Data East made some really good pinball machines in the late 80’s and early 90’s even though they don’t get the credit that the Williams machines get. Part of that is due to the fact that they kind of copied some of the layouts of the Williams machines plus also copied some of the board design. There was a lot of legal action between the companies during this time period as well. I’ve put together a list of my top 5 Data East games, I’ve actually owned quite a few Data East games over the years.
#5 Star Wars
This game is kind of a mixed bag. Mechanically, it isn’t the greatest shooting machine. And the rules aren’t particularly strong either, especially the initial ones where shooting the middle ramp was worth ridiculous amounts of points (a later ROM update fixed that and a lot of other issues).
The death star is the coolest thing on this game, it has a little trapdoor that comes down where it allows you to shoot it during multiball. R2D2 moves but doesn’t really do anything besides that.
The sounds and music are a little over the top at times, like it feels like there’s way too much going on. But the game is pretty fun overall, although shallow compared to all the others. This is the game that would probably get boring the fastest out of all of these, as there is no wizard mode to shoot for.
#4 Guns N Roses
From a theme and coolness factor, this is definitely the top Data East machine you can buy. It’s the most expensive one as well. Most GnR’s will run you $4k to $6k depending on condition. They only made a little over 3000 of them, so there aren’t many of them around.
So if it’s so expensive, why isn’t it the top game? Well, the problem is that in home use it’s just not as fun as it should be over the longer term. The upper flipper is part of the issue, it basically only has one shot, and the modes always start with the same one every time. The modes aren’t stackable, the video mode isn’t that great, and you can start a mode every new ball (which makes it too easy to get to the wizard mode).
If there would have been stackable modes, another ramp for the upper flipper, and slightly better software the game would have been the top game for sure. As it is, it doesn’t really have any major toys besides the magnets in the middle of the playfield, leaving it kind of bland to shoot as well.
It’s a little too easy to get to the wizard mode unfortunately because of the mode start every ball.
#3 Last Action Hero
Ok, so the movie was pretty bad, and Arnold’s head is giant on the front of the game, but the game still is pretty awesome. Last Action Hero feels like the game where they just threw everything they could in at once. From the crane to the drop targets to the magnets to the shaker motor the game just has a ton of stuff going on.
Is it cohesive? Eh, maybe not all the time, but it works pretty well for the most part. It feels a little overboard when the shaker motor is going off during the crane, like just settle down a little, lol. The modes are pretty good, sounds are ‘eh’, and the challenge is pretty high. I never owned this game but have played it quite a bit, I think I’ve only made it to the wizard mode once or twice.
This game is probably the most affordable on this list, but not by a huge amount. It’s still going to cost you over $2k to buy one unless you get really lucky.
#2 Jurassic Park
Who doesn’t like a ball eating dinosaur? Jurassic Park has one of the best pinball toys ever created, the ball eating dinosaur. Every kid loves the game, if you’re looking for the best Data East family game this is it by far. On top of having the great dinosaur, Jurassic Park also has a great ruleset and some great modes.
The multiball start is pretty classic as is the chaos secondary part of it. Shotwise it’s pretty fast but it doesn’t feel like it’s engineered quite as good as some of their later games.
The wizard mode is pretty awesome on this game as well and is achievable (though not easy for sure).
Tommy is the best Data East game I’ve played by far. It really doesn’t have any weaknesses, I think it’s one of the best games of the 90’s. I owned mine for 8 or 9 years before finally selling it, and if I had more room I never would have sold it. Good shots, good modes, and excellent toys like the mirror and blinders. Good music as well.
It’s also very challenging, so making it to the wizard mode is a somewhat rare occurrence. Even with the stacking of modes it’s pretty hard to get there, the side drains just eat the balls too much most of the time to make it to the end.
Tommy is a lot like GnR only better in most aspects. Music/cool factor is probably the only thing GnR has over Tommy.