PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous
PUBLISHER: Sega (JP, EU), Sage’s Creation (US)
DEVELOPER: Sega (port by Hot-B)
GENRE: Arcade run-and-gun
RELEASE DATE: 12/20/90 – (JP), 01/91 – (EU), 03/91 – (US)
Sega made so many arcade games in the 80s and 90s that, every so often, one slipped through the… cracks. Crack Down is one such forgotten title, a top-down, run-and-gun that’s more methodically paced than other games from this genre.
You star as either Ben Breaker, and a friend plays as Andy Attacker, two sunglasses-wearing, muscle-bound street cops who have to drop off timed bombs in marked locations, all while avoiding/killing gun-wielding strongmen. You have a machine gun, a cannon (!), and a few screen-clearing super bombs to handle your business. Machine gun bullets clean house faster, but don’t always take down stronger enemies. On the other hand, one shot from a cannon can blow apart several dudes in a row. Tough, but fair.
The top half of the screen is dedicated to the map of the current level, including red dots for where you need to lay the bombs, and Ben and Andy’s stats – remaining bullets, remaining lives, etc. In one-player mode, you view Ben’s whereabouts in the bottom left corner, while the bottom right corner shows the enemy types that are in the level and their specific attacks. If a second person plays as Andy, the bottom right corner is his portion of the screen.
The maps for each stage are grid-like, filled with bad dudes and other obstacles like pendulums and electricity currents. You can’t just run through the level, drop the bombs at the red Xs, and expect to live very long. Enemies respawn often and have itchy trigger fingers, and you can only take a single bullet before you die. Thankfully, you have an ace up your sleeve: the ability to lean back against any surface and avoid bullets, even in the most narrow of corridors. Lean back, fire, drop bombs, move on. Not too slow so the timer runs out, not too fast so you get shot. Crack Down‘s all about balance.
Most of Sega’s successful arcade titles are feasts for the eyes, and excel at giving the player a quick rush while depriving them of precious laundry quarters. Crack Down doesn’t do either. With its top-down perspective, cluttered screen, and chunky character models, you’d be forgiven for thinking the game looks messy, if not downright ugly. Crack Down also asks the player to be deliberate with their actions as they progress, eschewing any rush factor. Slower, visually questionable titles aren’t typically what arcade players looked for, so it’s unclear who this game’s target audience was.
Perhaps even Sega didn’t know what to make of Crack Down. All Sega-developed arcade ports to their home consoles were generally published and developed by Sega themselves. Crack Down is the only example I’ve seen thus far of the company not bothering to port a game to their own system. Instead, Hot-B handled the porting duties, and while the game was published by Sega in Japan and Europe, it was published by Sages Creation in the U.S.
I appreciate how different Crack Down is. If nothing else, it’s not a shoot-em-up. Thank God! Still, there’s a tension in its gameplay that keeps me from loving it more. I see the game’s arcade leanings in the one-hit deaths, relatively short levels, and lack of objectives. The fact that you’re forced to approach each level strategically, however, lends it more of a sit-down, console feel. I really wished the game would have embraced a more straightforward shooter style or added more objectives to lend it some extra substance. As it stands, Crack Down remains an interesting experiment, but I understand why Sega’s allowed it to languish in obscurity.
19 replies on “Crack Down (Genesis, 1990-91)”
Man, that cover art.
Why can’t America have nice things?
I’ll raise you the European home computer box art with the strange goat thing.
The goat demon thing is taken from the ending. Appently the mad doctor was trying to resurrect Satan? During the ending you blow up the Satan/demon creature he is trying to revive.
The “Operation Crack Down” stage in Project X Zone makes so much more sense now!
That is freaking hilarious.
So this arcade game was fairly common. It was kind of a strategic action puzzle game. You plant bombs and fight to escape levels as like members of this super demolitions squad. The tension is racing against the clock in each of the levels and figuring out the best way to get through. It’s much better in 2 player where you can work together to tackle an area the most efficient way possible. I’d say the this game is a little bit Guantlet, a little bit like say adventure of look or something, with the obstacles and enemies, and a little bit Something like Smash TV maybe? It was a fun game. The Genesis visuals are a huge downgrade from the arcade. I rented this and thought , wow it sure is simple looking. But the gameplay mostly remains intact. I beat it on a rental and thought the game was pretty decent. It probrably does work better as a home game. I think this game was pretty solid. Especially with 2 players. Sega probrably stayed away because the Genesis port wasn’t really visually impressive.
Never saw this in the arcade or even heard of it until now, but perhaps my youth has something to do with that.
I’m sure you know by now that I was kind of an arcade junkie. But I would imagine anyone 10 years younger or more would not have much affinity for arcades as they kind of missed their heyday.
Yeah, there were only a couple arcades in our city in the late 80s, early 90s. One was connected to a family friendly putt putt establishment. Pretty huge arcade, lots of variety. This was the one I went to most.
The other one was more of a smoky, dark place where teenagers could hang out and give each other the side eye while playing Street Fighter II. Lots more games than the putt putt place, though. I only went there once at the age of 8 and was totally enamored, but they closed shortly thereafter. If Crack Down would have been anywhere, it would have been there.
I have to admit I wasn’t impressed with Crackdown, for the reasons you outlined. I found the gameplay fiddly and irritating – either be a shooter or don’t! Throw in the weak graphics and I lost interest quickly. I think your review sums Crackdown up perfectly.
I think the Japanese box art is the best of the MD box arts. The European box art is decent (for a change!) but the characters are too clean cut for me. That home computer port with the goat is the clear winner though!
“That home computer port with the goat is the clear winner though!”
Agreed. Thanks RR!
….is that a storm trooper on the Euro Pc box.. ??!!
Alongside Caesar from Planet of the Apes?
I see new things every time I look at that picture. Check out the ape!
Track 2 is funky as fuck.
I’ve always been curious about Crack Down, but have never managed to snag a copy in the wild. When used CIB Genesis games were plentiful, I’m sure it made an appearance or two at the stores I used to frequent, but these days, it’s just not one you see frequently. Despite the paltry graphics and “not quite there” game play you described, I’m still curious to play it, if for no other reason than to see what it is, and to try and glean what they were going for. I may also have to check out the arcade game in MAME.
It is definitely a unique beast. Worth playing once at least.
One of my early games, sure it was from The Swap Shop, they sold games for ten pounds and I grabbed three of them over time back in the day, the other two were Decap Attack and Splatterhouse 2 all complete – anyone reading must be thinking that those were three decent games to pick up and they were but it gave me the false impression that any game you fired into the Megadrive was going to be as good a time as these gave.
I never seen Crackdown in the arcades I don’t believe but I owned it on the C64 , now Crackdown is a brilliant pick up and play game but fairly easy and I had beaten it in no time – it sounds like I am good at games because there are I few I have mentioned that I beat back in the day but I have nearly mentioned them all now and I really am an average gamer at best.
Even though it is easy it is not to say that it isn’t fun, the conveyor belt levels are a blast and skulking round narrow corridors planting bombs is a gas although admittedly it does sound rather dull.
Worth a blast, it probably wont be your favourite game but it plays well and like myself there will be folks out there with fond memories of this game.