Sunday, 22 September 2013

Crap Games #7

Crackout (1991)
By: Palcom / Konami Genre: Bat 'n' Ball Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Nintendo NES First Day Score: 7,990
Also Available For: Famicom Disk System

In my last review for this series of features I spoke of the lowest magazine review score I could remember from back in the good old days but I may have spoken too soon. Recently re-entering my conscious mind from the dark realms of depravity that lurk in its basement is this game; an NES game which was rather unusually released in neither the Japanese nor American markets. Us lucky Europeans got to sample its delights though, but probably not too many gamers bothered based on the review I can now vaguely recall which savagely hacked it to pieces, then ate and pooped out the pieces, then set them on fire, then peed on the ashes. Such savagery was probably as much in jest as genuine disdain but I think it's likely that Crackout is not generally viewed as the pinnacle of its genre all the same. I'm nonetheless keen to find out just how bad it really is, especially since it's an example of a genre I'm rather keen on, no less. So... shields up, phasers on stun, energise...

One of the first stages. Simple enough so far...
Much like the Supreme Lord of the genre itself - Arkanoid - there has been an attempt to set the mood here via a rudimentary back-story. There are 44 single-screen stages in total which apparently represent the defence system of the central computer at the nerve centre of Planet Selim whose self-destruct sequence has been activated. Clearing each stage of bricks will gradually reveal a 14-character keyword which can be entered to end this process, although to what end isn't clear. What's clearer is that the means of doing this is pretty much the same as always. The stages are divided equally into four areas - Cubic Zone, Mirror Zone, Tube Zone, and Final Zone. The various coloured bricks found in them have differing points values and all are destroyed by one touch of the 'superball' aside from white ones, which require up to four strikes, and silver ones which are indestructible. The stages are also home to several evil alien creatures (although I'm not sure how they got there) and it is from these rather than the bricks that the now-standard power-ups capsules emerge.

This stage is NOT part of Cubic Zone, believe it or not...
The aliens emerge from trapdoors at the top or in the middle of the playfield. There are never more than three of them at once and those that are destroyed are immediately replaced. Since most of them drop power-ups when hit, that means there's usually plenty to choose from. They include the usual stuff such as a ball-slower-downer, a bat-enlarger, an enemy-freezer, a splendid power-ball which ploughs through multiple bricks, an extra ball, a ball-exploder whose shrapnel damages stuff, and missiles which gives you four remote-triggered projectiles, each of which can potentially take out a good few bricks. With all these handy bits and pieces in such abundance, and considering the large size of the bat (which is actually a spaceship, by the way, presumably a microscopic one), you might think Crackout is a rather easy game for its type, and that definitely seemed to be the case initially. First impressions, you see, indicate that Palcom have produced a decent, if somewhat generic and rather easy take on the age-old genre, but prolonged play reveals two problems.

Two slightly weird-looking dragon things here...
The first of these is the graphics which are nice and organised and geometrical, and the choice of colours isn't bad either, but they change very little through the game. The biggest culprit is the dull, grey brick pattern which is permanent, but there's not much variety with anything else either, even from zone to zone, never mind from stage to stage, and to make things worse, there's not even any in-game music. The other problem is the design of the stages. At first they seem fairly standard, if not overly creative, but then you'll start to encounter some increasingly annoying ones - the type that require super precise shots and a lot of patience. That could be said of most Breakout clones, I know, but things get rather ridiculous here. Many stages place the lowest bricks about an inch above your bat, for starters, and there are some really annoying brick arrangements, particularly of the type places a handful of normal bricks behind one or several layers of multiple-hit or even indestructible bricks with only a one-brick gap to aim for.

Aaand... it was at this point I'd had enough...
This means you pretty much have to make the exactly the right shot at the right time, over and over. Another particularly memorable stage has the only destructible bricks completely encased in indestructible bricks meaning the only way to finish the stage is to wait until an enemy gives you some missiles. Since the power-ups are distributed randomly, that could therefore take ten seconds or ten minutes - if you even last that long, obviously, but with so many stages requiring this sort of accuracy, as well as the usual quick reflexes (helped by a button which moves the bat faster), there needed to be a higher degree of control over the ball. It's passable as it is but will still leave you bouncing the ball around for lord knows how long, trying desperately to make the right shot. There is a password system I guess, but still! Ironically, some of the easier stages are the ones that contain the occasional larger enemies - bosses, I suppose - but this is still a game that, after a promising start, quickly revealed itself to be one of the most frustrating examples I've yet played. I still think the magazine score that prompted this review was rather harsh - it's not that bad, but it's still pretty disappointing stuff.

RKS Score: 5/10


  1. Great read! Your blog is great! Without being a douchy internet guy I wanted to let you know that this game was actually released in Japan on the Famicom Disk System. The name on the FDS was "Nazo no Kabe" The only real difference other than the whole PAL vs. NTSC speed thing is the ability to save the game with your name and such.

    Great read and killer blog, I really really dig it a lot.

  2. Hi Sean, thanks for your kind words, much appreciated! Thanks also for the heads-up regarding this game's release, I'll amend the post accordingly. The FDS is a system I haven't really 'explored' yet but it's on the list :)

  3. Cool write-up, great images too. Obviously it looks immediately familiar, but sounds like it lacks a lot of the charm other similar games Never even heard of this one until now - not that it appears to have been a big loss on my part, lol :)

  4. Cheers Mr. Chalgyr :) It sure is a curious one - it could've been a damn good example of its genre if a bit more thought was put into the stage designs. Oh well, I guess we'll need to stick to Arkanoid (or Wizorb!) as usual :P

  5. oh, I really like this kind of graphic, it definitively got some style. And I like those Breakout/Arkanoid/Krakout/Whatever-Clones. I recently bought "Breakout Invaders" for PC Windows, just a low budget production and just to enqueue in the row of TONS of Breakout-Clones I've played so far.
    But somehow it's a genre where I'll always return to have a freaking hour of fun.

    Even though your rating for this Game is only decent I will give this one a try. thx for the hint & greets from germany, simon.

  6. Hi Sarah :) I like this kind of game too, very much. Crackout does look nice but there's very little variety unfortunately. It could've still been really good if the stages weren't designed so annoyingly though :P