Dynamite Deka EX ~Asian Dynamite~ location test
By Alex Kierkegaard / November 27, 2006
The way I find out about location tests for upcoming arcade titles is by keeping an eye on two Japanese websites: am-net and Ariesu no Kobayan. Since companies don't usually give advance warning for these tests, and since most of them only last for a few days, I have to keep checking those two websites more or less on a daily basis, or risk missing out entirely on the chance to cover some cool new title no one's even heard of. (I learned that lesson the hard way, by missing Sega's 2 Spicy location test in mid-October. As a result, no one really knows what that game plays like, and only the lucky few who attended the test have actually seen it in motion).
So last night, on one of my regular Kobayan-checking rounds, I was completely taken aback when I saw the site reporting that a test for a new Dynamite Deka game was already under way, at the Club Sega in nearby Akihabara. Apparently, the loke had begun the day before (yes, I skipped out my news-checking round on Saturday -- a man has to take a day off from time to time), but since Kobayan was not giving an end date I had to assume the worst, and get my ass in gear to cover it. (Kobayan doesn't always know the exact start and end dates for tests because companies sometimes don't even bother announcing them, and it's not uncommon for tests of obscure titles to only last for a couple of days.)
So I re-arranged my plans for the evening, grabbed my wallet, keys and camera, and set off for Akihabara at a bounding pace. The thrill I get from the prospect of playing a game I've heard nothing about -- and haven't seen pictures and videos of -- is indescribable. It's another one of the things I miss from the 80s and early 90s, when I'd often walk into my local arcade and discover that a brand-new game had suddenly appeared overnight, as if by magic. If those weren't the days then I certainly don't know which ones it were.
On the way there I had a lot to think about. A new arcade brawler in 2006? I couldn't even remember which one was the last one (and I'm still not sure -- Demolish Fist, perhaps?) I was reminded of what had happened before the Battle Fantasia loke, when some people were speculating that it would be a brawler (based on the fact that Arc System had only shown four playable characters up to that point), but instead it turned out to be little more than a 2D fighter dressed up in high-res 3D graphics. But there was little doubt that the new DD title would be a proper beat 'em up, since both previous games had been, and that fact alone was enough to fire up my imagination.
Moreover, before leaving home I had checked Sega's AM website to see if they had a page up on the game, but there was no mention of it anywhere (and there still isn't), so I didn't even know what hardware it was running on. Thoughts of the Lindbergh resurrecting the genre with jaw-dropping high-definition graphics and widescreen four-player co-op madness swirled in my mind while I walked towards Akihabara, but as it turned out I was only setting myself up for disappointment.
I found the game on Club Sega's second floor installed in a Blast City cabinet, and sure enough running on the venerable Naomi hardware. There was no crowd gathered around it and no one playing it -- I mean hell, there was hardly anyone on that floor in the first place. In fact, to make the gameplay video you see on the right I had to offer a credit to a middle-aged, spectacled sarariman who happened to be passing by (pause the video at two points where the screen goes blank and you'll see a reflection of that guy sitting in front of the cabinet and me standing behind him with the camera).
It was by far the saddest location test I've yet seen, and easily takes this distinction away from the one for Triggertheart Exelica, which I covered back in January. I guess if even Sega didn't give a shit about the game (since they hadn't even bothered to put up a sign at the entrance announcing the test, nor a poster somewhere near the cabinet upstairs) you can't reasonably expect the players to care. So yeah, that's all I have to say about the miserable loke -- as for the game itself...
Sega's new Dynamite Deka is, if nothing else, an indication that the Japanese arcade industry must be going through a period of relative prosperity. Because not only is it obviously beyond mediocre, but it also belongs to a genre that was never very popular in arcades even during its heyday (I am referring to 3D brawlers -- the 2D variety was of course hugely popular back in the day). So if someone thinks they can make money with it then there must be enough money to go around in the first place. It's either that, or the people in charge of the purse strings at Sega's AM division have gone completely off their rockers. I am inclined to believe the first scenario.
For those of you who've never heard of the Dynamite Deka (lit.: Dynamite Detective) games, they are rather unique, quirky 3D beat 'em ups, consisting of a string of short, carefully-scripted fighting scenes, joined together with so-called Event Scenes (Shenmue-like Quick Time Events, though of course both DD games appeared long before Shenmue did). Dynamite Deka was released in arcades in 1996 for the STV board, with a Saturn port coming out in the same year, and Dynamite Deka 2 ~Karibu no Kaizoku Hen~ came out in 1998 for the Model 2, with a Dreamcast port following in 1999.
Both games were quite competent for early 3D beat 'em ups, my main problems with them at the time being the somewhat stiff controls, awkward camera that often zooms in far too close to the action, poor art direction, and, well, the Event Scenes themselves. From a technical perspective the graphics of the first Dynamite Deka were very impressive, considering the STV's capabilities, and the same can be said of the second game for the Model 2 (though of course the Dreamcast port didn't even come close to taking full advantage of the system's power).
Now my understanding is that the series enjoys somewhat of a cult status in Japan, based on the fact that I occasionally still see the second game in arcades, alongside such classic 2D brawlers as Cadillacs Kyouryuu Shinseiki (1993) and Alien vs. Predator (1994). Something else which points towards this is the Sega Ages 2500 remake of the first DD game, which came out back in April, and its "Action Love" branding (which is either a respectful nod, or, more likely, a humorous poke, at Toshiaki Fujino's "Shooting Love" slogan for the Dreamcast port of Trizeal).
But regardless of their cult status the fact remains that the DD games have not aged well, with their initially minor problems becoming more glaring, and annoying, with the passage of time. In the meantime the genre has moved forward on home consoles, first with several weapons brawlers (the excellent Berserk games for DC and PS2, the Devil May Cry games and the last two installments in the Onimusha series), and lately with more traditional beat 'em ups, such as the recent Beat Down from cavia, God Hand from Atsushi Inaba's now-defunct Clover Studio, and, yes, even Toshihiro Nagoshi's Yakuza epic, Ryu ga Gotoku.
So Sega's decision to ressurect the Dynamite Deka series -- in the arcades no less! -- would lead any thinking person to assume that the new game would feature some major improvements over its predecessors, and perhaps even bring to the table a few original ideas. What they did instead was give the game a minor facelift, and add a few lame twists here and there. Granted, I only played four credits, but even from the first one I could tell that the apathetic reception it is receiving is well-deserved.
The facelift is quite subtle, especially if you haven't played the previous games in years. At first I thought there was no graphical improvement at all, so I went over to Leisure Land, which is only a block away, to take a look at the Dynamite Deka 2 machine they have there and refresh my memory. Once there I thought, yes, there is an improvement, with the new game featuring more detailed character models, cleaner, higher-res textures, and decent explosions this time round, but the art is just as bad as ever, and overall the graphics would have been a let-down even for a first-generation Naomi title -- let alone now. The animation is certainly smoother, but the way enemies react to getting hit is unconvincing, and the action feels stilted and certainly years behind all the recent console beat 'em ups.
Little else has changed. The controls are as mildly stiff as I remembered them, the camera just as awkward, and the Event Scenes just as annoying as ever. There are three characters to choose from (though only two were available at the loke) and three buttons as before (punch, kick, jump), and many weapons and items to pick up and use against your opponents, and these are certainly the game's high points. And just as the second installment added elaborate combos to the formula, there is again a new twist. Some enemies now drop suitcases when you beat them, containing different costumes which you can change into at any time, and which give you a different set of moves and animations (this is where the EX in the title comes from -- it stands for 'exchange'). I'll have to get in some more time to tell whether this new feature is any good, but, frankly, so far I think it sucks balls (mainly because the new set of animations you get from some costumes is overly elaborate, and makes the action feel even more stilted).
There is really nothing Sega can do to save the game at this point, except perhaps to cancel it (true, they wouldn't be saving the game in that case, but they would be saving the franchise). My guess is we'll be seeing it in arcades sometime in the first quarter of 2007, with a few hardcore beat 'em up fans clearing it with a week, and then it will disappear just as suddenly as it appeared. I'll probably review it when it comes out just for laughs. What a waste of time and money that will be!