NamCompendium Gaiden II: BurgerTime & Namco as a Publishing Partner

Namco was already an established amusement company before entering into its first business partnership with Atari in the 1970s. Several of Atari’s location-based amusement machines and, eventually, coin op arcade games would receive distribution in Japan under Namco’s auspices. Considering this, there are a few more cute NamCompendium Gaiden entries which could be produced around Atari arcade works sold with a Namco label. Maybe that Football game is incredible, who knows? These will probably come as the games of 1985 are eventually wrapped up. I also intend to revisit the games SOS, Navarone, and Kaitei Takara Sagashi at some point, as there’s reason to suggest these were also bound up in some manner of business relationship with Universal. Not that one, the other one. The one that made Mr. Do. Paging Jeff Gerstmann.

In any event, by 1980 Namco had firmly established its own gaming identity with both Pac-Man and the previous year’s Galaxian. These two games received conversions on Atari platforms in the west, and were the first to drop in one of the two original third party publishing deals on the Famicom. Namco and Hudson were reliable publishers whose quality software helped sell Famicoms domestically, paving the way for the successful attempt at reviving console gaming abroad with the NES. Having entered into this rising software tide to lift Nintendo’s console ship scenario early on, Namco also had what seems to have been favorable publishing and licensing terms for the platform. These terms would eventually break down over renegotiation in the late 1980s, but for now everybody is still getting their slice of the pie.

Namco is doing well enough, in fact, that in the coming years it would become the publisher of record for third (or would it be fourth? how far removed can you get?) party developers’ works. I am admittedly glad for the opportunity to write a shorter piece here, and will state up front that these games will not be receiving the full sorts of treatments I’ve given other titles. Nevertheless, these are “Namco” games. Some of these even came out in their first run of 18 serialized Famicom titles, alongside stone cold Namco classics like the aforementioned Pac-Man. The first of these, without further ado, was BurgerTime.


November 27, 1985 (FC, Japan)

Originally developed by Data East. Ported by Sakata SAS.

When I think of Data East, the first word that comes to mind is “fine”. I would absolutely put them into a big pile of B-tier game developers, producing games which I will skip nine times on ten for something else. That’s probably not fair. The company was founded in 1976 to make amusement devices to sate the “gambling while not gambling” needs of the Japanese public. They shifted, in 1978, into the noble business of making clone games of other successes. Namco had Gee Bee and Galaxian, while Data East had Super Break (their first title) and Space Fighter.

The standout product of their early history is not any game in particular, but rather their innovation of the first arcade platform designed to allow arcade operators to easily swap titles in the same cabinet. 1980’s DECO Cassette System (Data East COrporation) was, to my best working knowledge, the first attempt at doing what the JAMMA arcade board standard and Neo Geo MVS accomplished over a decade later. Per the name, titles developed for the Cassette System ran from magnetic tapes. Each tape would copy into on-board RAM and live there until the device was powered off, whereby new games could be loaded.

The concept of an interchangable stream of new games which operators could present to paying arcade attendees, without having to gamble the considerable cost of new cabinets on a monthly basis, is a fine one. In practice, beyond the general problems of cassette tape media (demagnetization of data, slow loading times), the platform’s technology became quickly outdated and most of the games produced for the platform were not the sort to set the world on fire. The most successful of these titles are Data East games you might recognize from conversions for the Game Boy and NES. Of these, BurgerTime is probably the best remembered and holds up better than the rest.

BurgerTime, originally known as Hamburger, fits into the broad “territory control” genre of Pac-Man and Crush Roller. The player is tasked with walking Peper Pete, a humble chef armed with only a few handfuls of black pepper, over the constituent components of a hamburger which have been laid out over numerous horizontal platforms. These components must be dropped down into hoppers below the platforms to complete each level. Confounding this effort are enemy hot dogs, eggs, and pickles. Contact with these will remove a life, but they may be stunned and passed through via a blast of the finite pepper pool.

Bonus points come by way of cleverly trapping these assailants beneath the falling burger slabs, or in dropping said pieces whilst a dastardly (hot) dog stands atop it. Doing the latter causes the pieces to fall an extra floor, creating combo scenarios to rack up the real points. Pulling off these maneuvers tends to require more pepper, which can be replenished by picking up bonus ice creams and fries which may appear in a level.

BurgerTime is alright with me. There’s a satisfying amount of depth here without becoming too complicated. Most of my attempts at the arcade cabinet peter at the second or third screen as those little hot dogs can be pricks. In any event, the arcade incarnation was a relative success in Japan. Game Machine magazine has it as one of the more successful arcade titles of a very busy 1982. It would receive ports to the Atari 2600, ColecoVision, and Intellivision, as well as to most commercially viable home computer platforms of the day. It makes a good deal of sense that, when Data East elected to enter the Famicom business in late 1985, that they elected to have BurgerTime converted over something like Space Fighter or Treasure Island.

That isn’t to say they were the developer. BurgerTime’s Famicom conversion was accomplished by Sakata SAS (written elsewhere as SAS Sakata), marking their own debut on Nintendo’s hit platform. Sakata SAS is a subsidiary of SAS, a going technology concern in Japan whose website has them in both entertainment and general computer software. The Sakata portion of SAS seems to have done exclusively subcontracted development work, primarily with Data East and Epoch. The GDRI has it that they would subsequently sub-subcontact portions of that work to other third (or would be fourth or fifth at this point?) developers for things like sound and music. We’ll be seeing SAS a few more times before this project is over.

So, at long last, how is BurgerTime on the Famicom?

On the merits of arcade accuracy, Sakata SAS have done a pretty good job. All six boards from the arcade game are present, and the change in resolution and aspect ratio are well accounted for in designing the level layouts. This is a much closer game to its arcade counterpart than, for instance, Donkey Kong. The music and overall sound is well done to boot.

There is one frankly unwelcome change, however: the amount of enemy characters harrying Peper Pete around the stages has been upped. In a territory control game with not a ton of real estate, adding two extra bastards in a level presents quite the problem. Imagine if Pac-Man suddenly had six ghosts instead of four, for instance. You would lose your mind, right? It does make this something of an expert version of BurgerTime, what with the finite amount of pepper and ease of being boxed in by processed meat tubes.

BurgerTime would be published by Data East in North America, and indeed they would begin to self-publish their Famicom works in Japan starting with B-Wings in late 1986. Even so, they continued their publishing relationship with Namco through 1990. This took the form of Namco handling publishing of a selection of Data East titles in Japan, and Data East in turn publishing Cosmo Gangs in North American arcades. Strange times.

Data East and its properties were purchased by G-Mode in 2003 as the result of a bankruptcy filing. Four years after this sale, Namco (now in its Bandai Namco incarnation) would handle BurgerTime-related business again with the release of BurgerTime Delight for mobile phones. The game was built around similar concepts as the original, with “improved” graphics and the addition of a screen stunning salt shaker attack to augment the more localized pepper shaker. Here is the most readily available video I can find of BurgerTime Delight on the entire Internet.

For its part, FC/NES BurgerTime was made available for purchase on the now defunct Wii Virtual Console service.

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