Reminiscent of SNK's Ikari Warriors, Heavy Barrel puts players as unnamed commandos infiltrating a nuclear missile base overrun by terrorists. Similar to Ikari Warriors, the game utilized 8-way rotary joysticks so that players move and turn with the same joystick. The name refers to the titular superweapon "Heavy Barrel", a limited-use energy cannon that players can assemble by collecting six pieces.
The game received ports to the Nintendo Entertainment System (by Data East themselves) and to both the Apple II and MS-DOS PCs (by Quicksilver Software and Ironwind Software). The game controls are simplified, playing similar to Capcom's Commando.
The arcade version of the game later received two ports after Data East's bankruptcy: one for the 2010 Wii compilation Data East Arcade Classics, and a standalone digital release for the Nintendo Switch. The Switch version was released by Flying Tiger Entertainment on November 15, 2018 as part of the Johnny Turbo's Arcade series, and was later included in the compilation Retro Classix Collection #1: Data East on October 1, 2020 (as well as the 2-in-1 Pack with Super BurgerTime).
The game was also a base for (and included level of) the 2018 crossover multiplayer game Heavy Burger.