My friend, Blair let me borrow Bad Dudes on NES when I was in fourth grade. At the time, the game seemed really impressive to me. It was like Shinobi. Except this was on an 8-bit system, and a good year or two before I'd get my hands on a Sega Genesis. I remember being so enamored with the game that I hung onto it for weeks. I remember vividly sitting in class and drawing a chart of all the bad guys I'd encountered in the game along with their weapons or powers. I was into Bad Dudes.
Here I am thirty-something years later replaying Bad Dudes Vs Dragon Ninja on PS4 and... well, nostalgia aside, it really wasn't a great game. It still plays a lot like Shinobi. Although it was released to arcades just a few months after Shinobi, I think that was a coincidence. If anything, both games borrowed heavily from Namco's Rolling Thunder (1986). You've got dudes coming at you constantly, and you can easily leap to platforms above or below you. It's an easy formula to ape.
In fairness, it looks good. It has a certain late 80s action movie vibe to it. Think American Ninja or something like that. It's got a lot of ninjas but in very American landscapes. You'll go through cities and forests and caves and ride along the top of big rigs and trains. The last boss battle happens on the legs of a helicopter. It's all very cheesy. And that's before I mention the meme-able fact that the entire game is played to rescue president "Ronnie," who celebrates his savior with a burger. Which is to say that it's awesomely American through the view of a Japanese developer, which adds a boatload of charm to the whole thing.
Unfortunately it's also a very cumbersome game to slog through. The onslaught of enemies is often overwhelming. The boss battles are cool, but feel way too difficult to win without ponying up some quarters. The levels go on way too long. While seven levels doesn't sound long, it feels long, even if the last level is just a boss gauntlet leading up to the last fight.
Overall, I think the vibe of Bad Dudes is way more memorable than the game itself. It had such a great charm to it that just really summed up the late 80s. It was a dude in a tank top and white pants beating the tar out of ninjas. It was Mad Max inspired bosses. It was fighting on helicopters and eighteen-wheelers. It was the president chowing down on the burger in front of the white house. It was the digitized speech of your hero proclaiming "I'm bad!" at the end of every level. Some games are the sum of their parts. Not Bad Dudes. It's a rather mediocre game that's made up of some very cool pieces. Somehow, that makes it a chore to play, but a delight to remember.