... What did I do to deserve this anime fate? God, don't let me die like this! Not by a LaserDisc game's hands!
Let's talk about LaserDiscs for a moment.
More specifically, LaserDisc arcade games.
The LaserDisc game boom of the mid-80s is pretty well-documented on the internet at this point, so we'll just gloss over it briefly- Dragon's Lair was a thing that made a lot of money in arcades! Using a LaserDisc player to make it feel like you were playing an animated movie (although really you were playing a quick-time event simulator with limited visual cues to not die), it was a big enough success to get other companies to notice and get in on that action. It's a fascinating area of video game history, as it was the inverse of the standard of the time- amazing animation and filmed actors gave a stunning impression, but the possibilities with actual game mechanics were restrictive in many ways, to the point where the term 'interactive movies'- that's what many of them were!- is often seen as an insult. Some of the most creative and outlandish games in what I suppose you'd call the arcade LaserDisc 'style' wouldn't really emerge until the 90s when CDs were a more viable format for home games despite attempts such as the Halcyon and Control Vision to bring them to your living room (leading to ambitious but confusing and awkward games like Ground Zero Texas, Night Trap and the existential horror that is Fox Hunt) but in the arcades, developers did their best. Many stuck to the Dragon's Lair formula of movie or animation footage you needed to QTE your way out of to survive, or the American Laser Games model of lightgun shooters... Japanese developers were no exception, leading to releases such as Taito's Time Gal, Universal's Super Don Qui-Xote, the utterly hilarious Badlands from Konami, and today's subject, the output of our friends at Data East.
Data East did indeed make a few LaserDisc titles- three, to be precise. Three that made it to the arcades, anyway. Two of them, which you can see above- Cobra Command / Thunder Storm (1984) and Road Blaster (1985)- are roughly in line with the Dragon's Lair template, with animated footage playing out as the player responds to what's happening. However, they're a little more advanced in their own ways- Cobra Command has a target reticule that you have to move and actively aim at enemy helicopters which convincingly blow up in reaction to your fire, and Road Blaster has a car dashboard status screen and helpful on-screen pointers to let you know what you need to be doing. Honestly, Road Blaster is my favourite game in the Dragon's Lair style as it seems a lot fairer (although not more lenient- the Mega-CD version, known as Road Avenger and reprogrammed by Wolf Team, is much more forgiving with its timing than the arcade version and sucsequent Saturn and PS1 ports) and also has a lot of vehicular carnage including some wicked-sick jumps and at least two helicopter-versus-car battles. I don't like Cobra Command quite as strongly, but it's not bad at all. They also had at least two prototype games using the hardware, as helpfully listed on The Dragon's Lair Project- Chantze's Stone, an adventure game that was eventually released as Triad Stone on the Pioneer LaserActive and Strahl on the 3DO (luckily someone recorded the original arcade version footage) and Genma Tarot, a tarot game based on Genma Taisen. So, you know, they were pretty busy on that kind of hardware!
... Just a shame we're not talking about those games. Nah, we gotta settle with d-lister Bega's Battle. Sorry.
Bega's Battle was actually Data East's first LaserDisc game, arriving in 1983, and differs from their later output in two key ways. First, whereas Cobra Command and Road Blaster had footage specifically created for them (from Toei Animation, no less), Bega's Battle goes the other LaserDisc route, recontextualising footage from other sources to create a game (other examples include Cliff Hanger based on Lupon III: The Castle of Cagliostro and the cancelled Albegas based on Lightspeed Electroid Albegas). Specifically, it uses footage from 1983's Genma Taisen (huh, guess after the tarot thing didn't work out they really needed to use that license), also known as Harmageddon, a film better covered by Colony Drop (spoiler: not very good!). Something about psychic teens fighting bad guys in a future time, including a butt-ugly robot called Vega. The game version arbitrarily renames everything in the English version (I'm guessing the Japanese version, released just as Genma Taisen, keeps them as in the original) so Vega becomes Bega and villain Genma becomes Varga, who wants to see the Earth burn. Bega does not fear Varga, however! With his companions Luna, Joe, Sony and others, he will fight bravely! And you, dear player, will help on his quest!
... Sorry, got a bit dramatic there. The other key difference is while Road Blaster, Cobra Command and Chantze's Stone were QTE affairs with LaserDisc footage, Bega's Battle overlays sprites onto the LaserDisc clips to make its game. Not an unheard-of approach- Us Vs. Them, Astron Belt and home console title Microcosm did a similar thing with into-the-screen shoot-em-ups. Bega's Battle, however, is even simpler than that, as it's a gallery shooter, the kind of thing that started with Space Invaders and was hastily perfected by the likes of Namco with Galaga, SNK with Sasuke Vs. Commander, and Midway with Satan's Hollow. Bega's Battle, then, has some stern competition even amongst its contemporaries. It is a challenge it fails to even vaguely attempt. Of those games mentioned, it has the most in common with Sasuke Vs. Commander, as the enemies are rarely in formations. Instead they just kind of spawn out of nothing (smart players can figure out where those spawn points are and massacre them, although that's no guarantee) and the rounds just... End. You don't have to hit a quota or anything, they just end as soon as the clip in the background is over. The lack of fanfare or knowing when you're done on a stage is a bigger detriment than you may think- as well as lacking the satisfaction of a job well done, Bega's Battle forces a restart upon death, so you can be seconds away from the end and die and you wouldn't know it. Admittedly, Sasuke Vs. Commander ends rounds without fanfare too, but that's got a lot more going for it than Bega's Battle, as we shall see.
So, the basic game flow sounds pretty standard- survive until the arbitrary end of each stage through 24 stages, with each having a cutscene in-between- but Bega's Battle makes a litany of design blunders that render it entirely not fun. For a start, as well as having a look that only a villain in a giant robot show could love, Bega is huge! His movement speed isn't too bad, but he's so tall that he's a massive target for both enemy projectiles and the enemies themselves (most of them are the 'we are going to crash right into you' variety). The erratic movement of basically everything in the game doesn't help either- some are easy to predict (with one set of enemies on Stage 18 where there's a safe spot you can sit in) but several others move really erratically with seemingly little rhyme and reason (Annoyingly, this applies to the helper characters as well- which are their own problem we'll explore in a minute). These two elements together make the game very frustrating, as you'll often be killed by enemies that normally wouldn't hit you if Bega was a normal size! The game feels erratic and poorly thought-out as a result, like the basics of a gallery shooter were just slapped together and the team hoped for the best. While erratic movement can add a challenge to games like this, Bega's Battle feels like it's going nowhere with it, compared with stuff like Galaga (where skilful shooting is rewarded with Double Fighter mode) and Sasuke Vs. Commander (where shots must be considered so you don't get lamped by a falling corpse).
By far the most aggravating element is its bizarre power-up system, which seems to have been made to annoy the player. In the first stage, you're told you need Luna, the voice who narrates Bega's progress, to get the other kids to help you. In-game, this translates to picking up Luna (who hilariously asks you "CATCH ME, WARRIOR, CATCH ME!") as she falls down the screen on the first stage, which is difficult as like everything else in this game, she wildly changes direction. Once you do get her, she'll hover from left to right below Bega and can take a bullet for you, disappearing if she does. She's directly tied to the other helpers who appear in the same way in subsequent levels- they will not appear if you do not have any Lunas (you can keep up to 9). Unlike Luna, these guys (which you can have up to 2 of) fire lasers by Bega's side and are sorely needed in the later stages where Bega's sole laser is not enough. Additionally, Joe and Sony let you use the P.K. Barrier and Teleport buttons respectively, though Teleport sends you back a few stages, so it's only useful if you want to... Grind for points, I guess? P.K. Barrier is more like it, which you can freely use at set intervals to absorb hits, This would be an interesting set-up, if it were not for the fact that Luna only appears on the first level, so if you don't grab her or lose the few you pick up, you will not see any more helpers. Stages you can breeze through with two helpers become way too difficult and frustrating without them, and this is one of the most extreme examples of Gradius Syndrome I've ever seen. Even better, Luna and the helpers can be killed as your dying animation plays, and you can't do anything about it!
Thing is, we've run out of game mechanics to discuss here. Even by 1983's standards, Bega's Battle is very rudimentary, and outclassed by any other gallery shooter you could care to mention. About the only thing that even makes it noteworthy is the LaserDisc stuff, and it barely even uses that. The footage is only used for the cutscenes that play between each stage (admittedly, they are a hhighlight as the newly-dubbed dialogue is wonderful and terrible) and the backgrounds of each stage. These do lead to some striking visuals- my favourite backdrops are the ones with Varga's liquid-flame form, with dripping and drooping sound effects throughout, as well as the final battle in front of the Statue of Liberty- but that's all they are, visuals. Striking or not, they add nothing other than banking on distracting you from the fact you're playing a very poor gallery shooter. Aside from the bit in the attract mode that shows a guy melting, that's just to scare children. Anyway, you may find it unfair how many times I've mentioned other, better games in this little missive, but I suppose that's my point- it's not to join the LaserDisc-bashing bandwagon (I guess that's a thing?) nor is it to rag on Bega's Battle for wasting its LaserDisc power on a gallery shooter (for indeed, the power of LaserDisc can be used for good! See also: Road Blaster, Time Gal, Galaxian3). It's that Bega's Battle is a bad gallery shooter. It's frustrating, has ugly spritework, and apparently tries to use its fancy LaserDisc technology as a smokescreen- aptly demonstrated when I showed someone else this game, as they said "this looks awesome!" when I showed them the attract mode, which quickly changed to "oh, I see, this is trash" when the game started.
Seriously, just play Satan's Hollow instead.
For making me write nasty things about a Data East game, Bega's Battle is awarded...
In a sentence, Bega's Battle is...
Stitched-together, LaserDisc-powered crap.
As just a brief bonus, this YouTube video has all the LaserDisc footage for Bega's Battle from the source.
Interestingly, a few scenes seem to be unused, including speech from Varga at 11:38 and ally introductions at 14:18 for characters not in the game.
This wasn't a nice one to write.
I like Data East, man.
even in their darkest hour, i will always believe in the power of BECAUSE DATA EAST.