with some accusing the company of perpetuating harmful stereotypes. Also, the company faced significant financial difficulties in the 1990s, with declining sales and mounting debt leading to its eventual bankruptcy in 2003.

Data East’s legacy lives on through its many influential games and its impact on the video game industry as a whole. Their games have grown in popularity in recent years, thanks to the Data East Retro Game Project and the introduction of new games under the Data East brand. These efforts have helped to ensure that the legacy of Data East will be remembered and celebrated by gamers worldwide.

How did Data East get started?

Data East Corporation was founded in Tokyo, Japan, in 1976 by Tetsuo Fukuda and Hideyuki Nakajima. Fukuda and Nakajima had both worked at the electronics company Taito Corporation, where they had been involved in developing arcade games. When they founded Data East, Fukuda, and Nakajima focused only on arcade games, intending to create innovative and entertaining experiences for players. The company’s first game, Highway Race, was released in 1977 and was moderately successful. Nevertheless, the release of Astro Fighter release in 1979 put Data East on the map. Astro Fighter was one of the first games to use a microprocessor instead of discrete logic chips, allowing for more complex and sophisticated gameplay mechanics. The game was a massive success in Japan and helped establish Data East as a major player in the arcade industry.

1979’s Astro Fighter was the first arcade game to use a microprocessor instead of just a collection of discrete components.

Over the next few years, Data East would release more successful titles, including Lock ‘n’ Chase in 1981 and BurgerTime in 1982. BurgerTime was particularly popular, with its unique gameplay mechanics and colorful graphics attracting a broad audience of players. The game was also ported to many home consoles and computers, further expanding its popularity and cementing Data East’s place as a significant player in the video game industry.

In the early 1980s, Data East made several key innovations that would have a lasting impact on the video game industry. For example, 1984’s Karate Champ, was one of the first fighting games to feature two-player gameplay. They helped to establish the fighting game genre as a significant part of video game culture.

Another critical innovation was the introduction of co-op gameplay. In 1988, the company released Bad Dudes, a side-scrolling beat ’em up that allowed two players to work together to fight their way through levels. The style change was a significant departure from the competitive gameplay that had previously dominated the industry, and it helped to establish co-op gameplay as a popular design trope.

Data East’s arcade game success led to expansion into home consoles and handheld devices. In 1986, they released the Data East Disk System for the Famicom, using floppy disks instead of cartridges. Although not very successful, it established Data East in the home console market. They released successful arcade games like “Heavy Barrel” (1987) and “Captain America and the Avengers” (1991). However, by the mid-1990s, financial difficulties, declining sales, and debt resulted in bankruptcy in 2003. Despite this, Data East’s legacy endures through its innovative and influential games, which cemented its lasting impact on the video game industry.

From Innovation to Mismanagement

Data East had successful games in the 80s and 90s but eventually faced severe financial troubles. Factors contributing to its decline included the rise of home video game consoles, which replaced arcades as the primary gaming platform. Data East, primarily associated with arcades, struggled to adapt and compete with console-focused developers. Additionally, the company’s overreliance on certain popular franchises, like the Bad Dudes series, contributed to its downfall, as sequels failed to perform as well as the original.

While the first two RoboCop games were successful, the third installment disappointed. Data East relied too heavily on these franchises and failed to stay relevant by not investing in innovative games. Poor management, internal disputes, and frequent leadership changes also contributed to the company’s struggles. Despite efforts to turn things around, Data East filed for bankruptcy in 1999 and its assets were liquidated. The downfall of Data East highlighted the importance of adapting to changing trends and technologies in the fast-paced gaming world. However, Data East’s legacy endures through its classic games, enjoyed by fans worldwide. The next section will discuss how other companies have carried on Data East’s legacy post-bankruptcy.

Enter G-Mode

After Data East’s bankruptcy in 1999, G-Mode, a Japanese game developer, seized the opportunity to acquire Data East’s intellectual property rights. Venturing beyond their mobile game specialization, G-Mode harnessed Data East’s iconic franchises and characters. Under G-Mode’s stewardship, a fresh life was breathed into classic games as they were re-released on new platforms like mobile phones and handheld consoles. G-Mode also developed novel games based on Data East’s intellectual property, such as Kero Kero Keroppi no Daibouken, a puzzle game with the popular Sanrio character.

In 2003, G-Mode introduced the “DECOGAME” brand to reinvigorate Data East’s classic arcade games in Japan. The brand proved successful, rekindling interest in popular titles like BurgerTime and Bad Dudes. In 2007, G-Mode expanded the DECOGAME brand beyond Japan by launching DECO*GAME Classics for the Nintendo DS, featuring 20 classic Data East arcade games. The collection garnered praise and captivated a new generation with Data East’s timeless games.

G-Mode also forged new titles under the Data East brand, such as Windy x Windam, a side-scrolling action game for the Nintendo DS in 2008. In 2010, G-Mode rebranded DECO*GAME as “Data East Classics,” signaling a commitment to preserving and promoting Data East’s legacy. Under the Data East Classics banner, G-Mode continued to unveil new games and re-releases on a variety of platforms.

Today, Data East endures as a cherished brand among retro gaming enthusiasts, with numerous classic games accessible on contemporary platforms. Data East’s history encapsulates the dynamic nature of the video game industry. From its origins as an electronic games importer to its peak as a leading arcade developer, bankruptcy, and revival, Data East’s journey embodies ingenuity, originality, and resilience. Despite facing multiple challenges, the company crafted memorable and iconic games that have stood the test of time and continue to delight fans. Data East’s enduring legacy resonates through its classic games and characters, inspiring developers and fans alike.

Data East’s Future

Data East is on the verge of launching Magical Drop VI, a game that draws heavily from the acclaimed Magical Drop III but with enhanced graphics and broader accessibility on the Nintendo Switch and PC through A detailed review of this game is in the pipeline, so stay tuned. In my view, Data East has a wealth of franchises to revitalize with fresh visuals, quality of life improvements, and innovative features. Reimagining their back catalog could pave the way for a triumphant resurgence.

While it would be exciting to see new original IPs from Data East, breaking through in a saturated market is no small feat.

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James G. Kennedy
James G. Kennedy