Retro Review: Die Hard Arcade
My first memories of anything Die Hard related don't involve a young Bruce Willis battling his way through a terrorist-occupied office high rise. It isn't watching him stand by helplessly as a passenger jet plummeted into the ground, nor is it him teaming up with a younger pre-Nick Furry Samuel L. Jackson. My first memories of Die Hard are of the arcade and Sega Saturn beat 'em up, Die Hard Arcade.
Originally released as a non-Die Hard game in Japan called Dynamite Deka, Die Hard Arcade is a two-player beat 'em up that lets you play as the iconic John McClane (Bruno Delinger in the Japanese version) and his partner, who wasn’t featured in the movies, Chris Tompsen (Cindy Holiday in the Japanese version). Your goal is to continually progress through the different floors of the office building overrun with terrorists, beating up goons along the way until making your way to the final boss. Pretty standard fare for a beat 'em up of this era.
What makes the game stand out from its predecessors is its license of the name, or rather how the game treats its source material. Once you get past the name and the same basic premise the similarities between the movies abruptly end and take a sudden turn into absurdity.
Along with your basic terrorists, you’ll be fighting a colorful assortment of enemies along the way: Sumo wrestlers, fire fighters, robots, bikers, luchador wrestlers, and old men, to name a few, and there is no explanation for why they are there. For a beat 'em up this is not a huge issue as they rely on variations of enemies to keep the monotonous experience of hitting enemies interesting. For a beat 'em up with the Die Hard name, this works even better. This isn’t playing a Double Dragon version of Die Hard, this is Die Hard with the sort of wackiness and crazy liberties that were so distinct with 90’s games.
Click the image to view game screenshots
Besides beating enemies with your fists, you’ll also use objects scattered in the environment to smack down your foes. Just like the rest of the game, the weapons you use can range from the pipes and planks found in nearly all beat 'em ups to more exotic and downright bizarre weapons. Have you ever smashed a grandfather clock over a terrorist’s head in an office foyer? How about using an anti-air gun while terrorists do number one and two in the bathroom? You can and will use items like this to make your way to the final boss.
While some modern games (cough, Saint’s Row, cough) seem to delight in telling you how wacky and zany they are, Die Hard Arcade speaks for itself without needing so much as an acknowledging wink. It is presented as a movie game, but once you become invested, it slowly reveals its true nature, knowing that the player now has no choice but to accept the insanity and stick around for the ride.
Finally, the last point of interest in this bizarre title is the QTE events scattered randomly throughout the game. During specific points between each action scene you’ll witness a short cut-scene and will suddenly be prompted to press the corresponding button once it flashes on the screen. Success will let you take out enemies or give you access to new areas. Failure will reduce your health or give you more enemies to fight.
There are two main flaws with game which can be a bit annoying, even considering the year in which the game was released. The controls are a bit stiff for a beat 'em up, sometimes making it difficult to pick up objects on the ground and evade enemy attacks. It’s not a huge issue and it's certainly something that you can become used to, but it does take a few tries to get the feel for the game. I have never truly felt comfortable playing the game, never feeling like I was truly in control, but rather flailing wildly and hoping for the best.
The game is also short, even for a beat 'em up. You can easily finish the game in less than 30 minutes with little effort. Play together with a friend and that time drops to nearly half the time. If you play the Saturn-exclusive mini-game Deep Cover to earn more lives, the amount of challenge the game offers is practically nonexistent.
Despite this, this is still a game that I break out every time I go back to play my Saturn. It’s short, clunky, and resembles Die Hard in name only, but its sheer wackiness and effort to keep making the game as ridiculous as possible is what keeps me coming back and laughing years after its release. It doesn’t try to live up to the name, nor does it try to create its own legacy, it just wants to be a fun and wacky beat 'em up.
I highly recommend checking Die Hard Arcade out just to see the general difference in attitude and philosophy between games of then and now. It’s a licensed game that doesn’t care about its license. It’s a beat 'em up that tries to out-wacky itself every chance it gets. It’s Die Hard Arcade, and years later, it’s still a hell of a lot of fun to play.