Is Die Hard Arcade as good as you remember?

Bruce Willis must have had a big influence on me in the 90s, as the Die Hard films have become a Christmas tradition, whilst the Die Hard Trilogy game kept me entertained throughout the holiday season of ’96. Another Bruce Willis tie-in I have fond memories of is Die Hard Arcade – one of the standout side-scrolling (or 3D even) beat ’em ups of the 32-bit era, essentially a Die Hard themed 3D Streets of Rage successor that Sega released in the arcades and on the Saturn.

So with an eye towards the title of this article… Is Die Hard Arcade still as good as I remember today?

The odd thing about Die Hard Arcade, is just how little it has to do with Die Hard. The Japanese version didn’t even have the Die Hard license, going by the moniker of Dynamite Deka instead – however the game was originally developed with the intent of being a Die Hard game, so the Japanese version just had the Die Hard references stripped out for its release… which makes practically no odds, as the only obvious Die Hard connection is John McClane as the main character, and he looks the same in both versions. (Fun fact: the Dreamcast has a sequel to Die Hard Arcade called Dynamite Cop, which has nary a mention of John McClane.)

As far as I can tell, the plot involves a Bruce Willis lookalike presumably called John McClane, progressively losing his clothes as he beats up groups of oncoming thugs. There also appears to be a little girl hiding under an old man’s desk – a man who looks nothing like Gary Oldman, incidentally – and it seems to be your mission to save her. Doing so should take skill, bravery, approximately 30-40 minutes, and if you’re playing on an original arcade cabinet, possibly five to ten pounds.

The combat feels like it owes something to Virtua Fighter – it was co-developed by one of Sega’s AM teams, however AM1 rather than Virtua Fighter creators AM2. The other half of the development collaboration was the US Sega Technical Institute, founded by the now pretty famous PlayStation guy Mark Cerny and responsible for such games as Kid Chameleon, Comix Zone and a lot of work on the Mega Drive Sonic titles. At the time, Die Hard Arcade was quite the impressive arcade game and even more impressive on a home console. Today the visuals are clearly of their era, but feel quite solid, and the chunky, colourful characters have helped it age fairly gracefully.

Aside from the kicky/punchy aspect, the stages are littered with weapons to pick up and aid your quest. Pistols and machine guns make up the bulk of the useful weapons, but things like spraypaint cans, dustbins and grandfather clocks make for the more entertaining moments. When a second player joins in for some co-op fun, things can get a little manic – sometimes feeling like a bit of a massacre even. I don’t quite remember the Die Hard movie where Bruce Willis smacked street thugs with a broom whilst his blonde, female partner unleashed hell with a shoulder-mounted missile launcher, but the enemies do technically die hard, so the license isn’t entirely tenuous.

Thanks in large part to the game’s quick playthrough time, it doesn’t really get the chance to become tedious. After a few stages of beating up hapless henchmen, the game will throw in a quick time event requiring a correct button press to dodge a vehicle or punch a dude in the face. Then there are the boss battles – typical bigger, stronger enemies with double health bars and their own little gimmick – which try to eat your credits and prevent the whole thing being a complete pushover. When it’s all finished you’re left sweaty, satisfied, though still craving a little more.

Clearly it can be tricky getting hold of an original arcade cabinet to enjoy Die Hard Arcade today, but if you don’t want to dabble with MAME the Sega Saturn version is a pretty impressive arcade port. There’s probably a good reason for that, with the Sega ST-V arcade system and Saturn sharing almost identical hardware. My positive perception of Die Hard Arcade probably has something to do with the fact it was released at a time when Sega were bringing a bunch of near perfect arcade ports to home consoles…

The important question then – is Die Hard Arcade as good as you remember? Well, yes, basically. It’s short and doesn’t make the best use of Bruce Willis’ likeness, but it’s a really solid example of the punching things and moving forward genre, which died out a little after the ’90s. Go ahead and give Sega’s John McClane Impersonator Simulation an hour of your quality time.

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